Review: 2010 Lexus LS460L
By Roger Boylan
When Lexus was born in 1989, having evolved from a top-secret Toyota flagship sedan project into a distinctive luxury marque, the jaded veterans of the luxury-car world scoffed. No upstart Japanese enterprise could ever equal the Benzes, Jags and BMWs of this world, sneered those arrogant dynasts. Look at Sterling, Honda’s ill-fated joint attempt to base an upscale brand on dowdy Rovers: quality was poor, sales tanked. Well, Lexus was different right from the start. As anyone at all familiar with automotive history knows, the scoffing soon stopped. By the mid-1990s, Lexus was picking up awards for quality and reliability that were increasingly being denied to Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Jaguar, et al. The new Japanese brand came to surpass other luxury brands in terms of quality, durability, and reliability, a remarkable accomplishment for such a new arrival. The concept of the Japanese luxury marque had arrived, big time, in triplicate, with Nissan’s Infiniti and Honda’s Acura. This effort owed much to the original LS, the LS400, a V8-powered luxury model, the first car to call itself a Lexus.
My companion for the past week has been the present-day descendant of that pioneering car, the 2010 LS460 L (the current generation was launched in 2007), and a very good companion it has proved to be. At first I was a little concerned that the latest Toyota recall notice, for steering problems in the LS, might interfere with my scheduled week-long test; but my test vehicle was unaffected, and arrived on time. I and my family were impressed from the outset. Externally, the LS460 tends, like most of its compatriots, toward stylistic discretion, but I didn’t find it to be at all bland or anonymous, quite the opposite. In fact, on the street it turned quite a few heads, not all of them belonging to autophiles, or passersby alarmed at the sight of a scruffy sod like me in a luxobarge; the car’s looks are just that good, tasteful and sleek without being overly dramatic, although the shiny 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels add a touch of pizzazz.
The LS’s lines flow evenly from its striking “L”-emblazoned grill and crystalline quad-headlamp units (automatic-leveling and corner-turning, by the way), along the car’s flank, over the roof and back to the integrated rear spoiler and wrap-around LED tail lamps. The exhaust pipes are nicely integrated into the rear valence, a daring design cue that works. Actually, the whole design works brilliantly, at least from the point of view of aerodynamics: The LS boasts a drag coefficient of 0.26, better than a Nissan GTR, Mercedes S-Class, or Hyundai Genesis. Such reduced drag not only helps with fuel economy (my test LS managed an average of 20.5 mpg in varied driving conditions, and as high as 30 on the highway with cruise control–all on premium, of course), it also reduces the noise levels inside the car. I’ve never driven a Rolls, but I can’t believe it could be much quieter than this. Except under hard acceleration, virtually nothing is audible except the sighs of pleasure from all aboard and the best concert-level sound I’ve ever experienced in a car; the Mark Levinson unit includes 19 speakers and can play Dolby Digital 5.1 DVD audio, MP3 and WMA files, and of course 6 CDs, not simultaneously.
Speaking of hard acceleration, it’s the only time your ears will be able to confirm the existence under that long hood of the 380-hp 4.6-liter V8. For a few seconds as you get up to highway speed, the engine emits a muted roar, all 367 lb-ft of torque moving the big beast with alacrity; then, once cruising speed is attained, silence descends. On a lonely road, trusty Omega strapped to the wheel, I timed the 0-60 run in something over 5.5 seconds. I did it twice more, thrilled by the smooth, apparently limitless rush of power: both times, around the 5.5-second mark. Then I brought her to a sudden halt, and thought I sensed the merest hint of grab in the brakes, but I must have been mistaken, because when I did it again twice, there was no grab, and no hint of fade at all, then or later. My ultimate verdict on the brakes: Great.
The car corners well, too, considering how long it is; the steering is light and direct, and the motive power is fed through the world’s first eight-speed automatic transmission–yes, eight. Well, Mercedes has a seven-speed, so Lexus saw them and raised them one. Mind you, it’s so seamless that you wouldn’t know it was so multifarious, and it even manages to downshift briskly when needed, but here’s where I find myself getting a tad impatient with hi-tech overload. Admittedly, the transmission probably does have a positive payoff at the pump, but surely six speeds are enough. Anyway, there’s a manual-shift feature, which I tried. It works OK.
