Review: 2010 Lexus LS 460 Sport
By Chris Haak
How about some word association. BMW? The Ultimate Driving Machine. Mercedes? Engineered like no other car. Lexus? How about ‘isolated?’ Simply put, Lexus automobiles are not known for their sporting capabilities, and in fact, are known as the wallowy, floaty entries in most of the segments in which they compete. In spite of the best efforts of the team behind Toyota’s luxury brand, buyers remain unconvinced that the likes of the IS, GS, and LS – saying nothing of the SUVs and crossovers – can be considered sporty, or even sporting, the same way that BMW’s products generally are. Lexus automobiles are very comfortable, well-assembled, and have nice features, but few would argue about which end of the performance-luxury continuum vehicles with the L on their grille fall on.
There have been a few glimmers of sport coming from Toyota City, particularly over the past few years. The IS F sport sedan, which features a 417 horsepower 5.0 liter V8 and eight-speed automatic in a compact package gives the M3 a run for its money, not to mention having one of the best exhaust notes this side of NASCAR. The F high-performance brand then extended into upgrades (cosmetic and functional) for the other members of the IS lineup, with the F-Sport package on the lesser ISs. We would be negligent to not mention the breathtaking Lexus LF-A supercar, though with production so limited and its price so high, it’s a halo car that finds itself perhaps a bit too close to heaven. So, for another step toward sport-luxury respectability, Lexus has introduced a sport package for its flagship LS sedan. Meet the LS 460 Sport.
Just as BMW does not sell an M7 (the magnificent Alpina B7 notwithstanding), Lexus is not calling this car the LS F. Nor should it, and there will probably never be an LS F. [We’ll conveniently forget for a moment that Mercedes Benz’s AMG subsidiary is more than happy to sell you an S63 AMG, and if that’s not enough, a V12 biturbo S65 AMG.] The LS 460 Sport keeps all of the parts that we like about the LS – namely, comfort, luxury, solidity, and excellent powertrain – and adds still more good stuff.
Specifically, checking off the box for the $6,185 Sport Package gets Brembo brakes, 19 inch 20-spoke wheels, 245/45R19 Dunlop summer tires, sport-tuned suspension, sport exterior trim and grille, sport front seats, heated sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, black/saddle interior trim with matte dark brown ash burl wood and leather armrest. The Sport Package is a pricey option – it alone was more expensive than the car’s four other options and packages combined – but as you can see, you’re getting a lot of stuff for your $6,185. In fact, the enhancements included with this package literally transform the nature of this car, from one that a septuagenarian would be conceptually comfortable with to one that the same individual might frown upon instead.
It’s not like the Sport Package takes away from any of the LS’ baked-in luxury. Other than a wood steering wheel rim, there’s really very little visual clue that the LS Sport driver is giving up any kind of luxury or comfort features in order to get the big wheels and brakes. The car has outstanding interior materials throughout, including soft-touch plastics literally everywhere (including the lower door panels, which almost no car has).
The comfort and luxury theme continues with the seats, which are trimmed in soft, great-smelling leather, and boast contrasting stitching and a three-position memory function for both driver and front passenger. The front seats are heated and ventilated; the controls for the seats’ climate controls are small dials that are difficult to reach because they’re so far behind the gearshift, right in front of the console lid. Their positioning is not quite ergonomically friendly. Although the top of the dashboard was not finished in cut-and-sewn leather as is the flagship LS 600hL (or the similarly-priced Jaguar XF), the door panels and console lid did have a nice two-tone leather treatment with contrasting stitching.
Elsewhere in the LS Sport’s interior, you’ll find very nice wood trim that’s called matte dark brown ash burl, that feels very high quality and looks great. My five year old son thought it was fake, but nevertheless, it’s real. The headliner is woven with a higher “thread count” than you’d find in a more mainstream car, and the A-pillars do not suffer the indignity of hard plastic trim. Instead, they’re covered with a fabric whose pattern naturally matches the headliner’s perfectly.
