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The Lexus LS 400 is the ultimate Japanese car. And to Baby Boomers, who grew up with Corollas, Camrys, Civics and Accords, it may be the ultimate of all luxury cars. Aiming at a market slot between the prestige Europeans and the traditional American offerings, Toyota's luxury division created a uniquely elegant luxury car that is just what many upwardly mobile Boomers want.
The LS 400 offers a quieter, more comfortable ride than more aggressive German luxury cars, and a more compact size and better handling than its American counterparts. It's almost exactly the same size as a Ford Taurus sedan. And to put its performance in perspective, think about it this way: the LS 400 won't give you quite the same response as a BMW 540i or Mercedes E420 on a winding mountain road, but it's close--closer than any Cadillac or Lincoln. And it will match or beat any car for quiet and comfort on the road.
And for durability and reliability, it is unmatched--as everyone has come to expect from Toyota, the world's acknowledged leader in quality.
This is the second generation LS 400, with an improved V8 engine and every amenity you'd expect to find on a luxury car that sells for over $50,000.
It's a lot of money. No car has seen its price escalate as quickly during the '90s. On the other hand it is world-class in its quality and comfort.
The LS 400 offers as satisfying and sophisticated a blend of performance and comfort as any car in the world. It won't outdo the Mercedes E-Class or BMW 5-Series cars on a winding Alpine road, but the LS 400 is still quite capable.
What the Lexus does superbly, though, is most evident in everyday driving.
First, the LS 400 is supremely quiet. Likening the silence inside the LS 400 to a cathedral is the most overworked metaphor in car reviews, and this car is the source of the metaphor. Wind and road noise are virtually nonexistent, even at high freeway speeds.
It has rear-wheel drive, just as you'll find on the German sports sedans. When it comes to absolute handling on dry pavement, rear-wheel-drive is still the best. And its four-wheel independent suspension is as sophisticated as anyone's. It's even more sophisticated with the optional ($1850) air suspension system, which automatically adjusts ride firmness to driving conditions. But our test car's more conventional steel spring setup served very well indeed.
This car doesn't bounce on washboard roads or wallow through sharp corners, and turns the worst of surfaces into a few minor bumps. We found ourselves on a winter-battered highway, a semi-truck on either side of us and a pothole the size of New Jersey right ahead. We clenched our teeth. The LS 400 flew over the crater with barely a thump.
The 4.0-liter 32-valve aluminum V8 develops 265 horsepower, plenty to get the LS 400 moving away from stoplights, going from 0-to-60 mph in a very respectable 7.1 seconds. Its top speed is 149 mph.
The four-speed automatic transmission changes gears without the slightest hesitation or jerk. It's a coddling performance that leaves you in awe of Toyota's enginering prowess.
The LS 400 has gotten pricier while its European rivals have held the line over recent years, so it's no longer the bargain it once was.
But its pricing is still competitive, and not at all out of line for a car that has set a number of new standards for its class.
This is a superb luxury automobile that's absolutely devoid of flaws. And as it nears the end of its design cycle, a number of its competitors are still playing catch-up.