What It Is/Who It's For
Lexus' full-size luxury flagship is aimed squarely at big shots, bigwigs, and fatcats.
Supremely quiet and sublimely smooth in everything it does.
Feels dated compared to newer luxury sedans.
The 2012 Lexus LS 460 is a wonderfully comfortable and powerful luxury sedan. Just don't drive anything else, and you'll be happy.
The 2012 Lexus LS 460 Sport is a time capsule, in a way. No, it doesn't have letters from turn-of-the-century children in the glovebox, or "I like Ike" campaign buttons in the trunk, but it is a snapshot into what state-of-the-art luxury was like, and what luxury expectations were, in the middle part of the last decade.
Think about that for a second. In 2006, when this car was introduced, there was no such thing as an iPad, or even an iPhone for that matter. There were two more years of Bush presidency to go. We were still using MySpace, for crying out loud. And there was no gigantic economic recession. From a more practical standpoint, since this car came out, nearly every single one of its European competitors has been completely redesigned.
Now, let's just be clear, the Lexus LS 460 is, by nearly any measure, a very good luxury car. It's exceptionally comfortable, exquisitely crafted, quiet, fast, and the sport package even makes it more fun to drive than you might expect. In a way, when you consider the car's overall age, it's impressive that it's as competitive as it actually is. But there's no getting around the fact that this is an older vehicle, one that desperately needs an update if it's going to compete against newer offerings from Audi and BMW. It's even outclassed by the equally aged Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which in fairness was way ahead of the curve when it debuted, and has been continually updated since. Since the Lexus LS is still a year off from its update, we wanted to see how the flagship was holding up.
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What We Drove
Bring money. The days where Lexus was a bargain have been gone for decades now, and although the 2012 Lexus LS 460 we drove is less than its competitors, it still boasts a hefty price tag. The basic vehicle starts off at $66,255, including the $875 destination charge. That gets you a pretty darn well equipped sedan, with leather on everything; genuine wood trim, including wood on the steering wheel; a 10-speaker premium audio system; dual-zone air conditioning; and a 380-horsepower 4.6-liter V-8 engine connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Not bad. Our test car also boasted the $2,035 Comfort Package, which adds heated and cooled front seats, a power rear sunshade, heated rear seats, headlamp washers and a power trunk. Then there's the $3,745 navigation and audio package, which upgrades the audio to an advanced DVD-Audio Mark Levinson 7.1 surround sound system, with a hard-drive based navigation system, Lexus Enform and eDestination, and a few other technology goodies. The $6,185 Sport Package adds big brakes, 19-inch wheels, a sport tuned suspension, sporty exterior trim and saddle-colored interior leather with dark brown matte-finish wood accents. Throw in a cargo net ($64) and a trunk mat ($95), and you have an out-the-door price of $78,379. That's no small chunk of change by any measure, but it's still thousands less than a V-8 BMW 7 Series ($86,595 to start for a 750i), and nearly $20,000 less than a V-8 Mercedes-Benz S-Class ($95,975 to start for an S 550). An Audi A8 starts at about that price ($79,625), but that doesn't include several of the options packages, such as an upgraded leather interior or a sport package.
High safety standards are a selling point on every car these days, so luxury cars have to go beyond their standard multiple airbags and stability and traction control to distinguish themselves. Here, too, the 2012 Lexus LS 460 that we drove lags its competitors. There was no active cruise control, no lane-keeping assist, and no blind spot detection on our test car. You can get active cruise control and a collision-detection system for $1,500, but if you want the full complement of modern high-tech safety systems—lane keep assist, collision intervention, driver monitoring and whatnot—you not only have to shell out $5,860 for the Advanced Pre-Collision System package, but you'll also have to step up to the more expensive and longer "L" versions of the LS 460, which have a base price of $74,050; add in the various packages, and you'll wind up paying more than $91,000 just to get the safety systems.