Although this is the sporty version of the LS, it is somewhat surprising that there is no wood on the steering wheel. Portions of the wheel are finished in perforated leather; generally the pilot’s yoke sections of the wheel are perforated leather – and heated, which is great for glove-free comfort on cold days. Because this particular car was not equipped with adaptive cruise control, the steering wheel had a blank filler plug on the right side where the adaptive cruise control switch would go, and that omission was pretty obvious because the wheel lacks an element of symmetry without it. One minor lapse in attention to detail is that the redundant volume controls are on the bottom left corner of the steering wheel and not lighted. Because they’re not lighted and in the background already, they were hard to find until I had familiarized myself with the car. The wheel does feel great in hand, however.
Lexus engineers really sweated the details when putting together this car’s interior. Not only do switches operate with a level of precision not present on lesser cars, but even little touches like having everything lighted at night (except for the secondary volume controls on the steering wheel) – even the indicator hashes on the air vents to show their position in a dark car – and a hazard flasher switch that flashes red along with the green turn signal indicators on the instrument panel when the flashers are activated. Another personal favorite were the metal volume nad tuning knobs on the center stack; it was real metal and cold to the touch on a cool day, and felt exactly like what one might encounter when operating a high-end home stereo.
It is kind of surprising, however, that there is no accent lighting in the interior solely intended to add character or flair to the interior. There’s no footwell lighting while driving, and no indirect LED lighting as even the Cadillac CTS and the Lincoln MKS have. It’s not that the interior lacks flair or character; it’s just that at night, it doesn’t look as interesting as it does during the day. Basically, the LS’ extremely prevalent lighting is nice to have, but is intended to serve a specific function, and not necessarily to beautify the interior.
You’ll find several storage compartments throughout the LS 460 Sport’s interior, but none of them are particularly large. There is a small compartment on the left side of the lower dashboard; there’s another small one forward of the gearshift that looks like an ashtray, but has a “no smoking” symbol on it. The glove box has a single door, but a shelf inside to hold the gigantic owner’s manual. The manual and associated books is over two inches thick, and quite possibly takes the record for the thickest one I’ve seen firsthand, with more than a thousand pages of information. There are just two cupholders for front seat occupants, which proved limiting at times. My wife and I typically put other small items (sunglasses, keys, etc.) into a car’s cupholders, so we need more than just two of them to be happy. There are also cupholders in the fold-down center armrest for the rear seat as well. That rear armrest has controls for the rear heated (not cooled) seats and the rear window’s power sunshade.
The center console’s lid is a marvel of engineering. It’s covered in very nicely stitched leather (or a reasonable facsimile of leather) with contrasting stitching, and unlatched via a real metal horizontal button on the front, facing the gearshift. Once unlatched, it smoothly glides up and back as if on ball bearings, rather than ungracefully creaking and opening with a conventional hinge. Again, this is impressive attention to details. Inside the center console is a 12 volt power outlet jack and a USB/analog audio input, and those jacks are all lighted via a LED spotlight within the console. Outside the center console on the side facing the rear seat is
The Toyota/Lexus Bluetooth streaming audio continues to be a source of frustration for me as an iPhone user. The car is capable of pairing an audio device and a separate cell phone, but in the iPhone’s case, the audio device and cell phone are the same device. Unlike with Ford’s SYNC system (which requires a single pairing that works for both streaming audio and cell phone connectivity), Lexus makes you pick either/or. Plugging the iPhone into the USB jack and forgoing USB audio proved to be the most effective way to have my cake and eat it too (with the bonus of charging my iPhone), but a totally wireless solution that actually worked well would be preferable.
