Ground-grazing skirts and paddle shifters seemed out of place on this sedate sedan until a quick blast through upscale San Diego neighborhoods convinced us that this personality adjustment was long overdue. Available only on the standard-wheelbase, rear-wheel-drive LS, the Sport package adds $6185 to the $65,555 base price (it also requires opting for the $2080 luxury value package, which includes navigation, a nineteen-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, and XM satellite radio).
All LS sedans were freshened for 2010 with subtle changes to their headlamps, grille, taillamps, bumper fascias, and wheels. The Sport model has its own aggressively textured grille, lower body kit, and nineteen-inch forged-aluminum wheels. Brembo opposed-piston brakes peer menacingly through the twenty-spoke rims. Thankfully, we've been spared the sport badge and rear spoiler clichés.
Inside, a new telematics system available on navigation-equipped LS's provides routing assistance, automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle recovery, and XM reception. All LS cabins are blessed with new metallic accents on the center stack, more neatly integrated audio controls, active front-seat headrests, and an ECO lamp to encourage parsimonious driving.
We never saw the ECO light flash during our test run, because the eight-speed automatic with Sports Direct Shift Control, transplanted from the IS-F, is so adept at keeping the vitality bubbling. As usual, clicking the right paddle cues upshifts, and the left tab activates downshifts. The transmission waits patiently for the driver's prompt even with the engine knocking on its 6600-rpm redline. Gear changes are quick and decisive, and the throttle is judiciously blipped to harmonize downshifts.
The hyperactive transmission allows the LS's carryover 380-hp V-8 to sing melodies we never knew were in its repertoire. Locked in lower gears, this engine clears its throat and belts out high notes like Roy Orbison at his rockabilly best.
The LS's 4.6-liter engine uses both port and direct fuel injection, variable valve timing, and an 11.8:1 compression ratio to achieve 16 mpg in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway, thereby skirting the EPA's gas-guzzler wrath. Appropriate clicking of the shifters delivers 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, according to Lexus, on the way to a governed 130-mph top speed.
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