Lexus is about 100 years younger than Mercedes-Benz, but, after 20 years of hard work, it has already surpassed M-B and all the other luxury brands in terms of quality, durability, reliability, and desirability among American buyers, an astounding performance. The flagship sedan that started out as the LS 400 and then grew up as the LS 430 has been morphed into a completely new car, the LS 460, that challenges all comers as the best luxury sedan in the world. It competes with the Mercedes-Benz E- and S-Class, and BMW 5 Series and 7 Series.
In addition to the new LS 460, there will be a long-wheelbase version called the LS 460L with a limousine-like rear seat and a hybrid version called the LS 600h, which combines a 5.0-liter version of the V8 engine with a new version of the Lexus hybrid drive system.
The all-new 2007 Lexus LS models are bristling with technology. The LS 460 is the first car in the world with a computer-controlled eight-speed automatic transmission. An optional parking guidance system uses onboard cameras to help the driver parallel-park or park between cars, a system offered by no other manufacturer. The 460L offers reclining heated bucket seats, a cool box, dual-zone rear HVAC controls, a folding table, an ottoman, a shiatsu massager, and, of course, DVD with wireless headphones.
On the road, we found the LS 460 extremely quiet and extraordinarily smooth. Its 4.6-liter V8 can propel it from 0 to 60 mph in a mere 5.4 seconds, according to Lexus, yet it gets an EPA-rated 27 mpg Highway. The eight-speed automatic is super smooth and plays a big role in the fuel-economy story. The electrically powered steering system and adjusts according to speed. The ride quality and handling are exemplary, and an optional Touring package brings a new level of sportiness to the LS 460. The brakes have been improved, and now they are fully electronically controlled, working with all of the other computers on the car to determine how much brake force to put at each individual wheel, rain, snow or sunshine.
Options include satellite navigation with Bluetooth, XM satellite radio with real-time traffic display, Mark Levinson 19-speaker, 450-watt sound system and 30-gigabyte hard drive, a pre-collision system, dynamic radar cruise control, advanced parking guidance system, Lexus Link, power trunk opener/closer, a Comfort Package, and a Comfort Plus Package. Four different rear-seat packages are available for the 460L.
Safety is a primary consideration for luxury car buyers, and the LS 460 fairly drips with safety equipment, from eight standard air bags to ABS (anti-lock brakes), electronic brake assist, ESP (electronic stability program), adaptive front lighting that turns corners, and tire pressure monitoring. With the optional two-seat rear compartment, there is an additional air bag in the mix, and there are more safety options, including a pre-collision system that moves seats to a neutral position, closes the windows and sunroof, and tightens belts when the computers detect an impending collision.
The 2007 Lexus LS 460 is fast, smooth, quiet and efficent. It weighs 4245 pounds and its engine is substantially smaller than those used by its German competition. Yet it can get from rest to 60 mph in a mere 5.4 seconds, and it's good for 27 mpg highway. But acceleration is only a tiny part of the story here, and the engine is only a part of that.
This is the first car in the world with a computer-controlled eight-speed automatic transmission, a transmission that offers great acceleration with nearly imperceptible upshifts and downshifts, manual or automatic shift control, and that great highway mileage in eighth gear overdrive.
Moving off from rest with authority and acceleration seems like child's play for the LS 460. The engineers tell us that almost every part of the car, especially the engine, transmission and driveline, have been designed and then checked again and again for quietness, smoothness and balance. We found the LS 460 very, very quiet and nearly vibration-free. It seems much quieter than the competition, whether at 30 mph or 130 mph, its regulated top speed.
The electrically powered steering system is transparent. It doesn't feel any different than hydraulically powered steering, and it has progressive assist that decreases with speed. If you order the optional air suspension or the entire Touring package of suspension, tires, wheels, brakes and brake pads, you get variable gear-ratio power steering instead, giving the system the latitude between 2.5 and 3.6 rotations of the steering wheel. Without the Touring package, the ride and handling are exemplary, but with it, there is a whole new level of sportiness about the LS 460, so we recommend it highly.
Like everything else on, in or under the LS 460, the brakes have been improved, and now they are fully electronically controlled, working with all of the other computers on the car to determine speed, steering angle, throttle angle, yaw angle and all the other inputs to determine how much brake force to put at each individual wheel, rain, snow or sunshine. They, too, feel perfectly normal and extremely powerful. The Touring package will get you a set of spiral-fin ventilated discs on the long-wheelbase version.
Completely redesigned, the all-new 2007 Lexus LS 460 is surely the quietest, most serene luxury-class sedan that's been built so far. It offers an excellent combination of comfort, space, silence, and features. It's also the most electronics-intensive luxury car we've ever experienced, and if it weren't a Lexus, that would give us pause. But it is Lexus, and it promises to be as bulletproof and trouble-free as all of its predecessors. If you like silent, obedient transportation with lots of room, and you can afford the price, it's the one to have.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw drove the LS 460 in Austria.