When it comes to prestige, Lexus has lived in the shadow of Mercedes-Benz since its inception. The Japanese carmaker still lacks the German's cachet, but its latest high-end model goes tit for tat in most every other way. The second "L" in this luxury sedan's name stands for long-wheel base. The posh sedan has been stretched five inches to match the size of the competing Mercedes S550 and give passengers a lot of legroom. Its 380-horsepower engine is nearly as powerful as that of the S550, but the car costs about $10,000 less.
German rivals have loaded their cars with a complex video-screen interface for controlling nearly everything but the steering wheel. Lexus has simple buttons and knobs with a few touch-screen controls for things like the air conditioner and audio. You don't need to stare at the in-dash screen to change radio stations or heat and cool the cabin.
The 380 HP engine is mated to a silky-smooth eight-speed transmission that boosts fuel economy to a combined 21 mpg. Most cars have five speeds; the S550 has seven.
PARK IT YOURSELF
A guidance system can steer the car into a space for you, but it's slow and more trouble than it's worth.
THE LEXUS LIMO
The L version of the car has an executive seating package, an option that helps push the price toward $93,000. It offers plenty of legroom for people taller than six feet and a reclining seat that comes with heating and cooling systems and massagers.
The cruise-control system uses radar to find cars up ahead. Close in too fast and the car will tense up the front-row seat belts. If the car's computer thinks a collision is unavoidable, it will increase braking pressure as soon as the driver taps the pedal.
You push a button to start, but the car won't turn on unless the fob is close, like in a pocket or purse. With valet parking, remember to hand over the fob as you would a key.
By David Welch