2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport review:

Lexus' flagship gets an F-Sport makeover

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While the differences between Normal, Eco, and Sport are obvious -- it's hard to miss the difference in throttle response and transmission behavior -- the differences between Normal and Comfort and the performance gains between Sport and Sport+ are harder to feel from the Lexus' driver's seat.

The adaptive suspension does a remarkable job of adjusting on the fly, providing a comfortable ride in Normal mode and firming up when it needs to, so the change to Comfort or Sport+ isn't really a night-and-day transition. Any additional improvement in handling afforded by the Sport+ mode doesn't make it to the driver, getting lost somewhere in the translation between the road and the ol' butt accelerometer in the seat of the pants. In fact, aside from a bit of extra off-center steering weightiness, I was hard pressed to tell any difference between Sport and Sport+ when piloting the LS 460 F-Sport down my favorite twisty road.

Despite the fact that the driver is isolated from the road even in the Sport+ mode, I still managed to surprise myself by how quickly and effortlessly the LS was able to handle the aforementioned twisty road. The chassis will plant itself around the smoother of the bends at speeds well above the recommended limit -- if you're not careful to watch the speedometer -- without protest from the engine or a squeal from the tires. The LS F-Sport was less at home on the tightly twisting switchbacks of the mountains south of our San Francisco offices. The overboosted steering (even in Sport+) and the basic physics of asking a 4,233-pound hunk of metal to dance around a switchback simply conspired against the F-Sport, but the sedan still never felt out of sorts.

Lexus LS 460 F-Sport
The rear-drive Lexus LS is no sports car, but its a fine grand tourer. Josh Miller/CNET

Proper performance tires for the F-Sport package would further improve the sedan's footing and grip, but I'm not convinced that the LS wants to be a canyon carver. This big, comfortable cruiser takes a step closer to being big, comfortable grand tourer with the addition of the F-Sport package. The LS F-Sport is more comfortable blasting down an interstate where its V-8 can stretch its legs, slingshotting around a cloverleaf off-ramp where the suspension can settle, and tackling the smooth corners and rolling hills of wine country's flowing B-roads where the differential take care of balancing power and grip. Considering that these will likely be the 2013 LS 460 F-Sport's habitat, I've got no major complaints about that.

Cabin comfort
Inside the cabin, the F-Sport package continues with styling and tech upgrades, including the Mark Levinson 19-speaker, 450-watt Surround Sound Audio System, Blind Spot Monitoring with Cross Traffic Alert, a Pre-Collision System that integrates with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, LED headlamps that steer with the front wheels and feature intelligent automatic high beams, and a handful of other upgrades such as an upgraded heater and higher capacity battery. Black leather trim, black alcantara headliner, an F-Sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, aluminum pedals and interior accents, and more deeply bolstered seats round out the F-Sport's upgrades.

The LS' standard cabin tech package consists of a hard-drive-based navigation system with NavTraffic, NavWeather, Fuel Prices, Sports and Stocks from SiriusXM, Lexus' Enform connectivity suite (an enhanced, but essentially rebranded version of Toyota's Entune system), standard Bluetooth for hands-free calling and audio streaming, and a full suite of digital audio sources including USB, HD Radio, SiriusXM radio, DVD optical media playback, and an analog audio input. A giant 12.3-inch ultrawide display resides on the center of the dashboard and displays all of the infotainment data and doubles as a display for the standard rear-view camera when reversing.

Lexus Enform
The Lexus Enform app suite is essentially a re-skinned version of Toyota's Entune app suite, boasting the same list of compatible apps. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

All of this tech is controlled by Lexus' Remote Touch controller. This joystick-trackball combo controller has always been a weird one, but for the most part, I've liked using the Remote Touch controller and its haptic feedback in previous-generation Lexus models. However, the new generation of Lexus infotainment that ships in the 2013 LS switches to a wide, split-screen configuration that seems to take a two steps forward in the amount of information displayed and a step backward in user friendliness. The controller that previously used absolute positioning when moving the cursor around the screen now jumps around under your fingers as it repositions the cursor when passing across the screen split. Add to that an interface relies too heavily on home screen to switch modes rather than giving quickly accessible shortcuts to the different hubs for navigation and media, for example. You get used to it, but I found the constant repositioning of the cursor and controller to be confusing at first and a bit overwhelming.

I'd like to see Lexus move away from the button-heavy control metaphor, since the display isn't touch sensitive anyway. Josh Miller/CNET

The Lexus' cabin is, on the other hand, chock full of nice tech and convenience touches. For example, the heated/ventilated seats and heated steering wheel can be set to cooperate with the climate control system, automatically cooling your undercarriage on hot days to ease the load on the air conditioner or warming your body and hands on an icy morning while you wait for the heater core to warm up. Discovering these little touches made sitting in the LS' driver's seat a joy.

In sum
Our 2013 Lexus LS 460 F-Sport shared the Car Tech garage with the 2013 BMW 750Li this week, which turned out to be a bit of a double-edged sword.

On one hand, I think the Lexus really pales when placed in side-by-side comparison with the German -- perhaps not on paper, but the devil's in the details when you sit in one car after the other. The Lexus' infotainment screen, while impressive, sits perpendicular to the driver's shoulders on the dashboard, pointed toward the rear seats and picking up noticeably more glare than the Bimmer's screen that's angled ever-so slightly toward the driver. The BMW's screen has a higher resolution and its 3D maps make the Lexus' still-good 2D maps look primitive. Additionally, the materials that make up the 7er's cabin feel more substantial. The power train is much more responsive (with 445 horsepower, it should be) and the suspension more confidence-inspiring than the Lexus'.

LED head lamp
The Lexus LS 460 F-Sport is a remarkable ride, but it faces stiff competition from both ends of its price scale. Josh Miller/CNET

On the other hand, the LS 460 F-Sport is still a fantastic car in its own right. I think it's one of the best-looking cars in its class, its performance is nothing to sniff at, and it's a relative steal at a fully loaded $88,115 (including the $71,990 base price, the $15,230 F-Sport package, and a destination charge of $895) when compared with the Bimmer's $90,000 base price before options. True, comparing the LS 460 with the long-wheelbase 750Li isn't exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but placing these vehicles side by side gives us an idea of how favorably the Lexus compares with a similarly equipped, less powerful BMW 740i.

Best not rest on those laurels though, Lexus. Hyundai's been improving the sub-$50k Genesis R-Spec at an amazing rate and it's hot on your heels.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Lexus LS 460
Trim F-Sport
Powertrain 4.6-liter V8, direct and port injection, eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, rear-wheel drive, optional rear Torsen LSD
EPA fuel economy 16 city, 24 highway, 19 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy n/a
Navigation Standard, HDD-based with NavTraffic and NavWeather
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player single-slot CD, optional DVD
MP3 player support standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection
Other digital audio SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Optional Mark Levinson 19-speaker, 450-watt Surround Sound Audio System with 7.1-channel decoding
Driver aids Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, Pre-Collision System, steerable LED headlamps with intelligent high beams
Base price $71,990
Price as tested $88,115

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