In the battle of "Japanese" luxury companies trying to belong to the big boy club, I can admit that I have always been on the side of Infiniti. Acura never really made anything that seemed more than a tarted up Accord to me (yes, I know, please shut up NSX lovers), and Lexus always seemed to play it safe. Oftentimes too safe for my tastes. Nothing exemplified that more than the flagship vehicles that Infiniti and Lexus gave to the public from day one. Lexus went the conservative route, aping many of the features and comforts found in the big boat Mercedes' of the day, while Infiniti took a more haphazard approach that tried to incorporate a lot of Japanese luxury elements.
The winning decision hasn't been too hard to figure out. While Lexus has gone on to become a juggernaut of a luxury brand, Infiniti floundered for 10 years before getting a shot in the arm with the G35.
Putting history to the side however, before I go off on too far of a tangent, the original Lexus LS vehicles were quite amazing vehicles- they offered luxury on par with anything that ze Germans had out there, while undercutting them on price by thousands of dollars. It was a winning formula, and one that Lexus has stuck to over the years- as the competition has tried to one up eachother in the pursuit of making the ultimate luxury/driving/handling/speed machine, Lexus has kept the LS a model of traditional luxury- RWD, supple suspension, lots of gizmos, and adequate power mixed with sedate looks. If it ain't broke, don't fix it right?
Well, consider the the LS460 an attempt to fix the unbroken.
In recent years, Lexus has taken the criticism of their lineup to heart. No soul you say? They respond with the IS350. No identity you say? They respond with the first hybrid luxury vehicles in the industry with the GS and RX. What's interesting though, is that the LS isn't really an overt reaction to criticism- it seems AND feels more like a future direction for the brand... a compass if you will.
Outside, the LS460 drops the pseudo MB facade of the previous generation for a more lithe and agile look as Lexus applies the L-Finesse philosophy to the kingpin of their lineup. To my eyes, it's right there with the A8 as the best looking range topper in the class, devoid of the boy racer appendages of the S-Class, and the ugly Bangling of the 7-Series.
One place where Lexus never needed to take a back seat to ANYONE was the interior, and in this regard, once again, Lexus does not disappoint. Rich textures and soft surfaces are everywhere inside this vehicle, and the attention to detail is astounding. Check the door panels and the beautiful stitched leather for prime examples. Lexus rejigged their center stack design a few years ago with the IS, and the LS is a close cousin of that, but much larger. And with much more in the way of goodies. Unlike the competition, there is no 'i-Drive' do-it-all interface to muck up things, so people without physics degrees should be able to navigate things easily inside the LS460. The downside to all of this is that there are a LOT of buttons inside the LS, and sometimes they are placed in not so easy to reach places. Someone out there at some point needs to find the perfect balance between the blank space of the S-Class/7-Series and the buttons in the LS- until then, all the vehicles in this segment will be hamstrung in one way or another in this regard.
Speaking of feature sets, the LS has just about anything and everything your heart could desire- the particular vehicle I drove had the works- the premium package which includes a thumping Mark Levinson sound system complete with 19 speakers, and the technology package which includes niceties such as the much ballyhooed parking system. If you want even more goodies, you can upgrade to the long wheelbase version, where essential things such as 4 zone climate control with infra-red occupant monitoring are available.
So the comfort part is nailed down. No surprises there right? What about the drive?
Well, it's a mixed bag.
If you're expecting a BMW, you're not going to get that. If you're expecting an upgraded LS430, the LS460 is the ride for you. Now from what I've heard, the long wheelbase version, which comes with the adjustable air suspension is much better (and my experience in an LS430 with the air suspension confirms the difference) but for THIS particular review, we're looking at a regular spec version LS. And the regular spec LS is a supreme bump absorber. You won't feel a thing. In the grand tradition of American luxobarges of the past, a drive in the LS460 is like riding on a cloud. What's NOT in the grand tradition of American luxobarges of the past is that the body motions are controlled and the steering remains tight with a fair amount of feedback. However, through it all, one never feels 'connected' to the road the way you would in a BMW or even the Audi A8. Detached attachment if that makes any sense- everything is communicative and responsive, but none of it to the point of becoming boisterous at any time. As far as power goes, the obvious comparison is to the previous generation- and the previous LS430 made do with a 280 HP 4.3 liter V8 that was helped quite a bit by smart gearing, but was getting long in the tooth. The current LS460 needs no such smartness. How does a 4.6 liter V8 making 380 horsepower sound? Of course, if one DOES need a touch of smartness, Lexus has gone and one-upped their competition with the first 8 speed automatic in the world as well. If you drive sedately, absolutely nothing filters into the cabin- not a peep. Dip your foot into the pedal and the auto kicks down a few notches and... well, still not much sound. What you may hear however is your head hitting the headrest. The thrust is incredible and is only magnified by the lack of sound coming from the engine bay. Rest assured, one can get to very illegal speeds very quickly with the LS460.
What does this all add up to? Easy. The best value in the segment (again) and a vehicle that if one blindly cross-shops versus ze German competition, would probably win out 8 times out of 10. It's that good. The badge boys will complain, but that's the honest truth. If you're looking for sporty, go to BMW. If you're looking for a badge, go to Mercedes. If you're looking for style, go to Audi. But if you're looking for the best combination of all three (with a definite nod towards comfort unless you get the long wheelbase model with the air suspension), plus the best quality in the industry the LS460 is the vehicle for you.