Lexus Chases Mercedes as Sporty $89,000 LS Adds Luxury
I was stuck in the mother of all traffic jams while test-driving Lexus (7203)’s reworked, range-topping executive sedan. And I was counting my lucky stars.
The inside of the $75,800, all-wheel-drive LS 460 F Sport is a most agreeable place. A leather lair separated me from the horn-honking hoi polloi and the trucker who kept switching lanes in slow motion. (Yeah, the other non-moving lane is surely faster).
As I crept-crept-crept along, I had plenty of time to take in the finely grained cowhide and the finish of the dark wood on the steering wheel.
It got me thinking that no matter how fantastic your new car looks, most of the time you won’t be the one appreciating the bling on the grill or the design of the LED headlamps.
Nope, you’ll be stuck inside, so you better enjoy your car’s interior. And, boy, Lexus does it right on this sedan.
Still, Lexus has long been known for nice cockpits and might prefer you notice the remodeled exterior, as the 2013 LS 460 F Sport marks a new beginning for Lexus’s long-running sedan. The LS has a much more aggressive face, as well as a reworked suspension and steering components.
The entire Lexus line is being revamped to make the vehicles sportier and more interesting to drive.
This comes from a directive by Toyota Motor Corp.’s chief executive officer and president, Akio Toyoda, who loves fast cars. He spearheaded the development of Lexus’s first-ever supercar, the $400,000 LFA, which recently ceased production.
The most obvious manifestation of the more compelling approach to design is found on the new front of the LS, GS and ES sedans. The company calls it a “spindle grill.” I’m not sure what the name refers to -- it doesn’t look like something you’d wind wool onto -- but there’s no mistaking one from 10 paces away.
It is distinctive, and looks surprisingly at home on the nose of the big-boned LS. This is suddenly a car with a lot more presence than earlier models.
The rear-wheel-drive LS 460 starts at $72,800. An extra $10,000 gets you a long-wheelbase, all-wheel-drive model. And those who really love riding in the back seat can go hog wild with a long-wheelbase hybrid version called the LS 600h L ($120,800).
My test model cost $89,479 in all, including a newly-available F Sport package with added visual bite and a whiff of greater sportiness.
The $7,860 package doesn’t upgrade the engine, unfortunately. It has the LS 460’s standard 4.6-liter V-8 with 386 horsepower. Worse, all-wheel-drive models actually have less power, at 360 hp.
Compare that to the 429 horses on the Mercedes-Benz S550 sedan or the 445 hp on the BMW 750i, and the LS 460 seems a bit wan. Nonetheless, Lexus says the rear-wheel drive will hit 60 miles per hour in 5.4 seconds, more than acceptable for most drivers. (The AWD takes a leisurely six seconds.)
The F Sport package does get you better bolstered seats, aluminum pedals, upgraded Brembo brakes, a limited slip differential and summer performance tires.
Fortunately, since I was driving on icy roads, my car was shod with winter tires. They produce more road noise than regular rubber, but the trade-off is worthwhile. (An ice-related accident was the cause of the massive traffic jam.)
Like the AWD, the LS was sure and confident. The eight-speed automatic transmission is excellent, and the suspension is just firm enough to corner well without seeming harsh. Driving the LS is pleasurable if not quite thrilling.
Which brings me back to the interior. Quality counts most on things you touch every day. It’s the small details that bring joy over time, not necessarily the upgraded aluminum rims or special metallic paint.
Designers spent a lot of time thinking about the interior of the LS, and craftsman obviously took great care carrying out that vision.
The leather work on the LS shows a mastery of stitching and subdued patterns. The convergence of shapes in the door panels is calming to the eye. Edges line up precisely with wood and aluminum accents (all real, too).
I even obsessed over the interior door pulls. The undersides of the handles were covered in contoured leather, supremely pleasing to the touch. A minor detail you’d never notice on an initial test drive, but a tiny pleasure you’ll relish every time you close the door.
My only real gripe was the seating position. My head nearly brushed the Alcantara roof lining.
The LS is nominally a sportier, more engaging car. Still, it is those long commutes in traffic jams when buyers will most appreciate its cocoon-like charms.
The 2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport AWD at a Glance
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8 with 360 horsepower and 347 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in six seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 16 city, 23 highway.
Price as tested: $89,479.
Best feature: Oh, the comfort!
Worst feature: Less power on the all-wheel-drive.
Target buyer: The daily commuter looking for serenity.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.