When Lexus introduced the FirstGeneration LS 400 in 1989, a surprised automotive press embraced it as, quite possibly, one of the best cars in the world. Within acouple of years, it became apparent that this car was also one of the mostreliable ever made. It left the competition scrambling. Sure, Mercedes and BMW had cars that wereconsidered just as good, but they were selling for over $10,000 more thanthis upstart and the public, recognizing a good deal, bought all the cars thatLexus could produce.
Only a handful of new car introductions have received so warm a reception inthe marketplace. The '86 Ford Taurus and MercurySable come to mind, as well as the Chrysler Mini-Vans in '84. Each caused arevolution in their respective markets, forcing competitors to come outwith "me too" models that turned out to be too little, too late. Then, as the years went by and the competition began catching up, thesetrendsetters each tried pulling another rabbit out of their respective hats, but met with mixedresults.
Now Lexus has just such a rabbit in their Third Generation LS 430; so they invitedthe automotive press to preview thisnew model and gave us the chance to drive some pre-production prototypes on public roads in Westchester County, New York. As part of this introduction, they allowed each of us to sample cars with their three suspension configurations: Standard,Euro-Sport and Computer Controlled Air Suspension. Although rainprevented me from giving these cars a proper shakeout, I did get a couple of hours of wheel time inand have formed a preliminary (and very positive) opinion of this new flagshipand I am eagerly looking forward to road-testing the productionmodel.
Startingprice for the LS 430 will be $54,005, same as the current model while a maxed-out, top of the line car containing everyavailable option will cost$67,775. They will hit theshowrooms on October 12, 2000.
This car is loaded with standard features for that starting price, including:a larger 4.3 liter engine that offers increased performance and "Ultra Low Emission Vehicle" (ULEV) certification, more interior room,standard in-dash single-feed six-disk CD changer, Automatic Rain Sensing WindshieldWipers, 14-way power driver's seat with 3 position memory, 10-way power frontpassenger's seat, Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) with Brake Assist and TractionControl. Of course the normal complement of luxury car features areall here such as Dual Zone Automatic Air conditioning, Leather and Woodinteriors, front and side air bags; as well as, side front and rear Curtain AirBags.
Ninety percent of the LS 430 is all new with just a few structural pieces and assorted boltsand nuts carried over from last year's model. All the exterior sheet metalis new and sculpted to produce the most aerodynamic production sedan in the world, whichallows Lexus to virtually eliminate wind noise, making this one of the quietestcars on the road.
The option list is what really blew my mind with almost $14,000 worth ofextra cost equipment available for this already well-equipped yacht. Theseoptions include: hold on to your mouse, an Ultra Luxury package containing:heated and cooled front seats, Dynamic Laser Cruise Control(which will automatically slow you down if you get too close to the car upfront), power seats with memory, heat and massage for the rear seats, rearair conditioner with air filtration, rear radio controls, laminated waterrepellent side glass, power door closers (if you don't close the door hardenough, it will suck it closed the rest of the way), Mark Levinson Audio System (Hedesigns home audio systems that start at $100,000), Intuitive Parking Assist(beeps when you are getting too close to something or someone while parking) anda slick power rear sunshade and manual side shades. (by the way, this is not acomplete list)
Walking around the car, I found the fit and finish to be as flawless as Ihave come to expect of Lexus. The Mercedes-look styling seems a bit conservativeand unimaginative, but it is tastefully done and it does make a statement. Theinterior, however is where this car shines. Lexus always puts a great dealof emphasis on ergonomics and this new model is no exception. I especially like the placement of the individual temperature controls for thedriver and passenger. They are clearly marked and mounted on either sideof the center pod within easy reach.
Sitting in the 14-way power driver's seat was a treat and finding all 14 waysto adjust it was not the challenge I had expected. The controls are logically grouped on theside of the seat and I quickly found a position I was comfortable in. Socomfortable, in fact, that I didn't want the drive to end, but the other reporterswere ready to knock on the window so, alas, I eventually had to relinquishcontrol. Are you getting the idea that I like this car? Lets talkabout how it drives...
As I mentioned before, the new LS 430 is available with three redesignedsuspension systems, all of which I had the opportunity to sample. Thestandard suspension has been tightened up a bit for better control without adverselyaffecting the superb ride quality of previous models.
