Seventeen years after Lexus introduced the first luxury sedan at the 1989 Detroit auto show, the company unveiled its fourth-generation flagship sedan, the LS460, in Motown. As successful as the LS400 and the LS430 have been, they have never quite measured up to the big, long-wheelbase offerings from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, and Jaguar in terms of sheer size, street presence, and prestige, even if they often exceeded them in refinement, reliability, and quality. Now that Toyota is expanding the Lexus brand beyond North America to Japan, Europe, and other world markets, the automaker hopes to compete neck-to-neck with the S-class, the 7-series, the , and the XJ8 with the LS460L, which debuted in Detroit as the first-ever, long-wheelbase LS. Lexus also announced that the new LS will be equipped with the world’s first eight-speed automatic transmission, a big poke in the eye to Mercedes, which introduced a seven-speed automatic only recently. “That’s right,” said Jim Press, president and COO of Toyota Motor Sales during the unveiling of the LS460. “Eight speeds. We’re uppin’ ’em one.”
The new LS460 and LS460L, which go on sale this fall as 2007 models, will be powered by an all-new, 4.6-liter V-8 producing about 380 hp and 370 lb-ft of torque, figures that compare favorably with those of the new Mercedes 5.5-liter V-8. (Although Lexus clearly wants to beat Mercedes in the gear-count game, it has little desire to enter the ridiculous horsepower war currently being waged by the Germans.) Lexus promises that the combination of this engine and the eight-speed automatic will result in a 0-to-60-mph time of less than 5.5 seconds while delivering combined city/highway average fuel economy in the high 20s. The current LS430 has a 4.3-liter V-8 producing only 278 hp and 312 lb-ft, enough for a 0-to-60-mph time of 5.9 seconds.
With the LS, the Lexus sedan lineup has been completely revamped within the space of a year, with all three models–the IS, the GS, and the LS–adhering to the new corporate Lexus design theme, which goes by the meaningless name of L-Finesse. The three Lexus sedans now share a clear family resemblance highlighted by modern, broad-shouldered exterior styling. The LS460 has a much more substantial air about it than its predecessor and boasts quite sophisticated surface treatments in its sheetmetal. We wouldn’t call it beautiful, but perhaps it could be considered handsome.
The LS460 gets a redesigned multilink suspension; new, variable-ratio, electronic power steering; and the latest version of what Lexus calls VDIM, for Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, which controls all the electronic interfaces for brakes, steering, stability control, and other chassis systems.
The long-wheelbase LS460L measures 202.8 inches in length versus the LS460’s 198.0 inches, with a 121.7-inch wheelbase versus the stock 116.9-inch wheelbase. Lexus claims that the long-wheelbase model will establish new levels of comfort and luxury in the premium-sedan class. The LS460L’s extra length allowed Lexus to create an optional ottoman package wherein the right-side rear seat reclines 45 degrees and has power leg rests and a massage feature. There’s also a fold-away, rear-seat work table; a nineteen-speaker Mark Levinson stereo; and power closers for the rear doors and the trunk. The rear-seat area is not as spacious as the one in the Maybach 62, but it’s still pretty opulent. There are even sensors that measure both cabin temperature and passengers’ body temperatures. “I’ve been afraid to ask where that sensor goes,” deadpanned Press, “but I’m sure it does a good job.’
Press announced that Toyota will release further technical details on the LS460 during the Geneva Motor Show in early March and will unveil a hybrid V-8 version of the car at the New York Auto Show in April. “It’s the ultimate Lexus,” boasts Press. Toyota officials have been quoted claiming that the hybrid LS, which likely will be badged the LS600h, will offer performance rivaling twelve-cylinder German sedans. Them’s fightin’ words: Toyota might not be interested in one-upping the Germans in pure horsepower numbers, but it’s clearly interested in ultimate performance.