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Lexus LS series: history and description


The Lexus LS started out as the F1 project in the early 1980s. The engineering team, headed by Shoiji Jimbo and Ichiro Suzuki, included 60 designers, 24 engineering teams, 1,400 engineers, 2,300 technicians, and 220 support people. They were already well into the design of a new, high-end luxury car when the first market research study in the United States was conducted for the project (in 1985). Jimbo himself attended focus groups and interviewed dealer, while a separate team of five people studied lifestyles and design concepts in Laguna Beach, California. Shortly afterwards,  in July 1985, the first running prototype was built. An incredible 450 running prototypes were to be made, with Toyota apparently sparing no expense to beat Mercedes and other luxury automakers.

By 1986, tests were being conducted on Germany's Autobahn and on American roads. Prototypes spent ten months being studied on American roads. In mid-1987, the final design was approved – after an unusually large number of presentations to management (eight). Roger Penske, who was to buy a Lexus dealership, traveled to Japan to test-drive one.

In November 1988, the F1 was finally given a name – though it was not particularly distinctive: LS400. The LS stands for Luxury Sedan, and 400 is the size of the engine. The LS400 debuted in the United States at the Detroit auto show in January, 1989, but was not produced until May 1989, and did not go on sale until September 1989.  The car was an immediate hit, much to the chagrin of Mercedes, whose S-Class was more expensive, less luxurious, and, it would turn out, less reliable. Like later LS models, it was made in Japan.

Only three months after the sale of the first LS 400, Lexus started a recall of 8,000 early models to check two minor problems – though there was only one complaint regarding one item, and only a few on the other.

Three years later, many said Lexus' LS had redefined its segment, but Toyota already had a revised model waiting in the wings, with over 50 changes based on dealer and customer requests. Only five years after the first model, in November 1994, a more extensive redesign took place. In September 1997, variable valve timing (VVTi) was brought to the engine, increasing its performance; styling was updated, and new features were added, but the price remained the same.

In October 2000, eleven years after the first LS400 was sold, the new flagship Lexus – the LS 430, with an enlarged engine – went on sale. New technologies included intuitive park assist, dynamic laser-guided cruise control (which could maintain a set distance as well as a set speed), heated and cooled front seats, and a rear-seat beverage cooler, and a Mark Levinson sound system. The LS430 would be revised in 2004, with a new six-speed automatic (2007 brought an eight-speed) and new luxury and safety features.


Each LS 400 was test driven before leaving the factory, helping it to earn its consistent place at the top of J.D. Power's quality awards. The 2000 models included new safety features, including Brake Assist and Vehicle Skid Control, which help to enhance braking and regain control when the car starts to skid. Thanks to a 290 hp V8 engine with gobs of torque, the LS 400 could go to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, faster than many sporty cars - indeed, faster than Toyota's own MR2. Yet, gas mileage was 18 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway, thanks to variable valve timing and other technological advances. The automatic transmission had five speeds.

2000 models added high-energy discharge headlights as an option; Lexus had them remain level regardless of road or load conditions. The automatic climate control included a charcoal filter to trap dust and pollen, and a smog sensor to automatically recirculate the air when pollution was heavy outside. An in-key remote entry system ended the need for an outside fob. In a long-overdue bow to customer tastes, Lexus let the driver select the headlight turnoff delay and other details.

The leather and wood interior trim was hand-sanded and stained, in a three-week long process. A huge number of seemingly trivial details that add up to the luxury experience were listed by Lexus publicity materials, and no doubt contributed to the subconscious impression of the Lexus as a high quality sedan. The LS series won more awards than any other luxury car, and, more to the point, won J.D. Power's vehicle dependability survey every year it was eligible.

The Lexus LS 430

The LS 430 is powered by a 4.3-liter double overhead-cam V8 engine that produces 290 horsepower at 5,600 RPM and 320 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,400 RPM. Continuously Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) ensures excellent low- and mid-range power for easy highway merging.  The Lexus LS 430 can accelerate from zero-to-60 mph in 5.9 seconds, roughly the same time as the rougher Audi TT and Dodge SRT4. The LS 430 was one of the first gasoline V8 vehicles to be certified as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV).

Though quite fast, the system was also smooth.  Working with the electronic throttle control (drive by wire), the system smooths out acceleration from a standing start by very slightly delaying throttle opening when the driver steps on the accelerator pedal.

The six-speed automatic transmission computer responded to road grade and acceleration/deceleration activity, holding gears or downshifting on hills to help provide better engine power or braking.  A Sequential Shift feature allows the driver to enjoy a more involved driving experience by controlling gearshifts manually, when desired.


The front and rear double wishbone suspension systems, which feature monotube shock absorbers, contribute to flat cornering responses and provide an uncannily smooth ride.  Seventeen-inch alloy wheels are standard, with available 18-inch wheels featuring 245/45R18 low-profile tires for sharpened handling response.

