– Excellent build quality
– Refined luxurious cabin
– Unbeatable ride comfort
– Soft suspension tuning
– Bit of a fuel hog
– Compromised luggage space
The LS is the model that lent credibility to Lexus when they first launched back in 1989. It was an incredible first attempt for a Japanese mass manufacturer going up against established German luxury marques. And while the last LS version was hardly impressive, this latest one is going to put Lexus back in the race with exhaust pipes blazing, while still managing to undercut the Germans in price.
The latest version gets a larger 4.6-litre V8 engine to justify the LS 460 badge, with an additional L at the end indicating a long-wheelbase model, which is what our tester was. Our mildly-lengthened LS 460 L still managed to look good in profile, and we didn’t realise until much later that we were driving around in a stretched car. Most of the sharp detailing is simple enough to the point of being unnoticeable, although we did notice unique touches such as the slant-shaped exhaust tips integrated right into the rear bumper, as well as the healthy doses of chrome.
Entry into the spacious cabin is gained by just having the key in your pocket. It immediately hit us how much space there was, both front and back, and top to bottom. The living-room effect is more enhanced in the back seat, where the reclining seats and immense legroom lull passengers into thinking they’re in a business jet. You could probably sit on the floor in the back if you wish, having dinner Japanese-style on your way back from the office. All this space takes a toll on luggage space however, with enough volume in the back for only two small suitcases. The space is also cut down due to gadgetry taking up too much room. A Toyota Camry actually has more useable trunk space.
The build quality is perfect, with real leather lining the seats, armrests and door inserts, and semi-hard materials lining the tops of the doors and the dash. There is more wood in the cabin than in any rainforest, while bits of metal trimmings line the centre console. All the moderately-bolstered seats are ventilated with electrically-controllable fans. The front passengers have access to the touchscreen navigation screen that also partially controls the audio and air-conditioning, thankfully in combination with quick external buttons as well. Rear passengers have access to two reclining seats, rear a/c controls, and a flip-down LCD monitor that displays the navigation map and can be controlled with a remote control that also controls the audio system. Oddly enough, our car had this additional screen, but not the optional DVD changer that is supposed to be mounted between the back seats. Other features include keyless entry and start, fancy electric rear-side window blinds, HID headlights, LED tail-lights, electric seatbelt adjusters, power seats and headrests, an incredible Mark-Levinson CD stereo with a million speakers spread about, rear-view camera, Bluetooth phone, parking sensors, rear vanity mirrors, numerous airbags, a drink chiller in the back, automatic parking brake, pockets in all doors and at least four cup-holders. And this is just the version without the optional massaging rear seats.
We initially thought that our tester had the new automatic self-parking feature that made headlines the world over, but after playing with the squiggly guidance lines that appeared in the reverse-camera view for half an hour while flipping through the instruction manual, we gave up. Apparently GCC-spec cars don’t get this eye-popping feature. We do get the navigation system though, and even though this is our third Lexus, we still don’t know how to use it for anything other than seeing where we were at the moment. When we programmed a few popular landmarks into the system, it didn’t really give us the best routes to get there, and we had to find our own way anyway.
Not that we didn’t have fun finding our way around town. The isolated driving experience is good for relaxed cruising. The smooth 4.6-litre V8 engine can barely be heard growling under the hood, but its power can be felt. Even though the cars sold here are detuned compared to the American version, the local LS still packs a respectable 342 hp, backed up by 455 Nm of torque. Power comes on instantly, good enough to send the car flying to 100 kph from standstill in 7 seconds flat. Gear shifts are not discernible, as well they shouldn’t be, considering that the LS has to go through eight of them! That’s right. Along with the non-existent self-parking system, the LS 460’s claim to fame also includes the world’s first eight-speed automatic gearbox. Manual clutchless shifting is also possible, although the smoothness of the shifts meant that we had a hard time judging whether the shift actually took place or not. The over-engineered gearbox means that the engine revs at only 1800 rpm when doing 120 kph. Combine that with ‘smart’ air suspension and minimal wind noise at highway speeds, and what we have here is one of the smoothest land barges on the planet. It also drinks petrol like a barge, averaging 18.7 litres per 100 km in mixed driving, which is excessive but still better than the similarly-equipped Volkswagen Phaeton V8.
The LS has naturally soft suspension, tuned for comfort and for easily soaking up potholes. There is not much floatiness, but it is possible to wobble the car with sharp side-to-side movements. However, even with the mild body roll, there is never any loss of control. The body roll made sense later when we found out that the adaptive air suspension offered in other markets is not available in the GCC. The 245/45 tyres wrapping the 19-inch alloys competently keep a grip on things at speed, and long sweeping curves are dealt with easily, as we found out when we confidently chased down a cocky Mercedes-Benz CLK500 driver around Sin City’s numerous snaking on/off ramps. The car remains flat around long corners, so it is easy to gradually increase speed during the curve.
The power steering is silky soft, which is a blessing when parking, along with its tight turning circle, although it makes hard driving a vaguer experience. The steering is pretty much devoid of any feedback, which became really noticeable when we ripped up the car on open grounds. This is supposedly the first Lexus ever to allow all electronic nannies to be turned off, and we definitely put this theory to the test. Turning off traction and stability control by holding down the marked “off” buttons, we then threw the car into some high-speed powerslides. But while there was enough power going to the rear wheels, there was tons of body roll too. Trying to control the power with dead steering feel and soft pedals, we found ourselves consistently spinning out because we couldn’t feel the road. After a few tries, we gave up in the interests of saving the tyres, although not before utilising the swaying body for an easy 360-degree spin! We were never totally out of control at any time, because the massive ABS-assisted disc brakes can put a stop to any movement in seconds, with or without the help of electronics. With a little more practice, we probably could’ve brought this huge monster under full sideways control, but why bother.
We really explored new territory with this powerful new continuation of the LS nameplate. With so many features to play around with, we really can’t see how it will fail in satisfying any of the briefcase-totting suits who will spend most of their time in the back seat, serenely cruising to the office rather that spinning in smoky 360s. The Germans inject a bit more sportiness into their machines, but people shopping in this category really aren’t going to buy a land barge for its sportiness. They shop in this category precisely for the features that this Lexus so readily offers.