I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the nuances and details present in the LS 460 Sport’s interior, and haven’t really talked about what it’s like to drive this sport-luxury car. My first impression of the driving experience was that the brakes seemed to be a bit grabby at their initial application, but they really had quite good pedal feel. I reviewed an LS 600hL a while ago, and that car’s brakes were not a valid comparison because they were smaller and included the hybrid’s regenerative braking feature. Based on the above-average strength of the brakes I was detecting underfoot in the LS 460 Sport, I suspected that the brakes were special in this car, and sure enough, it has Brembos. With a tip of the cap toward tasteful restraint, the calipers are unadorned with either Brembo or Lexus branding, and they’re painted dark gray to further de-emphasize their presence.
Acceleration performance is brisk. The eight-speed automatic has a ton of ratios to choose from, and seemed to do a credible job of having the car in the right gear at the right time, and the car’s hermetically sealed 4.6 liter 380-horsepower V8 is a smooth, powerful dance partner. Kickdowns to lower gears for passing maneuvers happened rapidly, and overall, the car gave a much more natural-feeling sensation when accelerating than did the quicker LS 600 hL hybrid. With eight forward ratios, I rarely bothered with the metal paddle shifters nestled behind the wheel, because shifting happens often (and quite rapidly) in the lower gears when accelerating quickly, and I couldn’t always keep up. And with a slight lag between when the paddle is hit and the gearchange actually occurs, I felt that it was best to leave the car to its own devices more often than not.
With a large body as the LS 460 Sport has, body control needs to be a primary objective of the chassis-tuning team. If you want your Lexus to wallow, just switch the VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management) knob to “comfort” and float down the highway. Most of my time in the car, I left the VDIM set to normal, but when things began to feel overly pillowy, I switched it to Sport. Sport mode definitely made the car feel more hunkered-down, and although road imperfections were transmitted to the steering wheel and seats in Sport mode, as a driver, I preferred that feedback. My passengers, on the other hand, complained and asked me to stop changing settings that rattled their teeth. The bottom line is that when Sport mode is engaged, wallow is limited and road feedback is more plentiful: all the things that driving enthusiasts want to see.
Despite the revised suspension and big 19-inch wheels and summer tires, steering feel was not quite up to sport sedan standards. The tires did their part, but the car’s electric power steering (used both for fuel economy reasons and to enable the car’s waste-of-time self-parking feature) may be the culprit. It feels somewhat overboosted, the steering wheel is too large, and the ratio is too slow. You have to hustle the big wheel quite a bit during spirited driving, and it’s just too much arm movement required to be satisfactory.
The LS 460 starts at $65,555 including destination. My test car had the $2,035 Comfort Package with Sport (power sunshade, rear heated seats, headlamp washers, power door closers, one-touch power trunk open/close, parking assist), $2,780 Luxury Value Edition (navigation, 19-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio with 7.1 channel architecture, Lexus Enform with Destination Assist, advanced parking guidance), and the Sport Package (Brembo brakes, 19″ split 10-spoke forged alloy wheels with 245/45R19 summer tires, sport suspension, sport exterior trim and grille, heated sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, black/saddle interior trim with matte dark brown ash burl wood and leather armrest), the $95 trunk mat, and the $64 cargo net. The final MSRP, including destination, came in at $76,714. A lot of money, but it’s a lot of car.
Though the LS 460 Sport is not a featherweight, observed fuel economy of 18 miles per gallon (against an EPA rating of 16 MPG city and 24 MPG highway) was better than I expected it to be. If I had to pick a car in which to take an extended road trip, this is one of the first cars I’d grab the keys for. In fact, were it not for the car’s summer tires and a small snowstorm, my wife and I were prepared to drive the Lexus from one end of Pennsylvania to the other, then back again the same day to visit family. We didn’t want to risk the trip with rear wheel drive and summer tires, though.
If you want a coddling driving environment with a splash of driving feel, body control, and sport, handsome good looks (the LS is arguably the best-looking Lexus, ever, and the Sport package upgrades only enhance that look with larger wheels, darkened trim, and a body that sits low on the chassis), the LS 460 Sport may be the car for you. That is, if you have $76,714 in your new-car budget.