For better handling,Lexus is introducing the Euro-Tuned Sport Suspension which gives this car aGerman Touring Car personality. The ride was stiffer than with thestandard suspension but not at all uncomfortable. The steeringfeel was not quite as accurate as a BMW, but it's close. Handling seemed to bequite good, but given the wet weather, I couldn't give it a real workout. The Sport Suspension is ano-charge option and must be ordered with 17" wheels and tires (a $100option). If you like to drive, this is the setup for you.
The AirSuspension system is an amazing piece of technology that comes bundled with theUltra Luxury Package ($12,290, ouch). This system will give you a super-soft rideor a sport ride at the flick of a switch. However, if the system sensesthat you are driving aggressively, or performing emergency maneuvers, it willinstantly tighten up on its own as needed. There is another switch that will liftthe car up an inch or so for added ground clearance on bad roads. The samesystem will drop the car down about an inch at highway speed for improvedaerodynamics.
Enough of this technical stuff, let's see what she'll do. Put the keyin the ignition and turn to start... nothing! Oh wait, the tach needle saysthe engine is running, I couldn't even hear the starter... not bad so far. Put it in drive and head down the driveway towards the street... still no sound,feels like I'm wearing ear plugs. Once I am out on the road and step onthe gas I can finally hear the engine, but it sounds way off in thedistance. This has to be one of the quietest cars I have ever driven, theonly car that comes close is the Mercedes S Class, which has a starting price of$10,000 more than the LS 430.
The ride is as good as it gets, soft and smooth on any road surface,but it also handles very competently. Two characteristics that are usuallymutually exclusive. The numb, disconnected steering feel that I complainedabout on previous models is gone. It has been replaced by a good feel ofthe road that inspires confidence. On the highway, the LS 430 has all thepower you could want (unless you're like me and nothing short of an F15will satisfy you). Lexus claims a 0 to 60 time of 6.3 seconds which isquick enough to chomp at the heels of a Corvette. And with your foot tothe floor, this engine is as quiet as most cars are when cruising at lightthrottle.
Thiscar has the optional Dynamic Laser Cruise Control system which monitors the roadahead and adapts your speed to stay with the traffic flow. It does this byusing a laser beam to scan the traffic up ahead and when it sees a car in frontof you that is going slower than you are, the system adapts your speedaccordingly. To test this feature, I accelerated to 70 MPH and set the cruise control. I then switched lanes so that Iwas quickly gaining on a truck that was in front of me. I felt the car immediately start slowing down,first by releasing the throttle, then by shifting to a lower gear, finallyby applying the brakes. At the same time as the system applied the brakes,a rapid, impatient beeping sound emanated from the dash, as if to say,"Where are you? Get back in the driver's seat and take over!"
The brakes are powerful and easy to control with a good pedal feel. Anti-lockis there if you are foolish enough to test the limits of this car in the rain (I can personally attest to the fact that the anti-lock system works well ) andBrake Assist helps you to get maximum stopping power in an emergency stop bysensing that your intention was to make a panic stop but you didn't step hard enoughon the brake pedal to activate the anti-lock system on all four wheels.
Because of the weather, I had a good chance to see the rain-sensingwindshield wipers in action. The sensor for the system is just above the insiderearview mirror and activated the wipers as soon as a few sprinkles hit theglass. In a light drizzle, the system worked in intermittent mode, onlytaking a sweep when necessary. As the rain intensified, the wipers kept upwith the demand until they were on continuously. I could get used to this.
The trunk is 33% larger than the previous model due to the fact that the gastank was moved from the back of the trunk to below the rear seat. There is apull-down handle for the trunk lid and a glow- in-the-dark emergency releasehandle inside the trunk to prevent someone from being trapped. The trunkcontains a full-size spare tire and the usual Lexus Tool Kit. In additionto the electric trunk release, there is a power trunk closer which means that yousimply pull the lid down until it clicks and the motor will pull it closed therest of the way eliminating the need to slam it shut.
Headlights are automaticon/off HighIntensity Discharge (HID) units with an auto level feature. The auto level system insures that the headlights are always properly aimedregardless of the load in the vehicle. The outside rearview mirrors tiltdown when you put the car in reverse so you can see the curb before you hit it.The outside mirrors are also auto-dimming and heated
Thereare some cool features on the climate control system, like a smog sensor thatwill automatically switch from fresh air to recirculate when the outside air isbad. There is also a temperature and sun sensing swing air register thatautomatically directs airflow where it is needed most. Temperature isadjusted individually for the driver and front seat passenger by controlsmounted on either side of the central pod. At the top of the pod is adisplay showing the two temperature settings as well as the time and the outsidetemperature.
