Sunday May 9, 2010
Quest for verve
By GEORGE WONG
The Lexus LS stands for refined luxury. Does it offer a keen driving experience as well? Let’s find out.
THE badge doesn’t say so but the total packaging gives away its intent.
The paddle shifters, the 19-inch BBS rims, Brembo brakes, hugging front seats and reinforced stabiliser bars signal that the latest LS 460 is a sporty edition of the bog standard Lexus flagship.
Since coming into being 20 years back, the LS line has always been about moving rich and important people about in total luxury and comfort. Performance and handling played second fiddle as their owners were more interested in being pampered in the back seat as they were driven everywhere but the workshop.
Times have changed and Lexus is answering the call from some LS owners who – every now and then – would like to grab the wheel and get frisky with their rides. They want to continue to enjoy the ultra-refinements the car has to offer while demanding that it responds to every twitch of their muscles as they floor the gas pedal or scamper through corners like cops chasing robbers.
The LS line in the form of the long wheelbase version remains the chauffeur-driven carriage of chief executives and VIPs. And the unique selling proposition of the standard wheelbase LS 460 for 2010 is to make it the sporty one, turning a handsome and elegant car into a much more visually exciting and fun vehicle to drive.
Both variants underwent a facelift earlier this year. Besides cosmetic changes and improvements to interior comfort, a key change was the use of an air suspension that provides a stiffer ride. The suspension is much more responsive in turns and handling is noticeably better. There is a Comfort setting for the shocks that smooths out what might otherwise be a rough straight-line ride.
Boosting the wow factor is the Mark Levinson hi-fi system with a mind-boggling 19 speakers that offers a concert-hall-like ambience with clarity and separation like you wouldn’t believe.
Add an eight-speed auto box, making Lexus the first in the world to introduce so many cogs. This allows gear ratios that generate torque up to the tyre-grip limitations at the low end yet maintain quietness and fuel economy on the high end.
A mixed bag is the Lexus self-parking system that steers the vehicle into a parallel or row parking spot as the driver backs up. Note that it is merely an aid and not an automatic parking system. Some will find it helpful; others may dismiss it as a gimmick.
Unlike the 120mm longer 460L, the 460 Sport is restyled for a more aggressive look with a four-bar grille that has larger and more distinctive louvres.
Requisite in a sport edition is the extra body cladding. The bodykit includes side skirts to give the five-metre long 460 Sport a lower-slung look in profile.
In the lighting department, Lexus copies the use of bi-xenon headlamps of other expensive marques and also follows its German rivals in using LEDs to underline the front lights. Apart from minor tweaks at the back, the dual tailpipes integrated into the bumper give the car a streamlined look.
That rich glossy exterior is maintained with a special paint that has anti-scratch nanotechnology polymer, which all sounds very expensive and befits the nearly RM740,000 sticker price (OTR with insurance).
The finest Lexus has to offer is showcased in the LS interior, which is rich in its own way with wood and leather mated to tightly grained, well-matched plastics. An LCD touchscreen sans satellite navigation takes pride of place in the centre console, while clearly designed gauges face the driver.
Black leather seats complement the matt-finish brown ash burl, giving the cabin a decidedly conservative look, tempered by front sports seats, paddle shifters and aluminum chrome accents around the instrument panel.
The wide centre console makes the front seats look smallish, but sports seats are meant to look compact anyway as a result of heavy padding to enhance bolster support and thigh support.
The 460 Sport does not boast Ottoman seating (a la lounge seats in business class flights) like the 460L, but rear passengers will nonetheless find the normal seats supple and cushy.
New brakes, a sportier transmission and sport-tuned suspension hooked up to a gutsy 380-horse V8 bring out the sports sedan in this LS.
The shifts, acceleration, handling and braking are crisper. The driver is given the latitude to control what the car does, making for an involving drive.
Friends who came along for the ride had nothing bad to say about the Lexus as they were engrossed with the plush interior and cosseting ride. Going by their response, they might as well be the PR folk for Lexus.
Said Jack, who drives a Toyota Vios, “This Lexus blows me away. The pickup is superb and the whole car responds immediately to throttle feedback.
“There was no wind noise buffeting against the car that I could hear,” he added as the other passenger, Harriet, nodded in agreement and chirped: “The trip is just so quiet it’s unbelievable.”
“I would say the comfort levels are way above those of most cars on the road,” Jack continued. “The 460 Sport is a big car indeed and it goes so smoothly it fosters a feeling of complete security. This feeling is further reinforced by the way it handles itself as it weaves nimbly in and out of traffic. It’s a car that makes you feel in perfect control.”
When all is said and done, the 460 Sport is still about being pampered on four wheels. But it adds a dash of sporty excitement into the mix. Yes, it has verve all right.