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The Lexus LS 400 is the ultimate Japanese luxury car. And to Baby Boomers -- who came of age in Corollas, Camrys, Civics and Accords -- it may be the ultimate luxury car, period
Aiming between prestigious European sedans and traditional American cars, Toyota's luxury division created an elegant luxury car that is just what many upwardly mobile Boomers want
The LS 400 offers a quieter, more comfortable ride than firmly damped German luxury cars. It offers a more compact size and better handling than its American counterparts. The LS 400 may not provide quite the handling response of a BMW 5-Series or Mercedes E-Class on a winding mountain road, but it's close -- closer than any Cadillac or Lincoln. And the Lexus LS 400 is unmatched for quality, durability and reliability
The biggest change for '98 is under the hood, where sharp engineering has created a more powerful engine. But the LS 400 also gets a sportier, more aggressive look, along with some high technology
The LS 400 now tops $53,000 and ours reached $60,640. No car has seen its price escalate as quickly as the LS 400's during the '90s. On the other hand, it offers world-class 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 outperform the Mercedes E-Class or BMW 5-Series cars on a winding road, but offers plenty of capability
Where the Lexus excels is in everyday driving
First, the LS 400 is supremely quiet. Wind and road noise are virtually nonexistent, even at high freeway speeds
Like the world's best sports sedans from Germany, the Lexus is equipped with rear-wheel drive. When it comes to high-performance handling on dry pavement, rear-wheel drive is the best. Lexus uses an independent suspension that is as sophisticated as anyone's. The $1,850 air suspension system automatically adjusts ride firmness to driving conditions. Our test car was not equipped with this option, but the standard suspension works extremely well
This car smoothes the worst of surfaces. It doesn't bounce up and down on washboard roads nor does it wallow through sharp corners. 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, but the LS 400 flew over the crater with barely a thump
The most significant change for '98 is in the engine. Lexus says the new 4.0-liter, 32-valve V8 will take the LS 400 from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds; that's quick by anyone's standards. Toyota credits its variable valve timing system, called VVT-i. It's an intelligent system that constantly varies the timing of the intake valves to maximize performance at all engine speeds
As a result, the new LS 400 gets better fuel economy, creates less pollution and generates 290 horsepower, up from last year's 265. Combine that with a new five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission that replaces last year's four-speed shifter, and Lexus has created yet another standard for luxury car performance.
On the downside, the LS 400 has become pricier. Conversely, its European rivals have held the line and, in some cases, have lowered prices during the past few years, so the LS 400 is no longer the bargain it was when it was originally launched. But its pricing is still competitive, and not at all out of line for a car that has set new standards for its class.
This is a superb luxury automobile that's devoid of flaws. As the LS 400 nears the end of its design cycle, a number of its competitors are still playing catch up. Unfortunately for them, they're shooting at a moving target.
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