The Lexus LS has been keeping Germany's luxury limousines on their softly suspended toes for more than two decades now, and in February 2013 a timely refresh rolls into showrooms.
Updated versions of the petrol-powered Lexus LS460 and petrol-electric Lexus LS600h will hit local showrooms just three months after the updated BMW 7 Series and a little over six months out from the arrival of an all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
The latest upgrade comes six years into the life of the fourth-generation Lexus LS and brings sharper styling, suspension tweaks, and a host of new features.
Lexus says 50 per cent of the car’s components have been redesigned or replaced, with 3000 mechanical or component changes, 13 firsts for the brand and four features Lexus claims are entirely new to the automotive world – including an analogue clock linked to the car’s GPS that corrects itself when you cross time zones.
The refreshed exterior styling is perhaps the most crucial in the ultra-image-conscious super-luxury-sedan market. Lexus’s new ‘spindle’ grille cuts a more aggressive figure up front and is complemented by revised headlamps with L-shaped LED running lights, a tougher bonnet and larger intakes. The smoky tail-light lens treatment is an improvement, although there’s still some resemblance to parent company Toyota’s Aurion large car in the view from behind.
Under the Lexus LS460’s muscular bonnet sits a mildly enhanced version of the old car’s 4.6-litre V8 teamed with the existing eight-speed automatic transmission. Power climbs 5kW to 285kW (at 6400rpm) while peak torque is unchanged at 493Nm (4100rpm).
Acceleration to triple figures takes 5.9 seconds while combined cycle fuel consumption falls about four per cent to a claimed 10.7 litres per 100km. We achieved 11.7L/100km on a drive covering a mix of conditions, although the lack of a stop-start system means you’re likely to see figures between 15-20L/100km in suburban traffic.
A relatively high kerb mass also doesn’t help the LS’s efficiency cause. BMW’s closest match to the $192,400 LS460, the $211,500 six-cylinder turbo 740i, has lower engine outputs (235kW/450Nm) yet the lighter BMW is 26 per cent more fuel efficient (7.9L/100km) and two-tenths quicker from 0-100km/h (and sounds deceptively like a V8, too).
Lexus’s V8 is an impressive powerplant nonetheless. Acceleration is consistently forceful, sending the speedo needle smoothly but hastily clockwise with minimal interest in backing off. It’s impressively quiet and refined, too, with little noise and few vibrations permitted into the cabin by Lexus’s first-class NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) engineering. It’s also supremely versatile, happily operating in top gear at little more 1200rpm around town, pulling with little effort.
More tangible than the 2013 Lexus LS460’s modest performance gains is the new experience enabled by addition of the Drive Mode Select system, which allows drivers to select between Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+ set-ups at a twist of the centre console-mounted dial.
Eco, Normal and Sport are differentiated by their level of throttle responsiveness, with the former restrained in the pursuit of efficiency and the latter offering uninhibited response. In Comfort, the adaptive variable suspension system is tuned for a softer ride, while in Sport+ the throttle, suspension, electric power steering and variable gear ratio steering systems are optimised for maximum performance.
Normal and Sport settings offer the best balance between performance, handling and ride comfort for everyday driving, yet despite significant dynamic improvements to the updated model (60 per cent greater torsional rigidity, 20 per cent more steering support rigidity), the LS460 is still unable to replicate the precision and suppleness of the dynamic leaders from Germany.
The ride is generally smooth, though, and only the fact that small bumps and associated noise can be transferred to the cabin mean it’s not flawless.
Its 5.1-metre length and 1940kg mass are obvious in corners, where the LS460 rolls in defiance. Surprisingly, its size seems less significant in tighter city streets, where the steering lightens and the car becomes effortlessly manoeuvrable (the reversing camera and parking sensors play a useful role in parking, too).
The steering is light yet consistent, save for a mild vagueness around the straight-ahead position.
Dialling the Lexus LS460 up to Sport+ stiffens the suspension to ensure body roll is better controlled, though in return you’ll need to accept a ride that’s overly firm and unsettled. The sharper steering response matches the sportier ride, although is sensitive to the point of requiring regular corrections to keep it tracking true.
The transmission isn’t as sharp as it could be in Sport+ mode, though. While pressing hard on the throttle at a standstill results in swift, well-timed gear changes and a constant swell of propulsion, doing the same thing while on the roll is met by hesitation and reluctance, forcing the driver to wait for the car to react with an equal level of enthusiasm.
The Lexus LS460 doesn’t feel as special inside as an Audi A8 or Mercedes S-Class, but it does sport an array of quality look and feel materials wrapped around a truly enormous 12.3-inch display – the largest of any car currently on sale. Navigating the screen via Lexus’s Remote Touch joystick is not as seamless as using BMW’s iDrive controller – it can be fiddly and a ‘back’ shortcut button would be handy – although it’s a reasonably intuitive way to scroll between the car’s media, communications, sat-nav and vehicle setting options.
Taller drivers may find headroom tight in the LS460. With the seat pushed to the floor, this 5ft 11in reviewer enjoyed little clearance – not helped by the standard sunroof that steals a few centimetres of ceiling height.
The seats themselves are otherwise quite versatile, with back-seat passengers enjoying all the comfort and supportiveness of those in the front in their heated and cooled reclining leather lounge chairs. Those in the back can also enjoy the nine-inch ceiling-mounted media screen, which plays media from Blu-ray discs, DVDs and SD cards.
A generously sized centre console bin combines with decent cup holders and door pockets to create a number of usable interior storage spaces, although the bulky rear-seat recliner mechanics eat into boot space.
Unlike some of its rivals, Lexus has loaded its entry-level limo with a comprehensive collection of safety systems as standard. The updated LS460 boasts adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitor, automatic high-beam system and driver fatigue monitor, along with the brand’s pre-collision safety system, 10 airbags, electronic stability control and a host of other features.
There’s also an extra year’s warranty compared with its German competitors - like the rest of Lexus Australia’s line-up, the LS460 is protected by a four-year/100,000km warranty, as well as roadside assistance and loan car services under the Encore Privileges program.
The German limos, as well as the British Jaguar XJ, are still stronger options for those who prefer to occupy the front seat rather than the back row, but the Lexus LS now adds more confident styling and a greater array of tech features to its impressive staples of excellent refinement, build quality and comfort.