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First Drive: 2013 Lexus LS

October 22nd, 2012

Comfort is King in the Redesigned Lexus Flagship

     Since its debut in 1989 the Lexus LS has emphasized comfort over everything else. Through the relentless pursuit of perfection engineers have been on a never ending quest to eradicate every hint of noise, vibration and harshness no matter how seemingly insignificant. If you want to truly understand the phrase “detail obsessed” lock yourself in a room with the LS’s chief engineer for an afternoon. The flagship’s reputation has been built upon its unmatched ability to isolate passengers from the harsh and hectic world and the thoroughly refreshed 2013 model intends to move that reputation to the next level. And having already established a lead in the luxury hybrid market with the range-topping LS 600h L Lexus engineers are taking this opportunity to get in the sport-minded market by adding a new F Sport trim to the LS lineup. Lexus recently invited us to sample the LS family and when we weren’t reclined in the massaging back seat pretending to be a business titan we made some observations you might be interested in.
     First, the new Lexus family grille works better here than we had feared. We were worried that the aggressive snout might look out of place on the otherwise conservative bodywork but the big opening actually gives the LS a wider more planted look, and when accented with the available LED headlamps and foglamps, makes for a face with far more character than the LS has ever offered. Unfortunately the profile remains staid but the rear looks less frumpy thanks to some taillight detailing and integrated dual exhaust tips. The aero management has been refined further thanks to small fins by the mirrors and taillights that reduce wind turbulence down the side of the car with the dual benefits of creating less wind noise and lowering the Cd to a remarkable .26. Standard wheel size is 18” but 19” optional wheels feature new hollow chambers that engineers have determined further impede road noise before it can be transmitted to the cabin.
     Second, the interior remains perfectly comfortable and calming, but the individual materials and the overall design simply don’t match the competition. We will say the rear cabin on the long-wheelbase models is exquisite and we absolutely love the distinctive bamboo wood trim since it really lightens up the cabin, but unfortunately it’s only available in the hybrid. The extremely tough competition has made us extra critical with luxury sedan cabins and at least to our eyes, the center stack design and most switchgear looks aged and uninspired to us. We remain unconvinced that the Remote Touch is the best way to control all systems but we like all the information that can be displayed on the massive 12.3” screen and we’re glad Lexus left hard controls for most audio and HVAC functions. The 19-speaker Mark Levinson sound system produces a powerful audio experience and the comfortable driver’s seat adjusts just the way you need it to. The gauges are boring although they are easy to read but the small screen featured between them is limited in its usefulness. The highlight of the interior might be the door panels which feature beautiful leather and wood work in artful curves and Lexus is proud to be the first to offer Blu-Ray playback on the rear monitor in long-wheelbase models.
     Third, the experience is still about comfort and after driving the truly sharp GS F Sport last year we were disappointed with the big brother LS F Sport. All conventional models are powered by the same 4.6-liter V8 with 386 hp and 367 lb-ft of torque. In an era where all the competition has moved to forced induction and huge power numbers this engine simply lands at the back of the pack. Its low torque output doesn’t give it the same off-the-line-kick as the competition and the engine’s refined sound at higher rpm is denied entry into the cabin by Lexus’ segment leading sound-deadening package. The quick-shifting 8-speed automatic has been further refined and makes the most of the available power but the available air suspension and steering remain firmly focused on comfort, even when set to Sport+. There simply isn’t any confidence returned to the driver when attacking corners at a brisk pace. As driving enthusiasts we honestly wouldn’t be shopping for a car this big anyway but having driven all of them within the past year we can honestly say the BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar and Audi equivalents carry themselves better when hustling along a twisting two-lane. The F Sport does get a significant brake upgrade to 14.8” front rotors and 6-piston Brembo calipers and that was immediately noticeable with a firmer pedal and confidence inspiring deceleration. We also liked the more aggressively bolstered seats and the lower stance but the paddle shifters felt cheap and the intake sound generator wasn’t generating much sound in our experience.
     Our favorite trim ended up being the LS 600h L, which never tries to be anything other than a supremely comfortable, quiet, executive transporter. The hybrid assist bumps total output to 438 hp and the CVT is ideally suited to the mission of not disturbing passengers with any mechanical intrusions. It gets down the road very well with a 0 to 60mph run of 5.5 seconds but its SUV-like 5,202-pound curb weight limits EPA ratings to 19 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. Oh well, you may not save an entire flock of penguins, but we’ll let you claim one or two. We’re a bit surprised Lexus didn’t use this opportunity to fit an advanced lithium-ion battery, but the hybrid system handled gas/battery transitions very smoothly.
     The 2013 LS continues in the course charted by its predecessors and it shouldn’t be ashamed of it. The Lexus reputation was built upon the LS and even though the F Sport takes baby steps toward sportiness we don’t foresee AMG drivers cross shopping the far less powerful Lexus candidate. It’s the rest of the lineup that luxury sedan customers will want to check out because comfort, as always, is King in the redesigned Lexus LS.

Photos courtesy of Lexus

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