Lexus LS 460 — Carries on its luxury tradition

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Lexus LS 460 has been rather derogatorily called soft and unexciting — devoid of passion and driving dynamics — when compared to the more sports-orientated luxury cruisers such as the Jaguar XJ, BMW 7-Series and the Mercedes S-Class.

As members of the automotive writer clique we find ourselves among the ranks of the BMW 7-Series and Jaguar XJ aficionados who enjoy a more engaging ride. That’s 180 degrees from the average Lexus customer who cries out for powerful, plush, soft and quiet.

Both of our better halves, who always have some sort of opinion on nearly every test car and conveniently both are rather difficult to please (what is it about spouses?), proclaimed early on that the Lexus was a car they could surely live with if price was no object. “Hard to beat,” was the consensus.

Lexus knows its customer base, many in the age range of our “second opinion” focus group.

Lexus officials have been laughing all the way to the bank, critics notwithstanding, in competition with the Germans, British and rival Japanese. That’s because over the past five years the big Lexus has equaled the Mercedes S-Class in sales, both just under 100,000 units, and outpaced the BMW 7-Series, which sold just over 66,000.

That is until the natural disasters hit Japan and possibly the worst hit being Lexus and Toyota. Add that to the seemingly never ending blathering of unintended acceleration; the results being that Lexus has taken a real hit to its competitive prowess. After the first four months of this year the LS trails competitors, the S-Class and the 7-Series.

Sales success notwithstanding there’s obviously a place for the luxury sedan that personifies “Lexus quiet,” provides a smooth ride that soaks up road imperfections, exhibits performance that delivers big time whenever needed, offers a comfortable well made and well-appointed interior that satisfies even the most discerning passenger, and features a full-range of technological advances.

The LS 460 is in the fifth year of its current iteration, but it stands up surprisingly well to the aforementioned competition. We found ourselves admiring how well the big sedan performed against the other luxury nameplates we recently tested. And it beats the competition in price, by as much as 10 grand.

The LS 460 comes in two body styles — regular and extended wheelbase. Opt for the long wheelbase — 121.7 inches compared to 116.9 inches on the standard length — with a $13,200 option package and you can turn the back seat into a first-class limo fit for a NBA star or a CEO of a mega-corporation.

It includes 45-degree reclining seats with recliner-chair-like footrests; memory seats with multifunction massager; a fixed center-console refrigerator; four-zone climate control with infrared temperature sensor, interior air filter with smog sensor and automatic recirculation mode; a rear DVD player with nine-inch screen; power rear sunshade; and rear-seat side airbags. To get better treatment you would probably have to step up to a Maybach or a Rolls Royce.

But you can also pamper yourself in the standard wheelbase version with a host of available modern creature comforts and driving aides — sans the rock star rear-seat treatment — for a relatively bargain basement base price of $66,255.

Even adding most of the available options — some worthwhile and some not so — you can keep the price under $80,000. Our test car, loaded up with such things as adaptive cruise control and air suspension, came in at $77,679.

Important for owners in cold-weather climates and those who like extra capability, the LS 460 can be equipped with all-wheel drive for $2,305.

The heart and soul of any vehicle is the engine and transmission, and the Lexus has it very adequately covered, although it has lost a step or two over the years to the ever-changing competition with the continued use of the same 4.6-liter V-8 used since 2007. It makes 380 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque.

Mated to an eight-speed automatic, the LS 460 can climb from zero to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds as measured by Road & Track. As outstanding as that number is it is just average in today’s luxury sedan world, but cocooned behind the wheel the quiet performance is satisfying.

Whether a quick passing maneuver is demanded or just maintaining constant speed on a steep grade, the silky smooth V-8 answers the call in a very business-like manner.
And certainly worthy of note is the sedan’s excellent fuel economy for the class measured at 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway by the EPA.

While the LS 460 is no cornering juggernaut, it offers consistent stability. To get the most road-holding ability, you will have to opt for the rather pricey sport package at $6,185. It features adjustable air suspension, Brembo brakes and 19-inch wheels in addition to upgraded exterior trim pieces.

The adjustable air suspension features three settings — normal, comfort and sport. Comfort is aptly named turning the ride into softly sprung float. We realize that type of ride is appealing to many people, but for us the sport mode was default, offering a crisper, communicative road feel without introducing any harshness to the ride.

The Lexus shines when it comes to interior comfort, road-going solitude, outstanding sound (especially with the optional 19-speaker 7.1 channel Mark Levinson system), stretch-out room both front and back, and seats that we think will prove comfortable no matter how long the journey.

We commend Lexus for keeping its myriad of features intuitively easy to use compared to some of the German competition. Although we continue to wish Lexus had not embedded the radio into the navigation screen and provided dashboard controls for adding and changing station pre-sets and for imparting satellite radio information such as artist and title.

While luxury sedan offerings from BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar may have more so-called passion and offer more cutting-edge performance and design, the LS 460 more than holds its own in affordability, up-to-date technology, reliability and interior solitude.

Those have been LS attributes since its inception almost a quarter century ago and the 2011 edition carries on the tradition.

Base price: $66,255; as driven, $77,679
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
Wheelbase: 116.9 inches
Length: 199.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,350 pounds
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 18 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 22.2 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 16 mpg city, 24 mpg highway
0-60: 5.6 seconds (Road & Track)
Also consider: Audi A8, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series

The Good:
• Great price compared to rivals
• High-quality, tasteful interior
• "Lexus" quiet

The Bad:
• Engine upgrade needed

The Ugly:
• Options can add many thousands to price of car