Reviews

2001 Lexus LS 430 Road Test

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When Lexus introduced the First Generation LS 400 in 1989, a surprised automotive press embraced it as, quite possibly, one of the best cars in the world. Within a couple of years, it became apparent that this car was also one of the most reliable ever made. It left the competition scrambling. Sure, Mercedes and BMW had cars that were considered just as good, but they were selling for over $10,000 more than this upstart and the public, recognizing a good deal, bought all the cars that Lexus could produce.

Only a handful of new car introductions have received so warm a reception in the marketplace. The ’86 Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable come to mind, as well as the Chrysler Mini-Vans in ’84. Each caused a revolution 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, these trendsetters each tried pulling another rabbit out of their respective hats, but met with mixed results.

Source: Motor Trend
Category:$50,000+ Premium Luxury Sedan
Who
should buy
this car:
A person looking for a feature-rich luxury sedan at a reasonable price.
Comparable
cars in
this class:
BMW 540 & 740, Mercedes Benz S430, Infiniti Q45, Audi A8, Jaguar XJ8

Now Lexus has just such a rabbit in their Third Generation LS 430; so they invited the automotive press to preview this new 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 rain prevented me from giving these cars a proper shakeout, I did get a couple of hours of wheel time in and have formed a preliminary (and very positive) opinion of this new flagship and I am eagerly looking forward to road-testing the production model.

Starting price for the LS 430 will be $54,005, same as the current model while a maxed-out, top of the line car containing every available option will cost$67,775. They will hit the showrooms 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 Windshield Wipers, 14-way power driver’s seat with 3 position memory, 10-way power front passenger’s seat, Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) with Brake Assist and Traction Control. Of course the normal complement of luxury car features are all here such as Dual Zone Automatic Air conditioning, Leather and Wood interiors, front and side air bags; as well as, side front and rear Curtain Air Bags.

Ninety percent of the LS 430 is all new with just a few structural pieces and assorted bolts and nuts carried over from last year’s model. All the exterior sheet metal is new and sculpted to produce the most aerodynamic production sedan in the world, which allows Lexus to virtually eliminate wind noise, making this one of the quietest cars on the road.

The option list is what really blew my mind with almost $14,000 worth of extra cost equipment available for this already well-equipped yacht. These options 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, rear air conditioner with air filtration, rear radio controls, laminated water-repellent side glass, power door closers (if you don’t close the door hard enough, it will suck it closed the rest of the way), Mark Levinson Audio System (He designs home audio systems that start at $100,000), Intuitive Parking Assist(beeps when you are getting too close to something or someone while parking) and a slick power rear sunshade and manual side shades. (by the way, this is not a complete list)

Walking around the car, I found the fit and finish to be as flawless as I have come to expect of Lexus. The Mercedes-look styling seems a bit conservative and unimaginative, but it is tastefully done and it does make a statement. The interior, however is where this car shines. Lexus always puts a great deal of emphasis on ergonomics and this new model is no exception. I especially like the placement of the individual temperature controls for the driver and passenger. They are clearly marked and mounted on either side of the center pod within easy reach.

Sitting in the 14-way power driver’s seat was a treat and finding all 14 ways to adjust it was not the challenge I had expected. The controls are logically grouped on the side of the seat and I quickly found a position I was comfortable in. So comfortable, in fact, that I didn’t want the drive to end, but the other reporters were ready to knock on the window so, alas, I eventually had to relinquish control. Are you getting the idea that I like this car? Lets talk about how it drives…

As I mentioned before, the new LS 430 is available with three redesigned suspension systems, all of which I had the opportunity to sample. The standard suspension has been tightened up a bit for better control without adversely affecting the superb ride quality of previous models.

For better handling,Lexus is introducing the Euro-Tuned Sport Suspension which gives this car a German Touring Car personality. The ride was stiffer than with the standard suspension but not at all uncomfortable. The steering feel was not quite as accurate as a BMW, but it’s close. Handling seemed to be quite good, but given the wet weather, I couldn’t give it a real workout. The Sport Suspension is a no-charge option and must be ordered with 17″ wheels and tires (a $100 option). If you like to drive, this is the setup for you.

The Air Suspension system is an amazing piece of technology that comes bundled with the Ultra Luxury Package ($12,290, ouch). This system will give you a super-soft ride or a sport ride at the flick of a switch. However, if the system senses that you are driving aggressively, or performing emergency maneuvers, it will instantly tighten up on its own as needed. There is another switch that will lift the car up an inch or so for added ground clearance on bad roads. The same system will drop the car down about an inch at highway speed for improved aerodynamics.

Enough of this technical stuff, let’s see what she’ll do. Put the key in the ignition and turn to start… nothing! Oh wait, the tach needle says the 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 on the gas I can finally hear the engine, but it sounds way off in the distance. This has to be one of the quietest cars I have ever driven, the only 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 usually mutually exclusive. The numb, disconnected steering feel that I complained about on previous models is gone. It has been replaced by a good feel of the road that inspires confidence. On the highway, the LS 430 has all the power you could want (unless you’re like me and nothing short of an F15 will satisfy you). Lexus claims a 0 to 60 time of 6.3 seconds which is quick enough to chomp at the heels of a Corvette. And with your foot to the floor, this engine is as quiet as most cars are when cruising at light throttle.

