Much has been made of Lexus’ redesigned flagship sedan, especially the long-wheelbase version, the LS460L. Lexus’ decision to make a long-wheelbase model is a shot across the bow of the German trinity of luxury manufacturers, with Jaguar thrown in there for good measure. No longer content to be the best of the Japanese brands, Lexus is clearly setting its sights dead on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, Audi A8, and the Jaguar XJ. So when one of these huge sleds rolled into the Roadfly office, we were eager to see what all the fuss was about.
Most of said fuss was directed at the LS460L’s rear seats, which are on par with any of the aforementioned Q-ships. Roadfly staffers all but ignored the cabin, clamoring for a chance to act out their executive fantasies. There’s plenty of room for that, and whatever else you want to do. The “L” signifies a five-inch increase in the LS460’s wheelbase, which translates into a truly cavernous amount of legroom. Shoulder room and headroom are unchanged from the regular-wheelbase model, but the additional floor space feels like an acre.
Our LS460L was equipped with a few extra baubles to make the rear seat an even more comfortable, exclusive hangout. The Luxury Package is the first upgrade on the options sheet. It brought us a leather upgrade and a faux-suede headliner for increased aesthetic and tactile appeal. There’s also more coddling involved, with the inclusion of “Climate-Comfort Rear Seats,” controlled by knobs in the fold-down armrest. These seats not only heat and cool, but also have a power reclining function. It’s not quite your grandpa’s La-Z-Boy, but it’s enough to make your chauffeured commute home that much more sumptuous. Not to mention safer, as the Luxury Package also adds rear-seat side airbags to the LS460L’s list of charms.
The coddling continues with the “Rear Seat Upgrade Package,” which includes a four-zone climate control system with an air purifier, as well as a “rear-seat cool box” hidden behind the rear armrest where you’d normally find a pass-through to the trunk. It’s too small to keep a bottle of Krug on ice for those impromptu hostile-takeover celebrations, but it will certainly cool a few beer cans. To keep the passengers cool and away from prying eyes, our LS460L also had five sunshades for the rear seat – one for the rear windshield, and one for each pane of glass aft of the B-pillar. These features can be controlled from the front, or, as undignified as it sounds, by the manual labor of the tycoon in the rear.
Enough about the passengers. How is the LS460L as a driver’s car? The answer is, surprisingly capable and shockingly involving. Once our road test editor and our publisher had both taken their turn behind the wheel, their opinions were identical. The aim Lexus has taken at the German uber-sedans, particularly the one wearing the three-pointed star, is dead-on.
Roadfly tested Mercedes’ top-of-the-line sedan (the S550) and coupe (CL550) not long before we got the Lexus, so we know what German V8 excellence feels like. And let us be crystal clear: if we were blindfolded and put behind the wheel of both the Lexus and the Benz, we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Time was that Japanese cars lagged behind their German inspirations in sensory and tactile areas. No more. The Lexus has a 4.6-liter V8, which, despite being almost a full liter smaller than the Merc’s engine, produces almost identical power (380 horsepower for the Lexus vs. 382 for the Benz) and only slightly less torque (367 vs. 391). That torque is delivered in the same alacritous swell that makes the Benz so impressive, with the same creamy growl and warp-speed stability. The Lexus’s transmission even bests the Benz’s 7-speed automatic, claiming sole bragging rights by adding another gear. Yes, that’s right. Eight speeds. With gears this short, the Lexus rips through the meat of its power band with unparalleled ruthlessness, and the rush is never more than a downshift away.
Brakes on the LS460L are outstanding, and standing on the pedal – just to see what will happen – is just as much of a thrill as stomping the gas (which, if traction control is turned off, will enable you to decorate the road with as much rubber as you want). The LS460L really is that good. Handling on our test car was rock-solid, if not razor-sharp, but that’s probably due to the longer wheelbase.
In addition to its gearbox hegemony, the LS460L establishes bragging rights in another area. By now you have doubtless heard about the Lexus’ industry-first self-parking system, called “Intuitive Parking Assist.” It might be a bit of a stretch to call it intuitive, but it is very neat. The system utilizes the LS460L’s rear-view camera (a standard item), and gives you a little box that shows you where the car will end up. You drag the box with your fingers, but you can’t put the car just anywhere. Only when the box goes green can you select your destination. Then, just modulate the brake pedal, and the car will do the rest.
It’s truly a spooky feeling when the LS460L begins to move backward, accompanied by a ghostly, automated spinning of the steering wheel. But once it’s set a course, the car does an admirable job of parking itself. Getting it there is a tad difficult, though. Too much undulation or unevenness in the pavement surface will cancel the parking assist, as will trying to get the car into spots below a certain size. Too much speed will also cancel the assist, so be careful to use the brakes carefully. As it stands now, the Intuitive Parking Assist is entirely superfluous; you can do a better job on your own. But Lexus now has a leg up on the competition, and in a decade when every luxury car from the First World has their own self-park system, Lexus can look back and say it was the first.
For that reason, among many others, the LS460L has secured for itself a unique toehold in automotive history. 2007 will be remembered as the year when the Japanese looked the Germans in the eye for the first time. We’re excited about what this means for the future of motoring, but for right now you can go and snatch up a piece of history for a starting price of just $71,000 for an LS460L. Optioned up the way ours was, you’ll have to pony up nearly $81,000. That is certainly S-class territory, but that’s the price of being every bit as good as the German offerings. The LS still has a little ground to make up in the aesthetic department (the S-class still has nicer window switches), but other than that, the gap has been completely closed.