Previous generations of the LS were loved or hated for their somewhat stodgy aesthetic. Some would call them boring; others might say classy. All would, no doubt, agree that the early LS models seemed to echo a bit too closely the German style it wished to displace. No longer is that the case.
The 2013 Lexus LS 460 features a design that is proudly Japanese and notably its own. The L-Finesse design language that has slowly been filtering down from the automaker's concept cars and into production models is in full effect here. The sheet metal seemingly peeling back from the gaping spindle grille has become the automaker's trademark in a manner that Lexus tells us should imply motion, speed, and strength.
For as in-your-face as the spindle grille and LED headlamps with their L-shaped accent/daytime running lamps are, the rest of the LS' design is remarkably subdued. The vehicle features a flowing roofline and a wide stance that gives the large sedan a hunkered-down look that, particularly in photos, hides some of the vehicle's mass. The wide, horizontal tail lamps wrap around the rear end and feature L-shaped LED elements. Meanwhile, the dual exhaust tips integrate into the rear bumper. To use a luxury automotive cliche, the LS looks like it was machined from a solid ingot of metal. This is a very good thing.
If the 1989 LS was a crisply pressed suit and tie, then this new Lexus ditches the tie and opens its top shirt buttons in a cavalier, Richard Branson-esque fashion. Whether you agree with me that 2013 LS 460's aggressive design makes it one of the best-looking vehicles in its class (particularly when outfitted with the F-Sport package, which we'll come back to shortly) or if you think that its gaping maw is overdesigned and tacky is completely subjective. Either way, it's good to see an automaker taking chances with one of its most important nameplates.
There's an engine somewhere in there
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 a 4.6-liter V-8 gasoline engine. Using 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 $2,945 expense.
The EPA estimates that the 2013 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.
The F-Sport package
Lexus' packaging is a bit confusing. There are no fewer than nine "Comfort Packages," six "Ultra Luxury Packages," and seven "LS F Sport Packages" ranging from $3,490 to $16,130. Our LS was equipped with one of the F-Sport Packages with Additional Options -- an all-inclusive deal that adds most of the go-faster and look-sharper options that the automaker offers for the LS in one $15,230 line option.
For about the price of a brand new 2013 Scion iQ, our F-Sport package adds aggressive F-Sport front and rear bumpers, dark inserts for the upper and lower grilles, and 19-inch BBS wheels with all-season tires. Summer or performance tires would be nice as part of this this sport package, but the LS doesn't seem to suffer for the use of all-seasons.
Performance upgrades include a sport-tuned, Adaptive Variable Air Suspension that has a static ride height 10mm lower than stock. The brakes are upgraded with Brembo stoppers while the Electronic Power Steering system gains Variable Gear Ratios. The open differential on the rear axle is replaced with a Torsen torque-sensing limited-slip differential and the automatic gearbox learns to rev-match on its downshifts.
All of these performance upgrades and the existing power-train systems come under the control of a five-setting Drive Mode selector with settings for Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport+.
On the road with five 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.
Select the Comfort mode and the suspension softens up for a smoother, more supple ride. Eco mode adjusts the engine's output for maximum efficiency and remaps your throttle inputs to reduce lead-footedness.
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. Give the knob another clockwise twist to activate Sport+ mode, which builds on the Sport mode's settings by firming up the adaptive suspension system and adjusting the power steering ratio for better handling and feedback.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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.
|Model||2012 Lexus LS 460|
|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|
|Price as tested||$88,115|