Looking to form a separate luxury line, Toyota spent better than a billion dollars on a 5-year secret program to develop it. The result was the flagship Lexus LS400 equipped with a host of technical and luxury features. The LS was designed to beat American and German luxury vehicles in every way possible – in aerodynamics, cabin quietness, top speed, and fuel efficiency. Lexus succeeded with the Lexus LS Series, and today's LS is one of the most technologically enhanced on the road, including in safety, entertainment, and engine and transmission controls. As befitting its Toyota roots, the Lexus LS is also the world's most reliable luxury vehicle.
Opening up the Lexus LS is not unlike opening the door to a luxury home. The doors open and close with a satisfying sound, and with the doors closed, you are separate from the outside world. Sound-insulating glass and panels keep the interior noise level down – you can still hold a conversation at 120km/h. The full-size luxury sedan – that's what LS stands for – is roomy enough for 4 adults, even in the rear. The cockpit area is ergonomically designed with the driver in mind and helps to keep his attention on the road instead of fiddling with controls. Sound systems in the Lexus LS Series rival high-end home theatre systems.
Aerodynamics are as smooth as you'd expect to find in race vehicles, which helps to keep fuel consumption exceptionally low for a vehicle of this class and weight. The Lexus LS is powered by a V8 engine and automatic transmission, both of which are probably the most advanced on the road today. Power is delivered smooth and easy to highway speed with barely a hint of shift shock. This feeling was enhanced in 2006 with the introduction of the world's first 8-speed automatic transmission.
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 8.5 seconds and had a fuel consumption rate of 13.1L/100km combined. 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.
From 2000 to 2006, the LS430, the second in the Lexus LS Series, went with a larger 4.3L V8 generating 216kW and 434Nm, which decreased acceleration time from 0-100km/h by another full 1.0 second to 6.7 seconds. At the same time, with improved aerodynamics, the new LS430 consumed just 11.4L/100km, with many drivers reporting as low as 10.5L/100km. A new 6-speed automatic transmission was introduced in 2003, with smoother acceleration and slightly better fuel consumption.
The LS460 was introduced in 2006 with a lighter all-aluminium 4.6L engine generating 259kW and 460Nm and bringing 0-100km/h acceleration down to just 5.7 seconds. The new industry-first 8-speed automatic transmission helps to smooth acceleration and maintains its sub-11L/100km fuel consumption rating. Also introduced in 2006 was the LS600h, a hybrid electric vehicle powered by a 5.0L V8 in parallel with 165kW of electric motor for a total output of 327kW. The LS600h is a mite heavier, and acceleration is slightly improved to 5.5 seconds from 0-100km/h, but also manages just 8.5L/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 are all standard. Alloy wheels and four-wheel anti-lock braking with stability control are also standard. Award-winning sound system, leather and wood trim, fully automatic climate control with air-conditioning, and a full complement of airbags are also part of the standard package.
Options include upgrading to radar- or laser-enhanced cruise control, which maintains your distance from vehicles in front of you. Rear view camera is standard, and can be upgraded to include fully automatic self-parking. Seating can be ordered ventilated or heated and cooled. Safety can be enhanced with the addition of pre-collision radar and vehicle dynamics control, an upgraded stability control system, which can help the driver keep control in even the most difficult circumstances. Climate control can also be upgraded to 4-zone, which has individual controls for each seating position.
F-Sport models feature sport-tuned suspension and new drive-mode select for the transmission control. LS F-Sport also features interior and exterior accents. The long-wheelbase LS, such as the LS460L and LS600hL are stretched versions with even more interior room in the rear. You can differentiate the L version from the standard version by the doors, as the front and rear doors on the L version will be about the same size, on the verge of being a limousine. The L version features optional ottoman and massage in the left rear seating position.
The BMW 7 Series is a fairly good match against the Lexus LS and offers more room in the rear seats and in the boot. The BMW handles better in the curves, but is a little noisier in the cabin. Sure, the BMW comes with a few more features than the LS, but it also costs much more, typically about $100,000 more when it was new.
The Audi A8 is nearly in the same price range as the Lexus LS and comes with nearly as many features, which is to be expected in a luxury sedan. Legroom in the rear is a little tighter, and it doesn't include a full-size spare in the boot, which is nearly 100L bigger than that of the LS. On the other hand, the A8 ages quickly, which is why it never tops the reliability surveys.