There are few better cars in which to cruise to work. As you serenely pilot your way downtown to your bank, law office, or plastic surgery clinic, the Lexus LS 460 coddles every part of you. Too cold? The immeasurably comfortable seat can warm you. Too hot? It can cool you, too. The LS 460 whisks its way down the highway in sublime comfort, with barely a whisper of wind, road or other noise making it through to the cabin. Lexus has always emphasized the tranquility of its driving experience, and this LS exemplifies that trait.
The silence of the interior makes the awesomeness of the Mark Levinson reference audio system that much easier to love. If you haven't had a chance to listen to a high-quality DVD-audio system, imagine 3D, but for your ears. The precise use of each of the 19 individual speakers brings new life to older recordings. It's a shame that the technology hasn't really caught on, because it's wonderful, and you and your passengers will appreciate it.
Your passengers will also appreciate the rear seat. It's wide and comfortable, and rivals the front chairs for leg room, head room, and just general comfort. Like you, your rear passengers will also appreciate the buttery soft leather, the Alcatara headliner, real wood paneling, soft touch surfaces and excruciatingly precise construction of everything in the car. Too much sun on their necks? Tap the power sunshade button, and a mesh screen glides into place, covering the rear window without obstructing your view. And everything just fits so well. If Lexus cut any corners on this car's assembly, they were surely cut with a computer-guided laser torch, deburred with micrometric precision, and then hand-polished to perfection by a wizened corner-cutting artisan.
But wait. Was that a bump in the road? Felt through the suspension? In a Lexus? Yes, it was, and you can thank the Sport package for it. While road imperfections were never intrusive in a rude way, the stiffer suspension combine with the bigger wheels and tires for a surprising amount of road feel in this car. It's not a lumpy ride by any stretch of the imagination. But you definitely notice more than you would in an LS without the Sport package. In all honesty, it's nice. While some may prefer the isolation chamber feel of the standard LS without sporting pretentions, we prefer being reminded once in a while that we're driving a car, not hovering over the ground.
The list of features inside the LS 460's interior is extensive, but luxury cars aren't really measured by the quantity of stuff, but the quality of it, and how it makes you feel. For example, in the Lexus HS, RX, and the new GS, you can get Lexus Remote Touch, a brilliant mouse-like interface to navigate the on-screen menu. Here you get a standard touch-screen interface, which is good, but nowhere near as clever. You have nearly all the features of any of the German brands, but no matter where you look, this car is now a step behind the newer machined aluminum knobs of an Audi, the backlit wood trim of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and the high-tech wizardry of a BMW 7 Series. The center console is a bland looking pile of buttons; the smooth curves of the interior lack passion; the materials, although excellent, now feel premium grade instead of luxury grade. It doesn't help that the dash clock looks identical to the one in a Toyota Corolla.
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The Grocery Run
Despite the price, cars like the Lexus LS 460 get used by their buyers in the same way as owners of a Ford Taurus or Chevy Impala use their cars. After all, it is just a big sedan, and it's designed to do anything any big sedan can do. Put short, if you're busy doing hamburger-chores on your Kobe beef-budget, you'll find the LS 460 downright practical. Even the fuel economy isn't too bad; we saw 20.2 during our week with the car.
If you're hitting the Whole Foods, don't fret. Although its size makes it less maneuverable in parking lots than some cars, the LS 460 boasts feather-light steering, and backing up is a cinch thanks to the reverse camera and huge screen. However, the protruding front lower bumper did suffer a scratch thanks to a lost argument with a curb; remember how wide this car is before parallel parking, or at the very least, remind the valet. The power trunk lid swings clear out of the way at the touch of a button on the key fob, opening up to a cavernous cargo area for your canvas-bagged sundries. Importantly, the trunk opening itself is also large, making it easy to load your Louis Vuitton bags on your way to the airport. A touch of a button on the trunk lid closes it, so you won't have to worry about demeaning yourself by actually slamming anything.