But this isn’t the car for you if you think that too much is too much. “Too much isn’t enough” must be your credo. Perhaps needless to say, this car is a bona fide luxury ride. Apart from the uncanny quietness, even over uneven road surfaces, the seating is on a par with Business Class on one of those swanky Asian airlines, and even they don’t offer heated and cooled perforated-leather seats with infinitely adjustable seating positions and lumbar support. (Or maybe they do, I don’t know, never having flown on one.) The driver’s main danger is being lulled to sleep by the soft embrace of the leather and the whispering of the HVAC unit.
In front of the driver, keeping him or her awake, are clear easy-to-read gauges displaying on demand extensive info on all the car’s operations, fuel consumption, tire pressure, and so on. The binnacle that shields the gauges broadens out into a nicely padded soft-touch dashboard. Leather and polished walnut surfaces are well-mated throughout. In the center console are the display screen for navigation, audio controls, checking your stocks, etc., and surprisingly intuitive controls that even I had no difficulty finding my way around. Cubby spaces are ample and numerous; the door pockets even open out like accordion files, for extra storage.
The “base” model LS460 starts at a reasonable (for this class) $63,825. My test car was the 460L, an extended-length model with 5 more inches of foot room in the back than the standard-length Lexus LS 460 and stickered at $77K with options. An all-wheel-drive version of the L goes for $77,260, and the top-of-the-line LS, the absurd LS 600h L hybrid, cruises out the door for a cool $106,035. (Absurd indeed. I mean, honestly, how long would it take you to make up the difference in fuel economy after you’ve plunked down your hundred grand? Fifty years? And who in this price range cares about the price of gas, anyway?)
Options in my car included Lexus Enform with destination Assist (OnStar, Lexus style), keyless start, that previously mentioned superb Mark Levinson sound system, XM satellite radio, a folding table, dual-zone rear HVAC controls, power sunshade, one-touch power trunk open-and-close, power moonroof, and DVD with wireless headphones. Safety equipment? You bet. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the LS460 a “Good” rating, their best, for frontal crash safety; they haven’t performed any offset or side-impact crashes, and probably won’t, since cars in this stratosphere are generally assumed to be pretty safe. The LS comes with eight standard air bags, ABS of course, electronic brake assist and stability program, tire-pressure monitoring, and all the goodies. One nifty option is a pre-accident system that, when the car’s computers sense an imminent crash, moves seats out of the way, tightens seat belts, and closes the windows and sunroof. And leaves you to recite the Lord’s Prayer.
Advanced Park Assist is perhaps the car’s best-known feature, turning it into the Car That Parks Itself. It does, too, albeit rather slowly and hesitantly. I didn’t try the parallel parking setting, since there are precious few parallel parking spots in my quaint neck of the woods, but I did allow the vehicle to find its own way into a perpendicular space. It was an eerie experience; after you’ve positioned the car next to the parking place, following the instructions on the center console screen, the car assumes control over acceleration and steering and leaves the human to work the brakes. I was reminded, not surprisingly for one of my generation, of HAL, the power-mad computer in the movie 2001. The system works, but slowly, and I can’t imagine finding much use for it; I haven’t arrived at the stage when the prospect of parking my car fills me with dread. Anyway, what’s wrong with tossing the valet the keys? (Oh, that’s right; it doesn’t have keys, just a fob and a starter button.)
The Lexus came to visit over the Memorial Day weekend, during which we had our first uninterrupted stretch of pre-summer Texas summer weather: sunny and hot. Perfect for road trips, in other words, and there could be no better highway cruiser than this sumptuous Lexus and its mighty V8, Carnegie Hall-quality sound system, dual-zone A/C, and buttery leather seats. With my highly appreciative wife at my side (“I’m almost tempted to say that you actually get what you pay for, with this car”), I toured familiar byways in the Hill Country, took command of the left lane on I-35, motored at a leisurely pace through Austin’s residential neighborhoods, and ended up with an additional 500 miles on the trip counter. We generally had a high old time playing aging über-yuppies in our magnificent machine. If I never drive another Lexus, I’ll remember this one with pleasure, but the likelihood of me never driving another Lexus, after this experience, is slim to none.