Because of the power that is built into the computers that go into today'scars, engineers are able to take components previously hard-wired to one system,and use them in all kinds of magical ways. For instance, components of theanti-lock system are now used in Brake Assist,Vehicle Skid Control, Throttle Control and Cruise Control.
"Wait a minute... we talked about Brake Assist and I know what CruiseControl is but what the heck is Vehicle Skid Control and Throttle Control?"
Ok, you asked for it. In a nutshell, these two systems make bad drivers lookgood. Let's start with Vehicle Skid Control (VSC). The VSC systemuses the anti-lock brake and traction control sensors, actuators and computer electronics to help avoid and correct vehicle skids and spins caused by over-zealous drivers. It accomplishesthis magic by cutting the throttle and applying the brakes on one or more wheels tobring the car back under control. In effect, it makes bad drivers lookgood and good drivers look great. It doesn't protect you, however, from gettingswatted up-side your head by unappreciative passengers.
Throttle Control is essentially "Drive by Wire", which means thatthe gas pedal is an electrical switch that controls an electric motor that, inturn, controls the throttle. The net effect is that the car respondsexactly the way you expect it to. Give it an inch of throttle and youreceive the same level of thrust whether you are going up a hill or you aredriving on level ground. It will also smooth out the jerky motions of somedrivers who seem to be wearing lead boots.
So far, everything that we talked about with the exception of the Dynamic Laser Cruise Controlcomes as standard equipment on the base model. Now, let's take a look atsome of the features in the Ultra Luxury Package. We'll start with theNavigation System which is also available in a separate package. Thissystem uses a DVD disk to hold every street in the United States as well aspoints of interest such as gas stations, restaurants, parks, ATM's andhotels. If you see a hotel of interest, touch the screen and the built-incell phone will dial it up so you can see if any rooms are available. Lexus chose a DVD-based system because a DVD disk can hold 10 to 15 times asmuch information as a CD-ROM disk and is just as easy to handle. When new databecomes available, just pop the old disk out and pop the new one in. Speech recognition is part of this system and can control manyfeatures without your getting distracted by searching for buttons.
I drove around town while watching the map display and found that it trackedeach road that I drove on without skipping a beat. When I added the gasstation display, several gas pump icons popped up on the map. As I approachedone of those "pump" positions, sure enough, there was a gas stationexactly where it should be.
The Mark Levinson Sound System sounded at least as good as the Nakamichisystem (the best factory-installed sound system I have ever heard) in the oldmodel, but I didn't have a CD handy to put this new system through itspaces. Hopefully, the car that I get for the full road test will have aMark Levinson system. I'll let you know.
Another feature of the Ultra Luxury Package is the Climate Controlled Seats tm. The CCS system monitors temperature sensors in the seat, warming orcooling them as required, then circulating the heated or cooled air through theperforations in the leather. The heart of the system is a solid-stateThermoelectric Device that converts electrical current into thermaleffect. When electric current is applied to this device, one side gets hotand the other side gets cold. Reversing polarity reverses the effect.
Thebest part of the Ultra Luxury Package, however, is the back seat. Pull thecenter armrest down and you are greeted with a control panel that contains anumber of interesting features. Let's start with the power rearseats. As the cushion moves forward, the seatback reclines. There isa two position memory for each rear seat (not to mention the front passengerseat.) There is also a heat button and a massage button for each rearseat. The panel contains a complete climate control system for therear passenger area that is separate from the front system and has its ownfiltration system. Finally, the rear console has radio controls for volumeand station selection. Inside the armrest is a small glove compartment andtwo cup holders. Now get this: behind the armrest, there is a door thatleads to a beverage cooler that has enough room to hold a six-pack. I'mnot finished, there is a power-operated sun shade that pops up from the packageshelf to shade the rear window. This shade automatically retracts as soonas the driver puts the car in reverse. The rear doors also have shadesthat are manually operated and cover the door glass with a separate shade forthe vent window.
The other testers are knocking more forcefully on the window now so I guessthe fun is over...