Lexus LS430 Safety

Lexus optimized the structure for crash-compatibility with other passenger vehicles as well as maximum safety for occupants.  Variable-force front airbags use sensors to determine the severity of a collision and, in turn, the force with which to deploy the front airbags.

In 2004, the LS 430 was equipped with the Pre-Collision System (PCS), which can help reduce collision severity and damage. The PCS uses radar to detect obstacles in front of the car and uses speed, steering angle, and yaw rate to see whether a collision is unavoidable.  If it is, the system can retract the driver’s and front passenger’s seatbelts and prepare the Brake Assist system, which, after the driver applies the brakes, automatically applies increased braking force to help reduce collision speed.

To deal with the damage caused by SUVs, side airbags have been redesigned to provide a greater coverage area, and the body structure has been strengthened to meet the latest side impact standards, which take into account higher-riding vehicles.  Front and rear side curtain airbags help provide protection in certain types of severe side impacts.  The LS 430 also features knee airbags for the driver and front passenger as standard equipment.

The LS 430 includes as standard daytime running lights, LED brake lights and rain-sensing windshield wipers.  Standard High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights come with auto-levelers and the Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS), which illuminates a turn or curve as the driver steers into it.

Four-channel, four-sensor anti-lock brake system (ABS) is standard, while electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) optimizes braking pressure at each wheel to help minimize body dive or sway during hard braking and cornering.  Brake Assist is designed to determine if the driver is attempting emergency braking and, if the driver has not stepped firmly enough on the brake pedal to activate the ABS, it applies maximum braking pressure until pedal pressure is released.

Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) helps control side skids under demanding conditions by detecting and helping to correct loss of lateral traction during cornering.  The VSC system integrates traction control (TRAC) to help limit rear wheelspin on slippery road surfaces.

A Tire Pressure Monitor (TPM) can detect if a tire is significantly under-inflated and alert the driver with an indicator light on the instrument panel to a condition that could potentially lead to uneven tire wear or a loss of control.

Interior of the Lexus

The LS 430 offers three wood finishes and five leather interior colors, allowing customers to tailor the car to their tastes. Adjustments for the front seats (14-way for driver, 10-way for passenger) include dual lumbar controls and adjustable cushion length for more comfortable thigh support for the driver, as well as a single lumbar control for the passenger. 

The LS 430 provides more front leg- and headroom than the externally larger Mercedes-Benz S-Class, as well as greater cabin volume (107.2 cu. ft. vs. 105.0 cu. ft.) and a larger trunk (20.2 cu. ft. or 17.5 cu. ft. with the rear air conditioner vs. 15.4 cu. ft. for the S-Class).  The LS 430 is among the most aerodynamically “slippery” cars in the world, nearly eliminating wind noise with an ultra-low 0.26 coefficient of drag (Cd) with its standard suspension and a 0.25 Cd with the available air suspension.

The standard wood/leather-wrapped steering wheel features easy-to-use controls for the audio system, which includes a standard in-dash, single-feed six-disc CD changer, and a 15-function information display with a trip computer and compass.  The climate control uses temperature and sun-sensing intelligent swing registers.  If sunlight is concentrated on one side of the car, the registers automatically deliver more cooling air to that side.  A power moonroof and power rear sunshade, as well as rear seat vanity mirrors, also are standard features. 

The available DVD-based Lexus Navigation System offers faster performance and far greater map data capacity than CD-ROM systems (one DVD disc covers the continental United States and several areas in Canada).  The system displays maps and route instructions on a seven-inch touch screen, and its voice-command feature allows hands-free use. The system features easy-to-understand graphics, phone number-based address location and building footprint display for major U.S. cities.

When combined with a compatible Bluetooth®-equipped phone, the driver can transfer personal phone books to the navigation system and make hands-free phone calls through the navigation system’s touch-screen control panel. 

Other Lexus features

The available Dynamic Laser Cruise Control system is designed to maintain a set distance from the vehicle traveling in front of it.  (Models equipped with the Pre-Collision System instead use radar-based dynamic cruise control.)  When parking, the available Intuitive Parking Assist system uses ultrasonic sensors to alert the driver to obstacles at the front, rear and corners of the vehicle.

The available rear air conditioner features an optical deodorizer in addition to a particle filter.  The unit uses a catalyst-coated filter and an ultraviolet light to help break down odor-causing elements.  

A rear backup camera provides an extra margin of confidence when reversing.  Available in conjunction with the optional navigation system, it automatically projects an image of what the camera lens can detect behind the vehicle onto the navigation screen when the vehicle is in the reverse gear.

Available XM Satellite Radio provides CD-quality sound and a wide selection of music and news/talk stations coast-to-coast.