This car has the optional Dynamic Laser Cruise Control system which monitors the road ahead and adapts your speed to stay with the traffic flow. It does this by using a laser beam to scan the traffic up ahead and when it sees a car in front of you that is going slower than you are, the system adapts your speed accordingly. To test this feature, I accelerated to 70 MPH and set the cruise control. I then switched lanes so that I was 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, finally by 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-lock is 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 ) and Brake Assist helps you to get maximum stopping power in an emergency stop by sensing that your intention was to make a panic stop but you didn’t step hard enough on 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-sensing windshield wipers in action. The sensor for the system is just above the inside rearview mirror and activated the wipers as soon as a few sprinkles hit the glass. In a light drizzle, the system worked in intermittent mode, only taking a sweep when necessary. As the rain intensified, the wipers kept up with 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 gas tank was moved from the back of the trunk to below the rear seat. There is a pull-down handle for the trunk lid and a glow- in-the-dark emergency release handle inside the trunk to prevent someone from being trapped. The trunk contains a full-size spare tire and the usual Lexus Tool Kit. In addition to the electric trunk release, there is a power trunk closer which means that you simply pull the lid down until it clicks and the motor will pull it closed the rest of the way eliminating the need to slam it shut.

Headlights are automatic on/off High Intensity Discharge (HID) units with an auto level feature. The auto level system insures that the headlights are always properly aimed regardless of the load in the vehicle. The outside rearview mirrors tilt down 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

There are some cool features on the climate control system, like a smog sensor that will automatically switch from fresh air to recirculate when the outside air is bad. There is also a temperature and sun sensing swing air register that automatically directs airflow where it is needed most. Temperature is adjusted individually for the driver and front seat passenger by controls mounted on either side of the central pod. At the top of the pod is a display showing the two temperature settings as well as the time and the outside temperature.

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 the anti-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 Cruise Control 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 look good. Let’s start with Vehicle Skid Control (VSC). The VSC system uses 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 accomplishes this magic by cutting the throttle and applying the brakes on one or more wheels to bring the car back under control. In effect, it makes bad drivers look good and good drivers look great. It doesn’t protect you, however, from getting swatted up-side your head by unappreciative passengers.

Throttle Control is essentially “Drive by Wire”, which means that the gas pedal is an electrical switch that controls an electric motor that, in turn, controls the throttle. The net effect is that the car responds exactly the way you expect it to. Give it an inch of throttle and you receive the same level of thrust whether you are going up a hill or you are driving on level ground. It will also smooth out the jerky motions of some drivers who seem to be wearing lead boots.

So far, everything that we talked about with the exception of the Dynamic Laser Cruise Control comes as standard equipment on the base model. Now, let’s take a look at some of the features in the Ultra Luxury Package. We’ll start with the Navigation System which is also available in a separate package. This system uses a DVD disk to hold every street in the United States as well as points of interest such as gas stations, restaurants, parks, ATM’s and hotels. If you see a hotel of interest, touch the screen and the built-in cell 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 as much information as a CD-ROM disk and is just as easy to handle. When new data becomes available, just pop the old disk out and pop the new one in. Speech recognition is part of this system and can control many features without your getting distracted by searching for buttons.

I drove around town while watching the map display and found that it tracked each road that I drove on without skipping a beat. When I added the gas station display, several gas pump icons popped up on the map. As I approached one of those “pump” positions, sure enough, there was a gas station exactly where it should be.

The Mark Levinson Sound System sounded at least as good as the Nakamichi system (the best factory-installed sound system I have ever heard) in the old model, but I didn’t have a CD handy to put this new system through its paces. Hopefully, the car that I get for the full road test will have a Mark 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 or cooling them as required, then circulating the heated or cooled air through the perforations in the leather. The heart of the system is a solid-state Thermoelectric Device that converts electrical current into thermal effect. When electric current is applied to this device, one side gets hot and the other side gets cold. Reversing polarity reverses the effect.

The best part of the Ultra Luxury Package, however, is the back seat. Pull the center armrest down and you are greeted with a control panel that contains a number of interesting features. Let’s start with the power rear seats. As the cushion moves forward, the seatback reclines. There is a two position memory for each rear seat (not to mention the front passenger seat.) There is also a heat button and a massage button for each rear seat. The panel contains a complete climate control system for the rear passenger area that is separate from the front system and has its own filtration system. Finally, the rear console has radio controls for volume and station selection. Inside the armrest is a small glove compartment and two cup holders. Now get this: behind the armrest, there is a door that leads to a beverage cooler that has enough room to hold a six-pack. I’m not finished, there is a power-operated sun shade that pops up from the package shelf to shade the rear window. This shade automatically retracts as soon as the driver puts the car in reverse. The rear doors also have shades that are manually operated and cover the door glass with a separate shade for the vent window.

The other testers are knocking more forcefully on the window now so I guess the fun is over…

I wonder if Microsoft stock is going to rebound soon….

How would I improve this car?

How does the LS-430 fit your driving 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.

 

Specifications

Engine Type4.3-liter V8, DOHC Aluminum block and aluminum heads. Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i).
Horsepower290 @ 5,600 RPM
Torque320 @ 3,400 RPM
Fuel RecommendedPremium 91 Octane Unleaded.
TransmissionFive Speed Electronically Controlled Transmission with Intelligence (ECT-i)
Tires – Standard
Optional
P225/60R16   H-speed rated all-season touring tires
P225/55R17 W-rated
Overall Length196.7″
Wheelbase115.2
Width72″
Turning Diameter37.4 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight3,955
Fuel Tank22.2 Gals.
Miles Per GallonEPA city 18, hwy 25.
Acceleration 0 to 606.3 Seconds
Base Sticker Price$54,005 plus $495 destination charge

Standard Equipment

Major Available Options

For more information on the LS 430, visit Lexus.com.

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Author

Charles Ofria

Automotive Expert

Charles Ofria was an automotive journalist who was active in the automotive industry for over 40 years. During the '70s, he was owner-operator of Ofria Automotive, a thriving auto repair shop in Brooklyn, NY. During that time he became involved with auto mechanic training when he set up courses to help prepare mechanics to take the then new A.S.E. (Automotive Service Excellence) mechanic certification exams.

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