It may seem counterintuitive, but the 2013 Lexus LS luxury sedan is a recovering underdog.
Back in 1990, the LS arrived as the first car from Lexus, the newly minted luxury division of Toyota. It followed in the tire tracks of Honda's Acura, which was the first Japanese luxury car sold in the United States. But the LS soon established itself and, with subsequent new models, breezed past Acura.
When the LS first appeared, it was positioned as a competitor of midsize luxury cars like the Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5-Series. Over the years, as it solidified its niche, the LS grew in size and price, and eventually competed directly against the full-size BMW 7-Series and Mercedes S-Class.
Soon after the introduction of the fourth-generation version in 2007, the LS outsold the BMW 7 and Mercedes S cars. But the Germans crept up and last year passed the LS, after its production was curtailed by the tsunami that devastated Japan.
Now with an all-new aggressive design, Lexus aims to recover its lead. The fifth-generation LS presents a fresh face to the world with its spindle grille, so-called because its chrome outline looks like the side view of a spindle. It's an imposing look, in concept not unlike the giant maw that decorates the front of Audi's big A8 sedan.
The rest of the exterior and interior styling are new as well. Outside, prominent fenders and sharper lines distinguish the LS. If you order the optional LED headlights, you get state-of-the-art light-emitting diodes in the other lights as well.
Even with all the exterior alterations, this new Lexus still manages to slip through the wind. Its coefficient of drag is 0.26, less than some all-out sports and touring cars.
Inside, the new Lexus flagship aims to entice luxury customers with customized interior illumination, a newly designed instrument panel that separates functions, quick-reacting climate controlled seats and decorative materials, including Shimamoku striped wood trim. Lexus says this special Japanese wood requires 67 processes over 38 days to produce a single steering wheel.
More than posh surroundings, the new LS offers state-of-the art safety features, including an advanced pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, vehicles or other objects ahead. If an inattentive driver is traveling at 24 miles an hour or less, the system automatically stops the LS before it hits anything.
Also available is blind-spot warning for people who don't adjust outside mirrors properly, along with a cross-traffic alert that detects vehicles crossing the path of the LS when it is backing up.
There are seven LS models for 2013, in both long and short wheelbase versions with rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. New for the model year is the F Sport, with rear drive and all-wheel drive, which obviously is intended as a driver-oriented car. Though the power is only slightly more than that of the standard LS 460, it has the feel of a midsize sports sedan.
In the LS lineage, the power crown sits atop the hybrid LS 600h L, the most expensive model in the lineup. It uses a 5.0-liter V8 engine with two electric motor generators and a continuously variable transmission with planetary gears. With a total of 438 horsepower, the 5,200-pound car can sprint to 60 miles in 5.5 seconds, according to Lexus specifications. Its city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating is 19/23/20 mpg.
Tested for this review was the long-wheelbase LS 460 L, with all-wheel drive, powered by a 386-horsepower V8 engine linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It has a starting price of $82,670 and delivers 16/23/18 mpg on the EPA cycle.
The $94,620 test car was equipped with the optional air suspension system, which offered different choices. In eco and comfort mode, shock absorbers adjusted for maximum comfort, which produced a floating ride and affected straight-line handling.
Far preferable was either the sport or sport plus modes. The latter tightened everything from the steering to the transmission shift points and suspension system. It resulted in nearly the feel of the F Sport model -- this in a car that is more than 17 feet long. However, despite its advertised zero-to-60 acceleration time of 5.9 seconds, it had a leisurely feel off the line.
In true limousine fashion, the LS cruised serenely on the highway and, with the optional executive seating in back, could function as a rolling, distraction-free office or meeting room. The package includes a reclining seat and rear seat climate controls.
Model: 2013 Lexus LS 460 L AWD four-door sedan.
Engine: 4.6-liter V8, 386 horsepower.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
Overall length: 17 feet 1 inch.
EPA passenger/trunk volume: 102/18 cubic feet.
Weight: 4,695 pounds.
EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/23/18 mpg.
Base price, including destination charge: $82,670.
Price as tested: $94,620.
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