2010 Lexus LS
Base price: $66,255 – $108,800
MPG: 16 city/24 highway (LS 460) 20 city/22 highway (LS 600h)
- Uncompromised materials and build quality
- Available all-wheel drive and hybrid versions
- Exceptional safety features, crash test results
- Not exactly fun to drive
- Competitive vehicles are more inspiring
- Hefty price tag
By Jim Prueter
LS has everything except emotional desire
The one thing you can be absolutely sure of about the flagship of Toyota’s luxury marque is that the car is as near perfection as it comes in automotive manufacturing today. The precision, attention to detail, new heights of technology and sophistication is almost imponderable. It’s also (excuse me while I yawn) boring. Here we have a nearly perfect luxury sedan that gives you everything you could possibly want — except it isn’t fun to drive.
Lexus can easily cite a supernumerary list of the luxury sedan’s prestigious excesses, like hand-sanding the body, twice, between coats of painting or three hours of buffing the leather for the steering wheel to get the feel just right. To reduce friction and vibration, the engine’s crankshaft is polished mirror-smooth, and all materials — leather, wood, chrome — are simply superb.
All this precision and attention to detail has earned perennial awards from J.D. Power for initial quality, dependability and consumer satisfaction. LS was also just awarded Consumer Reports Magazine’s top award as best car overall, scoring an outstanding 99 out of 100 possible points in their road test. It recognized the LS for its comfortable ride, luxurious driving environment, roomy, well-crafted and exceptionally quiet interior. It also commented that the LS isn’t exactly fun to drive.
For 2010, LS is offered in five models, including regular and long wheelbase, rear-wheel or all-wheel drive and the LS 600h L hybrid. We recently tested both the LS 460 ($66,255) with the optional Sport Package ($6185) and the LS 600h L ($108,800).
A five-liter gasoline V-8 teamed with two electric motors that Toyota calls Hybrid Synergy Drive powers the LS 600h. It’s arranged as an all-wheel drive setup that Lexus says has the combined power of a V-12 engine. The gasoline engine alone is rated at 389 horsepower and jumps to 438 horsepower with the two electric motors added. The second electric motor doesn’t drive the car, rather it works as the starter for the engine and as the generator to recharge the battery. The hybrid powerplant is teamed with a continuously variable transmission. As with other hybrids, the engine goes dead still at stops, saving fuel and reducing pollution.
You’ll have to pay dearly for the hybrid, but it comes with every creature comfort. There’s an executive option package that converts the limousine-size rear seat into two bucket seats instead of a bench. The right bucket seat has a shiatsu massage function in the event you have a chauffer behind the wheel. There’s also more than enough legroom, with as much as 45 inches between the front and rear seats in the stretch “L” . You also get real wood-trimmed tables for your laptop and paperwork, separate climate controls, heated and cooled seats and window shades; both seats recline and have foldout ottoman, rear seat refrigerator and a nine-inch ceiling-mounted video monitor.
Our LS 460 Sport package included larger 19-inch BremboÒ brakes, 10-spoke alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension, sport front seats in black/saddle trim with matte dark brown ash burl wood and leather armrests.
Lexus also offers the much-heralded automatic parking system that’s more gimmick than function. The system requires that the parallel spot be 6.5 feet longer than the car. I won’t go into all that is required to first properly align the parking flags on the vehicle’s touch-screen LCD monitor and then take your hands off the wheel and gas pedal, but let’s say it takes forever, even longer if other vehicles are lining up behind you honking their horns to get you moving quicker. Why is it that Ford’s self-parking system is so much easier, quicker and costs less? Bottom line? Skip the self-park feature.
So what is it like to drive? To begin with, the interior, even at highway speeds, is dead quiet thanks to its exceptional build quality that does not cut a single corner. Both the hybrid engines and the standard 4.6-liter 380-horsepower V-8 in the sedan are certainly quick enough and butter smooth. The eight-speed automatic transmission in the non-hybrid LS is flawless.
Lexus engineers have built an astonishingly smooth, quiet and comfortable vehicle with a 0.25 drag coefficient thanks to the optional air suspension that lowers the car at higher speeds. Yet, that removes all the passion of driving from the vehicle and, with it, all the fun. Pretty much just sit back and steer. That may be what some are looking for, but I prefer the more expressive elements of driving a performance sedan with ample feel for the road.
The Mark Levinson Premium audio system with no less than 19 speakers, HDD navigation system, and ambient lighting only adds to the driving comfort.
Standard safety gear includes 10 or 11 airbags — depending on whether you get the extended length — an advanced automatic collision notification system, and top crash test scores as expected.
But as near perfect as the LS is, it still hasn’t been able to generate the emotional appeal of other luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, or Porsche. Lexus just hasn’t been able to convince the rich, famous and those with athletic prowess to forego those brands for an LS. Therein lies the dilemma.
Affluent buyers aspire to own a Mercedes-Benz, a BMW, Porsche and even a Jaguar, but those who buy homes with an ocean view, wear Patek Philippe watches and Dolce and Gabanna sunglasses aren’t parking a Lexus in their four and six car garages. Perhaps it will take a Lexus performance division like Mercedes-Benz’s AMG, Audi’s “R8” or Porsche to adorn Lexus with the same cachet as those cherished marques. Until then, Lexus will have to be content with an exceptional, but uninspiring to drive, luxury sedan.