Lexus LS 460 – unencumbered luxury

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

While sitting behind the wheel of the 2007 Lexus LS 460 for the first time we were amazed at the absence of a joystick control knob, an item that has become fashionable on nearly every European and Japanese vehicle that dares to proclaim it a member of the luxury elite.

We have become programmed to believe that it’s necessary to complicate previously simple tasks in our rapidly changing technology-driven environment.

If you listen to the German luxury manufacturers, a joystick-like controller is essential for operating the myriad of systems found in their modern conveyances. BMW, Mercedes and Audi have examples. The most infamous is BMW’s iDrive. Nearly as cumbersome is Mercedes’ COMMAND system.

Japanese models from Infiniti and Acura have also felt the need to use a control knob.
So what’s the deal?

Here’s an all-new Lexus — arguably the equal to the best that Mercedes and BMW have to offer — chock full of the latest innovations, a technological marvel, that needs nothing more than relatively intuitive buttons on the center console to engage its voluminous inventory of systems, some through the navigation screen.

For instance, you don’t have to go through a series of commands to access a radio station. You simply turn on the audio via a knob, hit the FM, AM or Satellite button, and dial in music with another knob.

Things aren’t supposed to be this easy in the brave new world of ultimate luxury; and we applaud the Lexus engineers who have sought to do it a different way when we were nearly brainwashed into thinking anything short of convoluted was impossible.

Intuitive controls are just a part of the new Lexus flagship. The LS 460 is a nearly perfect luxury sedan from the aspect of performance, handling, safety and interior comfort. If we had to be a prisoner in Atlanta gridlock traffic on a late Friday afternoon, we can’t think of a better environment to endure the ordeal.

We know because we had just taken possession of an LS 460 and were headed north to South Carolina smack dab in the middle of weekend rush hour.

We found the new Lexus more than Lexus quiet. A new level of solitude has been achieved. In fact, it’s to the point of how quiet is too quiet? How removed from the outside environment is too removed? Does the solitude it creates make it less appealing to the driver who really likes to drive? For us, we would occasionally power the window down just to get a feel of the hubbub around us.

But most of the time we amazed ourselves at the sound of XM Satellite Radio through the Mark Levinson audio system with no less than 19 speakers. Superb is a mild adjective to describe the clean, crisp quality of the 450-watt system. And because of that system we didn’t feel quite as isolated as when we had it off.

We marveled at the wonderfully simple lines of the dashboard infused with wood trim and highlighted by the latest version of Lexus’ now famous electroluminscent gauges. We enjoyed the feel of the wood and leather steering wheel with power tilt and telescoping functions.

We were pleased by the comfort the heated and cooled front power seats afforded. To help refresh the frazzled driver, we selected the “cold” setting. Later in the evening when we were finally at interstate speeds racing through South Carolina, our cold-natured passenger selected “heat.” Both settings were effective.

You expect from Lexus an interior as quiet as a church on Monday, a sound system that rivals the most expensive home setup and wonderfully intuitive switchgear. What you might not expect from the flagship Lexus is cutting-edge performance. That was an eye opener.

Welcome to the brave new world of Lexus.

The LS 460 is endowed with its first all-new V-8 engine since its inception in 1989, a 4.6-liter developing 380 horsepower mated to an industry-first eight-speed automatic transmission. The engine features the first-ever electrically controlled valve timing system, dual injection and electronically controlled induction system.

Power is delivered smoothly, and it’s exhilarating and seamless. The transmission shifts effortlessly. Lexus says the LS 460 is capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 in 5.5 seconds, although magazine tests have been a tick or two slower. Quarter mile time has been measured at 14 seconds at 102 mph.

These times are not surprising because the new engine has 102 more horsepower and 55 more foot pounds of torque than the previous 4.3-liter engine.

Even with this dramatic increase in horsepower and torque, gas mileage has remained a very respectable 19 city and 27 highway. Sometimes even the wealthy want to do their part.

We pushed through the night on the busy interstate, happy to be free of bumper-to-bumper traffic, enjoying the Lexus even as the fatigue of a long day soaked into our bones.

Yes, the new Mercedes S550 is a bit more athletic and the Audi A8 falls more on the sports car side of the luxury sedan equation, but the new Lexus is not so much about athleticism as it is about pampering its occupants in luxury and power. It’s not so much about cornering at god-awful speeds as it is about getting affluent people from point A to point B in comfort and safety — and very quickly if you want to press your luck with the local gendarmes.

We think that’s what Lexus customers want, even if it’s not what some of us auto writers want. We’re still stuck in our childish world of there is no such thing as too much horsepower or athleticism. In our world everything should be a winning sports car. But reality tells, at least some of us, that just isn’t the way of the world. So getting behind the wheel of this Lexus is to marvel at what it does accomplish with stylish ease.

All this is indeed accomplished with a ride that is supple without the floaty feeling of some luxury cars, and that was appreciated as we cut through the night on roads that need more gas tax money for maintenance.

There was some disappointment (nothing is perfect), however, in our first meeting with the LS 460. While we applaud Lexus’ bolder design after 17 years of ultra-conservative styling, we think the flagship is too much like several others in the Toyota/Lexus fleet that share the new so-called L-finesse design theme.

The flagship should stand apart. We shouldn’t have to do a double-take to determine if it’s an LS or an ES, or for that matter a Toyota Avalon. Too much family resemblance can be too much.

The standard LS 460 is slightly larger than the LS 430, but Lexus has added an extended version this year — called the L — that adds five inches to the length, nearly five inches to the wheelbase and $10,000 to the base price.

As you might expect, the standard-sized Lexus comes with a host of good things as standard equipment including a full array of safety features for a starting price of $61,715. But you will be easily persuaded to add some options. Some are just too good to pass up including that outstanding Mark Levinson audio system bundled with navigation, backup camera and Bluetooth technology.

We were amazed with the real-time traffic feature of the navigation. It kept us in a state of depression, accurately predicting the traffic jams ahead.

Other options include an air suspension system, adaptive cruise control, intuitive parking assist (which will help parallel park the car on command – easier said than done – but innovative nevertheless), a DVD entertainment system, and a couple of rear-seat packages including one in the extended version that features a fixed console with cooled storage and reclining power seats with heating, cooling and massage.

Our well-optioned Lexus test car carried a bottom line of $71,372. And we think that’s probably going to be the average sales price.

There are no tricks to the new Lexus; it is nothing short of near superb. Did you expect anything less from Lexus? For this kind of money we didn’t.


Base price: $61,715; as driven: $71,372
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8
Horsepower: 380 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 367 pound-feet @ 4,100 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Wheelbase: 116.9 inches
Length: 198 inches
Curb weight: 4,475 pounds
Trunk space: 18 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 22.2 gallons (premium)
EPA mileage: 27 mpg highway, 19 city
0-60: 5.6 seconds (Road & Track)
Also consider: Mercedes S-Class, Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Jaguar XJ

The Good:
• Powerful V-8 mated to slick 8-speed transmission
• Wonderfully uncomplicated switchgear
• Tasteful interior appointments

The Bad:
• Unlike many LS versions of the past, options can take the price of this Lexus well over 70 grand.

The Ugly:
• The so-called L-finesse design looks too much like a Toyota Avalon