New & Used Lexus LS: In Depth
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The Lexus LS is the Toyota mother-brand’s flagship sedan. It's one of the best selling full-size luxury cars on the market in the U.S.
Since its debut for the 1990 model year, the LS range has gone through four generations, all with conservative styling, V-8 power (with hybrid add-ons in the current generation), and primarily, rear-wheel drive--though all-wheel drive now is an option. Today the LS competes with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, Audi A8, and Jaguar XJ.
In its first generation, which spanned from 1990-1994, 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 some charged, 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' sewing-machine-smooth V-8 engine helped give the car the quietest cabin of any luxury sedan, and shuttled it through a four-speed automatic to 60 mph in 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.
With the fourth generation of the LS, Lexus spun off a new long-wheelbase edition as well as a new hybrid edition. The new LS arrived in the 2007 model year; base LS 460 sedans and LS 460 L long-wheelbase sedans 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, with 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 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 the lifespan, the LS has added features like an automatic parking-assist feature and a lane-departure warning system.
In the 2008 model year, the The hybrid LS 600h L offered a 5.0-liter V-8 augmented with batteries and electric motors, for a total of 439 hp. It's been criticized for fuel economy that doesn't improve that of the standard sedan too much--and the LS 600h L also runs up the tab to more than $100,000.
In 2010, Lexus updated the styling of the LS range slightly, with new bumpers and wheels, and added an LS 460 Sport version with improved handling, Brembo brakes and paddle shifters for the Sport Direct Shift transmission it shares with the Lexus IS-F. As always, it bristles with gas or hybrid powertrain technology, exudes world-class fit and finish, and keeps driving dynamics well-muted as it hits mid-life.
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' latest 'spindle' grille. Due to ongoing currency issues with a strong yen versus the dollar, prices have risen significantly throughout the 2014 Lexus LS lineup.
The current LS is among the quietest sedans you can experience, and in either 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' backseat takes a backseat to none, and in all the LS takes no backseat to any luxury sedan for reliability. Take our word for it--but also take the word of J.D. Power, which has named the Lexus LS its top-rated vehicle for the past fifteen years in its annual Vehicle Dependability Study.