2012 Lexus LS 460 AWD Sportech quick spin
The relentless pursuit of isolation
What is it?
If you look at the flagship models — the big, expensive limo-like sedans — from Audi, BMW, Benz and Jaguar, you'll notice they all have a few things in common. They all pack the best engineering, the latest technology and the finest interiors. Bizarrely, though, there's a strange emphasis on sportiness. Certainly, a five-metre luxury barge should be able to get out of its own way, but why must they all handle, and, adversely, ride like a sports sedan several sizes smaller? Thankfully, Lexus remains the exception to the rule. The LS series has always been and will always be the flagship that puts passenger comfort above all else. And this latest LS 460 is no different.
As you will have undoubtedly noticed, the word "sport" has crept into the LS vernacular. But don't worry, it's only in name. The Sportech package, essentially the only change to the LS line for 2012, adds the bespoke grille and side valances from the RWD-only Sport model, and combines them with all the luxury goodies from the Technology Package. These include radar cruise control, self-parking abilities and a three-setting air suspension — something not normally on offer to short-wheelbase LS customers. Other than the addition of an all-wheel drive and a hybrid model several years back, the LS is essentially the same car it was when it debuted back in '06.
What's it like to drive?
If Tempur-Pedic was in the business of building cars, they'd probably feel a lot like the LS. As soon as you sit down in its leather-lined cabin, you get an immediate sense of plushness. The seats gently coddle you and the materials feel rich. Rear-seat passengers are treated equally well; the back seats are heated, power adjustable, and offer a massaging function.
Shut the doors and the cabin goes silent. Thick glass and insulation bars the honks and sirens of the outside world. The big 4.6-litre V8 gently sighs away from stops as you waft around on the Sportech's air suspension system. It's all very stately and Rolls-Royce-like. The air suspension has sport, normal, and comfort settings, though they may as well read, "comfortable, more comfortable, and even more comfortable." Thumbing through the different modes reveals normal to be the best of the settings. Beyond the initial lean in corners, the LS remains resolutely flat without sacrificing its pillow-top ride.
Serenity is the car's strongest asset, but there are some tradeoffs along the way. During its development, Lexus engineers took a gamble with the brakes and steering, fitting brake-by-wire and variable gear ratio electric power steering to facilitate a sense of agility and automatic parallel parking. The upshot of this is a car that steers accurately and has plenty of stopping power, but little feel or feedback routed to the driver. However easy it is to place on the road, you always get the sense you're two steps removed from the action, making it feel a bit too isolated.
Should you buy one?
For six years the LS has continued to be a solid, secure and utterly unflappable performer. It pulls no punches and promises nothing it cannot deliver — and trust us, it can deliver a lot. That it's getting along in its years is unavoidable, but if you're looking for plush comfort, this car is still worth a look. We admire the fact that it doesn't claim any sporting poise, which makes it unique in its own special way. The LS is also good value for money. This fully loaded car rang in just over $95,000, which, when you line up an equally equipped S-Class, A8 or 7, you'd be shelling out thousands upon thousands more.
As we reckon Lexus will be keeping the LS around a few more years, we'd like to suggest a few improvements: dialing up the steering feel, smoothing out the brakes, a bit more low-down torque (perhaps installing the LS 600h's 5.0-litre V8), and an update to the cabin for a better sense of occasion with a more modern design. These changes would certainly add to the appeal of the LS without shedding its comfort-first motive.
Lexus LS460 AWD
Base price/As-tested: $85,400 / $95,150
Type of vehicle: AWD full-size luxury sedan
Engine: 4.6L, 32-valve, DOHC V8
Horsepower/Torque: 357 hp / 344 lb.-ft.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (city/hwy/as-tested): 13.5 / 8.7 / 11.7 L/100 km
Competition: Audi A8, BMW 750i xDrive, Cadillac XTS, Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic, riding on a magic carpet
QUICK SPIN SUMMARY
Toyota-rivaling value for money
Needs more low-end torque
Cabin design is showing its age
Absence of steering and brake feel