New & Used Lexus LS: In Depth
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The Lexus LS is the Toyota empire's flagship sedan, a large four-door in the top luxury segment. It was the model that single-handedly established the Lexus brand, long before the popular RX crossover was introduced. It's a rival for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, Audi A8, and Jaguar XJ.
MORE: Read our 2015 Lexus LS review
New in the 1990 model year, the LS is now in its fourth generation. For all of its existence, the LS has worn conservative styling, used V-8 power (with hybrid add-ons in the current generation), and primarily been rear-wheel drive--though all-wheel drive now is an option.
The latest Lexus LS
Today's Lexus LS lineup continues to offer a long-wheelbase body style, and it now includes a hybrid version and a driver-oriented F Sport model.
The new LS arrived in the 2007 model year; base LS 460 sedans and LS 460 L long-wheelbase versions came with a new 4.6-liter V-8 with 380 horsepower, teamed to a new eight-speed automatic. Still rear-wheel drive, the LS grew longer and adopted the "L-finesse" styling theme that would appear on subsequent Lexus vehicles, carrying a graceful, feminine look. Long-wheelbase editions added nearly 5 inches to the overall length of the sedan, and a new multi-link suspension replaced the former design. Performance increased again, with 0–60-mph times estimated at 5.7 seconds for either the short- or long-wheelbase sedan. New interior features included pushbutton start; hard-drive navigation; a heated steering wheel; and real-time traffic. An "executive" package for the rear seat added DVD screens in the headrests, fold-down tray tables, and massaging seats. Over its lifespan, the LS has added features like an automatic parking-assist feature and a lane-departure warning system.
Lexus added a hybrid to the LS lineup for 2008. Called the LS 600h L (and offered only in a long-wheelbase version) it pairs a 5.0-liter V-8 with batteries and electric motors for total system output of 439 hp. Unlike most Lexus and Toyota hybrids, the gas-electric LS doesn't get amazingly improved fuel economy as compared to its gas-only counterpart—it uses a larger engine after all—and it's also very expensive, at a base price above $100,000. The idea instead is to provide greater performance without a fuel-economy penalty, with the quiet motoring of brief EV sprints as an added touch of luxury.
Lexus updated the LS family's styling slightly in 2010, with new bumpers and wheels. As always, the model bristles with gas or hybrid powertrain technology, exudes world-class fit and finish, and keeps driving dynamics well-muted as it hits mid-life.
The current LS is among the quietest sedans you can experience and, in either standard V-8 or V-8 hybrid form, it's at least as swift as the competition's standard-issue four-doors. And while it lacks the opulent touches of a Jaguar or an Audi, the long-wheelbase LS's back seat takes a back seat to none, and in all the LS takes no back seat to any luxury sedan for reliability. Take our word for it--but also take the word of J.D. Power, which named the Lexus LS its top-rated vehicle for fifteen years in its annual Vehicle Dependability Study.
For 2013, a new performance-oriented LS 460 F Sport model joined the lineup, and the rest of the LS models fit in with the family look, getting Lexus's latest 'spindle' grille. The F Sport brings improved handling, Brembo brakes, and paddle shifters for the Sport Direct Shift transmission it shares with the Lexus IS-F.
Now in its ninth year, this generation is definitely due for replacement soon. No drastic changes are expected for the next version of the LS sedan, although the styling may move in a more exciting direction like that of other recent Lexus products.
Lexus LS history
In its first generation, which spanned from 1990 to 1994, the Lexus LS 400 changed the way American shoppers perceive Japanese brands. Introduced at the 1989 Detroit auto show (alongside the Infiniti Q45), the first Lexus LS 400 was a warning shot fired across the bow of BMW, Benz, and Cadillac. It offered all the luxury-class bona fides of the competition--with fanatical attention to fit and finish, new dealerships with top-drawer customer service, and what some considered a lowball price meant to lure buyers away from other brands.
It worked: The LS drew several best-of awards, gained a reputation for extreme durability, and essentially launched the brand, though a smaller ES 250 sedan gave dealers something else to sell besides the $36,000 LS. While it wasn't lauded much for handling, the LS's sewing-machine-smooth V-8 engine helped give the car the quietest cabin of any luxury sedan, aided by a smooth four-speed automatic. The combination provided a 0-to-60-mph time of about 8.5 seconds.
In its second generation, which ran from the 1995 to the 2000 model year, Lexus upped power in the V-8 to 260 horsepower. It didn't look very different from the first LS 400, but the new car reportedly shared only about 10 percent of its components with the original car. More powerful than before, the LS 400 also was lighter and quicker than before, with an estimated 0-60 mph time of 7.5 seconds and a top speed again limited to 155 mph. New features included an in-dash CD changer; the base price had risen to more than $50,000. A limited Coach edition bowed in 1997, and a slight refresh was issued in 1998 with a 290-hp V-8 and a five-speed automatic. In 2000, the LS received side airbags and stability control, before a new vehicle arrived in 2001.
For the third generation, which appeared in the 2001 model year and was offered through the 2006 model year, Lexus uprated the V-8 engine. The new V-8 displaced 4.3 liters and put out 290 hp and 320 pound-feet of torque. A new control-arm suspension all around with a sport package was offered. The new car was estimated at 0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds, improving on the prior version. An air suspension was offered, as was a touchscreen LCD panel that operated the navigation system. A Mark Levinson sound system came as an option, as did ventilated front seats, massaging rear seats, and adaptive cruise control. Curtain airbags were standard, along with parking sensors. The price of this Lexus LS began in the mid-$50,000 range, but top versions cost as much as $70,000, neatly overlapping the prestige brands from Europe. In 2004, an updated version with a six-speed automatic carried over its V-8 engine, but also added knee airbags and a choice of interior trim, including maple wood, along with new options such as Bluetooth connectivity and a rearview camera.