Redesigned for 2001 with more aerodynamic styling and a bigger V-8 engine than the previous LS 400, the full-size, rear-drive flagship sedan from Toyota's luxury division gets only a single new color, Platinum Blue Pearl, for 2002. The 4.3-liter V-8 makes 290 horsepower and teams with a five-speed-automatic transmission.
Lexus first entered the American market in 1990 with its LS 400, which was redesigned for 1995 and is now in its third generation as the LS 430. Rivals in the luxury league include the Audi A8, BMW 5 Series and 7 Series, Infiniti Q45, Jaguar XJ8 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class and S-Class. In addition to its abundant standard equipment, the LS 430 can be equipped with such additional comfort features as heating and cooling elements for the front seats, an air-suspension system with adaptive shock-absorber control, and reclining and heated rear seats with a massaging mode. It can also be equipped with the Lexus Link communication system, which is essentially General Motors' OnStar communication service but is staffed by Lexus personnel.
Even with a hefty base price of $54,980 (including the destination charge), adding some of those extras can cause the final cost of the LS 430 to escalate sharply. Chrome 17-inch wheels add $1,800 to the sticker. A navigation system, heated seats and a power moonroof — all part of an option package — add up to nearly $4,000. Buyers who can afford even more can opt for the $12,485 Ultra Luxury Package, which includes such convenience features as the navigation system, Lexus Link, a Mark Levinson premium sound system, front and rear “intuitive” ultrasonic parking assist, laser-based cruise control that maintains a set distance from the vehicle ahead, and power trunk and door closers. Getting all these options means you're talking real money. Lexus' DVD-based navigation system operates via voice control or a dashboard touchscreen.
Riding a 115.2-inch wheelbase, the LS 430 measures 196.7 inches long and 72 inches wide. In contrast to its LS 400 predecessor, which had a softly rounded profile, the LS 430 styling is more chiseled and muscular-looking — a bit suggestive of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Lower bodyside cladding, high-intensity-discharge headlights and fog lamps are standard. Lexus claims that with the available air suspension, its top sedan has a 0.25 coefficient of drag (a measure of a vehicle's resistance to the air through which it passes), which is the lowest of any sedan sold today. A Euro-tuned sport suspension with 17-inch low-profile tires is optional.
Leather upholstery and genuine wood trim are standard in the five-passenger interior. Convenience features include a 14-way power driver's seat, a 10-way adjustable power front passenger seat and memory operation for the driver's seat, mirrors and steering wheel. An in-dash six-CD changer is standard.
Under the Hood
Working with a five-speed-automatic transmission, the 4.3-liter V-8 engine produces 290 hp and 320 pounds-feet of torque. Lexus claims the LS 430 can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. A “smart” throttle system called Intuitive Powertrain Control is supposed to smooth acceleration from a standstill.
Antilock brakes, traction control, an electronic stability system, side-impact airbags for the front seats, and curtain-type airbags for both the front and rear are standard. A dual-stage front airbag is used on the passenger side.
Tucked into the LS 430 — with a stunning load of additional gadgetry available for extra dollars — is about as much luxury as a reasonable person could ever want. More importantly, the top Lexus delivers all-around excellence in ride, performance, stability, maneuverability and bountiful interior space.
On the road, the suspension seems to be thinking instantaneously ahead, making excellent judgments about the best way to cope with the next bump. The result is not a cushiony, gliding ride, but rather a highly controlled yet soothingly smooth experience.
Performance is practically startling for a car of this weight. Just touch the gas pedal, and you're moving out in a big hurry. Passing and merging don't trigger a shred of concern, because the energetic V-8 is ready and waiting to be called upon.
In town and on the highway, the LS 430 is very easy to drive; it steers with a relatively light touch but full control. While driving, the sedan doesn't feel particularly oversized. This car is quiet, but it's not eerily silent. Even though the LS 430 lacks the sporty behavior of a BMW or the stern demeanor of a Mercedes-Benz, it can persuade its owner to keep on driving.