Although the original 1990 Lexus LS was a radical departure from any previous Toyota product, the brand's flagship sedan has evolved in a far less radical fashion over its 23-year lifespan. In fact, the second-generation model, which debuted in 1994, was virtually indistinguishable from previous models despite sharing only 10 percent of its content. The fourth-generation LS, which debuted in 2006, broke considerable new ground in terms of styling and technology, but has been relegated to minor nips and tucks in the years following its debut.
Perhaps it's time for a little more revolution in lieu of evolution. Lexus apparently thinks so, as the updated 2013 LS range receives a rather substantial cosmetic makeover that stretches from head to toe.
A FACELIFT IN THE NAME OF THE FAMILY
The LS has always been a little softer and rounder than other Lexus models, but no more: it finally adopts the same spindle-shaped grille used on the CT, GS, 2013 ES, RX, and LX, and subsequently receives sharper lines in the process. Projector headlamps taper angrily towards the spindle grille, whose outer edges rise up and into the edges of the hood before sweeping into the A-pillars. Thin pistol-shaped LED driving lamps in the lower fascia replace the previous LS' chunky composite fog lamps, while a strong rib down the centerline of the hood helps break up the monotony of a large piece of sheetmetal.
This familiar but squared-off look continues in back: rear fender forms change little, but the shoulder formed by the D-pillar flowing into the trunk lid now terminates in a crisp, angular edge before kinking downward towards the bumper. New taillamps boast bold, prominent L-shaped LED optics, and wrap across the decklid. The 2013 LS is still offered in both short (116.9") and long (121.7") wheelbases; those figures are unchanged from the previous model, but all the cosmetic changes cause the overall length to increase by about an inch.
Interior revisions aren't as wild as those applied to the exterior, but do allow Lexus to infuse the LS with some new technology. Navigation remains a standard feature, but is now displayed on a wide 12.3-inch LCD screen placed at the top of the instrument panel. Climate and audio controls are re-arranged slightly, the digital dash clock replaced with an analog unit, and the center console is reconfigured to make way for Lexus' spaceball-esque Remote Touch infotainment controller. New options include a Topaz Brown interior color scheme, traditional Shimamoku layered wood veneer trim, and bamboo trim on LS 600h L models
F SPORT MARKS THE SPOT
The LS Sport package -- which added unique wheels, grille inserts, and interior decor touches -- is no more, but buyers seeking a sportier look can opt for the new F Sport Package. Available on LS 460 and LS 470 L models, the package not only adds unique two-tone 19-inch wheels and a zig-zag grille insert, but a unique lower front fascia that tapers down into sharp points at the corners of the bumper. Revisions in back are limited to a chrome strip that spans the gap between the trapezoidal exhaust outlets. Inside, the F Sport package adds unique seating surfaces with larger front bolsters, along with a leather-wrapped steering wheel boasting aluminum trim and manual shift paddles for the eight-speed automatic transmission.
Surprisingly, the F Sport package also adds a few mechanical upgrades. Unique air suspension tuning lowers the car by four-tenths of an inch, while front brake calipers are replaced with six-piston units sourced from Brembo. The F Sport package is available on both short- and long-wheelbase LS 460 models in both rear- and all-wheel-drive forms, though only rear-wheel-drive models also receive a Torsen limited-slip differential as standard equipment.
EVOLUTIONARY UNDER THE HOOD
Mechanically speaking, the 2013 LS is virtually identical to the outgoing car. Lexus claims it has increased body rigidity, increased brake bite and feel, quickened steering turn-in, and fitted new frequency-reactive dampers on non-air suspension cars that improve ride quality.
LS460 models continue to utilize a DOHC, 32-valve 4.6-liter V-8, though it gains a little extra power for the 2013 model year. In rear-wheel-drive applications, the engine cranks out 386 hp at 6400 rpm (a 6-hp rise over last year's car), though its torque rating remains unchanged at 367 lb-ft at 4100 rpm. In all-wheel-drive LS models, engine output rises from 357 hp to 360, while torque inches up from 344 lb-ft to 347. Regardless of the driveline configuration, all LS460 models continue to use an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The driveline used in the all-wheel-drive hybrid LS600h L is carried over unchanged. A 5.0-liter DOHC V-8 is coupled with a pair of electric motors, which are powered by a lithium-ion battery pack. Though the system is capable of propelling the car at low speeds on electricity alone, the motors and V-8 can pair together to create a net output of 438 hp, which helps the large LS to sprint from 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds.
THE FINER THINGS
Predictably, 2013 LS models are packed with all sorts of advanced features. Lexus' Enform infotainment system allows users to connect their smartphones in order to access Pandora Internet radio, make restaurant reservations, search via Bing, or access Facebook information. All interior lighting is LED-based, and a nine-channel, 10-speaker audio system is standard.
Need more? Opt for features including adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, automatic high-beam headlamps, a 15-channel Mark Levinson Reference audio system, or a new Climate Concierge climate control system that automatically adjusts ambient air and seat temperatures for each passenger. Power rear seats - including a reclining/massaging Ottoman on long-wheelbase cars -- are available, as is a rear-seat entertainment package, complete with a 9-inch LCD screen and a Blu-Ray player.
Pricing for the 2013 Lexus LS has not been announced, but expect to base prices increase modestly over comparable 2012 models. The 2012 LS460 carries an MSRP of $68,505, while its all-wheel-drive sibling starts at $70,810. Opting for the long-wheelbase of either car boosts the sticker price to $74,050 and $76,355, respectively. Pricing for the top-line 2012 LS600L starts at $113,625. Expect finalized pricing for the new 2013 models to be announced later this year. 2013 LS460 models should arrive in dealers nationwide in October 2012, followed by F Sport models in November, and LS600h L cars in December.