In The Autoblog Garage: Lexus LS460L

click above image for a high-resolution gallery of the Lexus LS460L

It's tough to pity Lexus LS owners. After all, Executive-Class luxury sedans don't exactly suck. We wouldn't blame LS drivers for feeling pangs of over-inconspicuousness whenever they see a Camry, though. Understated luxury is one thing, but when you're devoting something like two years of the average worker bee's salary to a frivolity such as a luxury sedan, it'd be nice to have at least some indication to the Serfs that you're the better man.

"Look at Me!" posturing is not what we have in mind. There are Lamborghinis and Excaliburs for that sort of disgusting bourgeois putrefaction. Exuding a bouquet of fine taste, class and craftsmanship shouldn't be out of the question for a car such as the LS, however. The LS 460L we drove failed to portray itself as what it aspires to be; the ne plus ultra shark in the S-Class pool. Spend a few more seconds looking and the sheer size of the big Lexus sinks in, but gosh, from 30 feet away you need to concentrate to see something more than a Camry (or the new Hyundai Genesis for that matter).

All photos ©2007 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

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The Lexus LS 460 L wears long and elegant lines that are pleasing to behold. The styling works well to minimize the visual size of what is a big car. The extra "L" denotes a near five-inch stretch in wheelbase and vehicle length. It doesn't darken as much asphalt as a Lincoln Town Car, but at 202 inches from stem to stern, she ain't no runabout.

Well-proportioned styling makes smart use of short overhangs and nicely sculpted surface detailing to downplay the car's size. There's a speedy rake to the backlight in keeping with the LS's intended 7-series and S-Class targets. Brightwork is subtle, stately even, with a nice outline of chrome around the daylight openings and a horizontal strip along the bottoms of the doors that make the LS look less hefty. It is more classically handsome than the competition, even if the fast back glass and kinked c-pillar hint at something that isn't served up dynamically. We extend sincere thanks to Lexus for not chroming the Minilite-esque wheels, too.

Wearing flawlessly applied dark grey metallic paint, our tester fulfilled its Q-Ship modus operandi to perfection. Quality construction and attention to detail is the impression the LS leaves. Panel gaps are minute, and there's an extra gasket between door seams, keeping the ruckus down inside. Even with chrome on every door pull and dual exhausts, the LS still does not call attention to itself. You'll be noticed by people in the know, while everyone else will simply ignore you. We were flashed digital origami in Worcester, but nobody in the Olive Garden parking lot cared. Those dual exhaust outlets evoke the creative spent-gas routings of the 1950s, even if the pipes don't actually connect with the bezels. On autumn mornings, the exhaust created an ethereal fog around the car, lending an appropriate air of omnipotence.

The outside of the LS is less important than the cabin. Closing the door kills noise pollution to a degree that makes tinnitus screamingly apparent. At speed, only some wind rushing around the A pillar intrudes. One thing about the LS should be perfectly clear; this is not a driver's car, it's best to think of yourself as an operator. The incessant reliance on an LCD touchscreen for the human-machine interface isn't a bonding aid, either. HVAC controls belong on dedicated buttons with a fan knob, all absent here. There's a four-zone climate-control system in the LS, creating the potential for an in-car weather system. The seats are also heated and cooled, though the heating function is more effective. A heated steering wheel is welcome when the weather outside is frightful, and alcantara covers the pillars and headliner luxuriantly. Faultless materials and assembly make up the cabin with a pleasant overall design, though the atmosphere in our car was somber with grey leather and bird's eye maple from OEM supplier Kingsford.

The bridge of the LS is easy to use, especially in this vehicle class. Toyota's GPS navigation system is easily learned, but customizing the preferences could require cracking the manual. The LCD allows a lot of functionality without a Germanic amount of tiny, indecipherable buttons or trapping you in submenu hell, while also leaving plenty to stab at on the dash for buttonphiles.

Virtually everything with an adjustment can be set to an automatic mode. The headlights swivel, but they're good enough straight on without adding the extra servos that will wear out. Want the LS to worry about setting and releasing the parking brake? No problem. Maintain the interior temperature at a server-happy 60 degrees farenheit? Easy. Flip the mirrors in when you leave the car, power the trunklid up and down, do most of the work rolling windows up and down, tell you where to go and warn you when you're about to clip the mailbox post? It can do it, and then some. All of the automation turns driving the LS into a stomp and aim experience, and it's not engaging.

It's not supposed to be engaging, though. Hopping in the back seat pointedly demonstrates that idea. There's acres of space in the rear seat. Even without the executive seating package, the rear compartment is clearly the place of honor. There's a hidey-hole between the rear seats to hide contraband and controls for audio and HVAC that ensure dominion over the rear-seat realm. The sunshades that are built into the doors and rear window are especially slick and a feature that all cars should have.

Our favorite aspect, by far, is the premium Mark Levinson sound system. It is the best factory stereo we've heard in quite a long time. Yes, it costs a fortune. Yes, it's worth it. It sounds amazing, and when it's in a vehicle as serene as the LS, you can really appreciate the sound quality. Besides, in the Lexus, the onus is on you to bring the excitement.

The trunk is the one area that doesn't feel larger than life. It appears cavernous until you pop the lid. After waiting an eternity for the powered lid to open, you'll see that the front third of the trunk is swallowed up by hardware hidden behind a carpeted panel. It's still large and there's a small pass-through, but there will be no loading lumber into the LS at the home center.

If you must lower yourself to driving the LS, you won't be headed for the autocross. Drag race power is there; the 4.6-liter V8 serves up 381 horsepower, which is then managed by a buttery eight-speed automatic. The electronic nannies are ever-watchful, allowing absolutely, positively no hooning, ever. Even when you shut the stability control off, it turns itself back on. The electronic power steering is overly light, numb, and too fast off center. The largely useless park-assist system is a nifty parlor trick, but trying to actually put this dubious feature into practice anywhere you might actually need to parallel park will not win you any friends. It takes way too long to set up your target and execute; just learn to park the damn car. It's not like the LS460 is a zero-visibility Countach. The windows are large, as are the mirrors, so visibility is great. If you think you might whack something, never fear, the radar will warn you when you get too close.

Out on the road, the driving experience is mid-malaise American. You can even get all four windows down on the highway without mussing your Vitalis coiffe. The tires are vocal if you try something like a switchback, but hit the highway and the big Lexus settles down. It never seems to fully relax, though. The steering requires constant little corrections, and wheel control is flabby. It's not a sports car, we realize, but it still seems like there's a half-cycle extra after hitting a bump. There's never a want for power, and the sounds from the engine, though muted, are of the lusty V8 variety. Passing and merging are no problem at all, the powertrain is slick and smooth and enjoys a symbiosis with your right foot.

Overall, the LS460L is a car that has the dual benefit of impressing other people, if that's your thing, and giving you a corner office on wheels. The rear is so commodious that important people can really get some work done while underway. It's finely crafted from excellent materials, and is quiet, comfortable, and capable. It's also chockablock with over-engineered gimmicks. The base model carries much of what our judiciously optioned car had, and there's enough optional equipment to push the price well beyond the mid-$80,000 level of our tester. You'll want for little with the $62,000 base car. If you must have the extra goodies, six figures is possible. What we'd love to see is a version of this car that doesn't have all the extra servo-controlled madness and just offers up a more solid suspension tune and fewer automagic driver hinderances -- err, aids. As it stands, the Lexus LS460L is a car for the driven. Interpret that how you choose.

All photos ©2007 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

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