The Lexus LS400 was the end result of nearly 5 years and a billion dollars of intensive research and engineering. To create a new luxury brand vehicle, Toyota went to great lengths to remove any semblance to itself in exterior and interior styling and luxury features that aren't found on any other Toyota. Lexus did keep Toyota's defining characteristics, reliability being the main one. As such, Lexus redefined what a luxury automobile could be and gave the European luxury automakers something to worry about.
The first Lexus model, the flagship LS400, was released in 1989. Everything in the LS400 is built for the comfort and safety of the driver and up to 3 adult passengers, which seat comfortably in any seating position. The front seats, seatbelts, outer mirrors, and steering wheel are power adjustable and automatically move to your saved position in the memory, which is very convenient for sharing the car with a second driver. The engine and transmission were both new for this vehicle as well and offered plenty of power and nearly imperceptible shifting.
What you'll probably notice first, though, is how quiet the cabin is. Toyota spent a lot of time coming up with the right combination of materials and assembly methods in order to produce one of the quietest vehicles on the market. At 100km/h, the interior noise level is just 58dB, while a normal conversation you might have with your passengers is typically 60dB to 65dB. Add in the sound of a home-theatre quality audio system, and you have the makings of what could be perhaps the perfect road trip.
Because the Lexus LS400 was designed and built by Toyota, there is sure to be some excellent technology options, such as electrochromatic mirrors and in-glass radio antennae. What Lexus does that European luxury automakers can't do as well is endure. Lexus builds their vehicles, specifically the engine and transmission, to last 400,000km, the company’s definition of a vehicle lifespan. With proper maintenance, there are many Lexus LS400 today pushing 1,000,000km and still going strong.
The first-generation Lexus LS, the LS400 from 1989 to 1999, was equipped with a 4.0L V8 generating 191kW and 353Nm. There was an update to lighter parts and better compression in 1996, increasing output to 195kW and 363Nm. The LS with a 4-speed automatic transmission could accelerate 0-100km/h in just 8.5s and had a combined fuel consumption of 13.1L/100km.
The addition of variable valve timing in 1997 increased power again to 216kW and 407Nm. Powered by the newer engine and a new 5-speed automatic transmission, acceleration decreased by 1.0 second and fuel consumption by 1L/100km, with many drivers reporting fuel consumption as low as 9.5L/100km.
The Lexus LS Series isn't so much about options as standard luxury, safety, and technology features. Power-adjustable front seats, steering, mirrors, windows, locks, and sunroof (if equipped) are all standard. Alloy wheels and four-wheel anti-lock braking are standard. An award-winning sound system, leather and wood trim, air-conditioning, and front and side airbags are also part of the standard package.
The clear competitors, the Mercedes Benz S Class and BMW 7 Series, were both caught off guard when Lexus was released in 1989. They'd happily occupied the uncontested top of the luxury segment for so long that they had become complacent. While these cars offered plenty of luxury features, as you would expect in a luxury car, build quality was poor and reliability was unheard of. When the Lexus LS400 came in and gave the market a good shaking, Mercedes and BMW didn't have a leg to stand on. By the late 1990s, the Europeans had gotten some of their act together, but for the most part, they still can't compete with Lexus for reliability and longevity.