The LS was the first car debuting under the Lexus brand way back in 1989. Today, the large, long and imposing 2015 LS 460 is still the quintessential Lexus car. Over the decades, the model has grown from a value alternative to the German competition into a true equal to, say, the BMW 7-series or Audi A8.
Lift the LS' large hood and you'll be greeted by...well, a sea of black plastic shrouds and a silver engine cover. With the exception of the washer fluid filler and the oil cap and dipstick, Lexus has hidden all of the sedan's mechanical bits from the driver. Nothing to see here!
Somewhere beneath the plastic is the same smooth workhorse of a 4.6-liter V-8 gasoline engine that Lexus has been using for years now. With a combination of port and direct injection that is largely unique to Toyota/Lexus vehicles, this internal combustion engine turns its crank with 367 pound-feet of twisting force and 386 horsepower.
That power flows through an eight-speed automatic transmission on its way to the rear wheels, where it is divvied up by an open differential. The LS is available with an optional all-wheel-drive system that can send a portion of that torque to the front axle when needed, but our vehicle was not so equipped -- not that San Francisco's typically mild climate necessitated the additional expense.
The EPA estimates that the 2015 Lexus LS 460 will cruise for 16 miles in the city and 24 miles on the highway for every gallon of premium gasoline that its V-8 burns with a combined average of 19 miles per gallon. Our LS 460L is slightly longer and heavier than the standard wheelbase model, but its fuel economy estimates are unchanged.
On the center console, near the shifter, is a control knob for selecting one of the LS' three drive modes. Normal is the LS 460's baseline mode. The vehicle's computer attempts to offer a reasonable balance of power, economy, and comfort. Twist to the left to activate Eco mode, which adjusts the engine's output for maximum efficiency and remaps your throttle inputs to reduce lead-footedness. The V-8 is quite torque-y, and the LS is built for smooth driving, so the sedan remains very driveable even with Eco mode's slight throttle handicap.
Twist the Drive Mode knob to the right and the Lexus transitions into its Sport mode, which adjusts the engine output, transmission shift points, and throttle mapping to maximize responsiveness and power at the expense of a few MPGs.
When equipped with the optional Adaptive Air Suspension ($2,120), the LS gains two additional modes: Comfort and Sport+. Select the Comfort mode and the suspension softens up for a smoother, more supple ride. Give the knob another clockwise twist when in Sport mode to activate Sport+ mode, which firms up the adaptive suspension system and adjusts the power steering ratio for better handling and feedback.
While the changes for Sport and Sport+ modes are immediately noticeable where the throttle and steering responsiveness are concerned, the LS 460's adaptive suspension never transcend its comfort imperative. Through the same bends that I recently tested the 2015 BMW 740dL, I found that that Lexus felt significantly softer, heavier and simply less fun. The Bimmer encouraged me to go faster and was a surprisingly fun drive for such a big car. The Lexus lacked that sense of fun and excitement.
On the other hand, I don't think that anyone picks up the long wheelbase version of an already massive luxury sedan to drive it like they stole it. Drive the LS the way it was designed to be driven (like a person who is too important to be rushed), and you'll be rewarded with a fantastically smooth and quiet ride. Lexus has really perfected the LS' premium appeal. The cabin is coffin-quiet -- an analogy that should be disturbing to the LS' older demographic -- and the steering is light and relaxed without feeling mushy.
This long wheelbase variant also rewards the passengers by adding an extra 5 whole inches of legroom to the LS's already spacious cabin. I was able to cross one leg over the other while seated in the rear seat on one occasion and used a laptop without colliding with the front-seat back on another. There's more than enough space for two large adults with the rear center armrest in place and plenty for three average-size folk with the rest stowed away.
The rear-seat experience is upgradable with a $5,240 Ultra Luxury package that adds power adjustable rear outboard seats with massage, four-zone climate controls, a small refrigerator and more. If that's not luxurious enough, there's the $16,400 Executive Class Seating package that gets all of that plus a Blu-ray rear seat entertainment system, some significant cabin comfort upgrades all around, and replaces the right-rear seat with a power recliner with ottoman and multifunction shiatsu massage. This is the box you check if you're going to be driven in, rather than drive, the LS.
Back on the front row, the driver interacts with with the standard Lexus Enform infotainment system via the automaker's Remote Touch controller. The LS still uses the original joystick Remote Touch system, rather than the new trackpad version, but I think I prefer this physical controller's tactile feedback and ease of use. The driver moves a cursor around the non-touch display with the joystick and receives vibration and haptic feedback when passing over a clickable zone.
The infotainment software hasn't changed a whole lot since we last looked at the 2013 model-year LS, but it has received a subtle, but substantial visual refresh with sharper graphics, fewer superfluous gradients and higher-resolution maps. The system now looks like it belongs in a modern luxury car. However, there's still the issue of the system's awkward organization, which relies too heavily on popping back to a home screen to change infotainment modes and requires too much precision pointing and clicking by the driver. Voice command somewhat helps avoid this, and it's actually pretty good on the Lexus with conversational input and onscreen prompts.
Much of Lexus' current generation of advanced driver-aid tech debuted on the LS, but there wasn't much installed on our tester. We had the standard (and very crisp) rear camera with dynamic guide overlay, forward and rear parking-distance sensors, and a $500 blind-spot-monitoring upgrade.
An optional Advanced Pre-Collision System package adds the rest of the driver-aid tech with one $6,500 checkbox. For the extra money, the LS gains a forward collision-avoidance system that can stop the car at low speeds, a pedestrian detection system, full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and a driver attention monitor with closed-eye detection.
The 2015 Lexus LS 460 starts at $72,520, but our 460L model stretches its chassis and that price to $78,820. At that price the LS comes very well equipped with the best cabin tech that the automaker has to offer, an excellent level of comfort and amenities, and a pretty good loadout of standard driver-aid tech. Go nuts with the options and it is easy to push the LS' price tag north of the $100,000 mark.
In the UK and Australia, the LS is available only with the standard wheelbase starting at £71,995.00 and AU$195,655, respectively.