Your kids will love being coddled like this. All the things that make the rear seat accommodating to adults goes double for kids. The lower LATCH points are snug between the cushions, but there's plenty of room for adjusting Junior's belts before taking him to his pee-wee polo league practice. However, the upper anchor proved difficult to use, with no clear path over or under the headrests. Entry and exit is also easy enough for little ones to do on their own; this is a low-to-the-ground sedan, after all. Even teens will probably think you're at least slightly less uncool when in the leather-lined luxury of the LS 460's back seat; they may even let you drop them off in front of school, instead of down the block.
The Weekend Fun
Take the 2012 Lexus LS 460 out on the open road, and one of its truest strengths shines through: This is a great road trip car. We got a taste of this as we piloted the big Lexus on a 70-mile cruise from Long Beach to the California Speedway in Fontana. Once on the road, the whisper quiet aerodynamics and coddling cabin really make you feel like you're the gender-neutral monarch of the road.
But there's not much newsworthy about a big Lexus sedan being comfortable on a long, straight stretch of Interstate. What's surprising is that the LS 460 is equally satisfying if your weekend getaway is at the end of a long, winding two-lane, thanks to the Sport Package. It transforms this big cruiser into something much closer to a sport sedan. The engine produces its 380-horsepower as effortlessly as pouring water from a Waterford decanter, and the distant muted roar makes us wish Lexus would lose some of the sound deadening. Slide the shifter into "M" mode, and the paddles on the back of the steering wheel come into play, allowing you to select your own gear from the eight-speed automatic with just a few taps. Press the "Sport" mode on the suspension, and the shock absorbers firm up a bit more, curbing the big sedan's tendency to bounce through corners. Those big wheels are wrapped in big tires, giving the LS 460 extra grip. And the blacked-out grille? OK, that just looks cool.
Complaining about a car like the LS 460 sounds like the height of automotive journalism hubris. After all, this is a car that few will ever be able to afford. Whining that the knobs for the radio aren't machined aluminum, or that the graphics on its multi-function navigation and entertainment system aren't quite dynamic enough, or that the wood on the dash isn't backlit for crying out loud...well, we'll admit it comes off as a little hard to swallow. This is, after all, a very nice luxury sedan.
But "nice" isn't good enough. Put the Lexus LS 460 up against the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, or Mercedes-Benz S-Class—its primary competitors—and it's as unfashionable as coming to a meeting with a paper notepad instead of an iPad. The movers, shakers, and captains of industry who pilot themselves around in a megabucks sedan, they notice things like that. Granted, this Lexus does cost less than its German competitors, and thus maybe it's unrealistic to expect the same level of content and features. Then again, the basic Audi A8 only costs slightly more than this Lexus, and still comes with all-wheel drive, a better infotainment system, and a more sumptuous interior.
The difference is that with the exception of the S-Class, those cars have the benefit of a full redesign since 2006, something that's in the near future for the big Lexus. Exactly what the Japanese luxury car maker plans to do with its flagship sedan is still an open question. We expect more power, a better interior, more features, and probably more expressive styling thanks to the new Lexus "spindle" grille treatment. The big question though, is simple: Will it blow us away like an S-Class does?
We'll answer that next year.
EPA City: 16
EPA Highway: 24
EPA Combined: 19
Estimated Combined Range: 422 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Average
"This car is for someone who wants a luxurious, spacious cabin, plenty of performance, and is not interested in turning a head, because not one person took a second glance." –Matthew Askari, Associate Editor
"The Lexus LS is the compay's flagship, designed to compete with the Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Szeries and Jaguar XJ. It needs to exude the attitude of 'I'm rich' to everybody inside and around it. And so far, I'm not seeing that." –Blake Z. Rong, Associate Editor
"Normal, Comfort and Sport settings. Changes are noticeable, especially in terms of road feel. Steering feels like the car's smaller. On the other hand, the Comfort mode is like driving through molasses." –Joel Arellano, Associate Editor