The available SmartAccess feature allows the driver to unlock and start the car simply by touching the door handle (with key fob in pocket) and then turning the ignition switch without removing the key fob from a pocket or purse.  The SmartAccess key fob transmits a radio signal to onboard antennas, authorizing the security system to unlock the car and permit engine starting.  The system includes a SmartAccess key wallet card that allows the driver to unlock and start the car if the main key fob is lost.

The LS 430 is one of several Lexus models to offer a high-end Mark Levinson premium audio system. All occupants enjoy optimal sound quality, no matter where they are sitting.

The Custom Luxury Selection and Ultra Luxury Selection option packages include the Mark Levinson premium audio system, and other amenities that can make the LS 430 a suitable chauffer-driven vehicle.  Highlights of both packages include:

The Ultra Luxury Selection option package equips the  LS 430 with an air suspension system and height control, rear climate control seats, rear seat swivel reading lights, manual rear door sun shades, rear seat adjusters with power slide and memory, and rear seat massage.  Several of these items are available separately and in other option packages.

As with all Lexus vehicles, the LS 430 comes with a 48-month/50,000-mile basic limited warranty with roadside assistance for 48-months/unlimited miles.  Powertrain and restraint system coverage is provided for 72 months/70,000 miles.  Corrosion perforation protection is covered for 72 months, regardless of mileage.

The Lexus LS460

Arriving after the LS430, the LS460 is powered by a similar engine with larger displacement and variable valve timing that affects both intake and exhaust valves; the result was a stunning 360 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque from the small V8, coupled with V6-like gas mileage of 19/27 mpg (18/27 on the LS460 L).



Lexus 430 and LS460 specifications and such

Note: Items in bold are new for 2005. We have an LS460 review.


  LS430 (2005) LS460 (2007)


115.2 in.


Overall Length

197.4 in.


Overall Width

72.0 in.


Overall Height (unloaded)
(subtract .8 for air suspension)

58.7 in.


Tread Width  Front/Rear
(add .2 in. for air suspension

61.8 / 61.8 in.


Ground Clearance
(add .2 for air suspension)

5.7 in.


Seating Capacity



Headroom          - Front / Rear

38.1 in. / 37.9 in.


Legroom            - Front / Rear

44.0 in. / 37.6


Shoulder Room - Front / Rear

58.3 in. / 58.2


Hip Room         - Front / Rear

56.7 in. / 57.3


EPA Passenger Volume

107.2 cu. ft.


EPA Cargo Volume

20.2 cu. ft.
(17.5 with rear air)


Curb Weight

3,990 lbs.



5,100 lbs.


Weight Distribution – Percent Front / Rear

53 / 47


Fuel Capacity

22.2 gal.

Layout Front engine, rear-wheel drive  


  2005 LS430 2007 LS460


3UZ-FE V8, aluminum block and heads; ULEV certified



DOHC 32 valve with continuously variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i)

Same, with dual variable valve timing


4.3 liter; bore x stroke, 3.6 in. x 3.3 in.

4.6 liter

Compression Ratio




290 hp @ 5,600 rpm; 320 lb.-ft. @ 3,400 rpm        

380 hp; 367 lb-ft

Maximum Engine Speed

6,350 rpm


Fuel System

Sequential Multi-port Injection (SFI);
Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence (ETCS-I)


Fuel Requirement

91 octane premium unleaded


Transmission Type

6-speed electronically controlled transmission with intelligence (ECT-i); “Power,” “Normal” and “Snow” modes; manual override


Gear Ratios        1st





















Differential Ratio



 Body and such

  2005 LS430


Unitized steel body/frame structure

Suspension         - Front

Double wishbone with anti-lift geometry, coil springs, monotube gas-filled shock absorbers with rebound springs, stabilizer bar

                        - Rear

Double wishbone with anti-squat geometry, coil springs, monotube gas-filled shock absorbers, stabilizer bar

                        - Optional

1)     Semi-active electronic air suspension (Ultra Luxury package)

2)     Euro-tuned suspension (Sport package)

Steering - Type

Vehicle speed-sensing progressive power rack and pinion

  - Overall Ratio


  - Turns, Lock to Lock


  - Turning Circle

35.8 ft.


Four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes with four-channel, four-sensor Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Brake Assist and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD); 12.4 inch front, 12.2 inch rear

Wheel Size / Type

17x7.5 JJ / six-spoke aluminum; optional, 18x7.5 JJ / five-spoke aluminum

Tire Size / Type

225/55R17 H-rated summer tires (all-season optional); also optional, 245/45R18 W-rated summer or all-season tires; full size aluminum-wheel spare


Measure LS430 (2005) LS460 (2007)

0 – 60 mph

5.9 sec.

5.4 sec

0 – 1/4 mile

14.5 sec.


Top Track Speed

131 mph (electronically limited)


Gas mileage

18 / 25 (EPA city/highway)


Coefficient of Drag (Cd)

0.26 (0.25 with optional air suspension)


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