I wonder if Microsoft stock is going to rebound soon....
Do you have any feedback on the Lexus LS430? Any opinions or experiencesof your own? We would love to hear from you. Clickhere to send us your comments
Clickhere for more pictures of the LS430
How would I improve this car?
- Let me think...
- How about... no, its got that already.
- Maybe if they retune that laser beam to disrupt police radar...
How does the LS-430 fit yourdriving style?
Conservative drivers This is your dream car. As good as it gets. Easy to drive smoothly with plenty of power when you need it. A comfortable back seat with plenty of room.
Sporty drivers There are smaller cars that handle better, but if you need a large luxury sedan, opt for the Euro-tuned Sport Suspension and have fun.
Fast drivers will love pushing this car to its limits. The Vehicle Skid Control will help you explore the limits of this car's handling potential while the wonderfully smooth engine and powerful brakes leave little to be desired
|Engine Type ||4.3-liter V8, DOHC Aluminum block and aluminum heads. Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i). |
|Horsepower ||290 @ 5,600 RPM |
|Torque ||320 @ 3,400 RPM |
|Fuel Recommended ||Premium 91 Octane Unleaded. |
|Transmission ||Five Speed Electronically Controlled Transmission with Intelligence (ECT-i) |
|Tires - Standard |
| P225/60R16 H-speed rated all-season touring tires |
|Overall Length ||196.7" |
|Wheelbase ||115.2 |
|Width ||72" |
|Turning Diameter ||37.4 ft Curb to Curb |
|Curb Weight ||3,955 |
|Fuel Tank ||22.2 Gals. |
|Miles Per Gallon ||EPA city 18, hwy 25. |
|Acceleration 0 to 60 ||6.3 Seconds |
|Base Sticker Price ||$54,005 plus $495 destination charge |
Lexus LS-430 Rear Wheel Drive Premium Luxury Sedan
- Leather Trim in Ecru, Ivory or Black
- Wood and Leather Steering Wheel
- Wood and Leather Shift Knob
- California Walnut Wood Trim
- Power Trunk Closer
- Automatic Headlamps with HighIntensity Discharge (HID) units and Auto Leveling Feature
- Rain Sensing Windshield Wipers
- Automatic Dual Zone Climate control with Smog Sensing Auto-recirculation System and Temperature and Sun Sensing Swing Air Register
- 14 Way Power Driver Seat with 3 Position Memory and 10 Way Front Passenger Seat
- Cruise control
- Compass and Digital Clock
- 15 Function Information Display with Trip Computer
- Power Tilt and Telescope Steering Column with Automatic Tilt-away
- Power Windows with Auto-Up/Down on All Four Windows
- First aid kit in Dedicated Box Under Driver's Seat
- Lexus Premium AM /FM/cassette stereo with Six Disk In-Dash CD Changer and 7 speakers.
- Four Wheel Ventilated Power Disk Brakes with ABS and Brake Assist
- Vehicle Skid Control with Throttle Control, Individual Wheel Braking and Traction Control
- Multi-function In-key Remote with Engine Immobilizer, Theft-deterrent System and Remote Window "down" Feature
- Electronic Throttle Control System with "Snow and Power Mode"
- Vehicle-Speed Sensing Progressive Power Rack and Pinion Steering
Major Available Options
- Euro-tuned Sport Suspension
- Upgraded Tire Package with 17 Inch Wheels
- Chrome Wheels
- Power Tilt and Slide Moonroof
- Heated Front and Rear Seats
- Mark Levinson Audio Package
- Navigation System Package
- Lexus Link (Includes One Year of Service)
- Interior Upgrade Package with Black or Bordeaux Semi Aniline Leather Trim
- Interior Upgrade Package with Ecru Nappa Leather Trim
- Ultra Luxury Selection includes Mark Levinson Audio,Navigation System, Lexus Link including One Year ofService, Power Moonroof, Dynamic Laser CruiseControl, Air Suspension with AVS, Laminated SideGlass, Power Rear Sunshade and Manual Rear DoorSunshades, Intuitive Parking Assist, Power Heated Rear Seats with Memory and Massage Feature, FrontClimate-Controlled Seats with Heat and Cool Knob,Rear Air Conditioner and Air Filtration System,Headlamp Washers, and Power Door Closers.
For more information on the LS 430, visit Lexus.com
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