- Exquisite, hushed cabin
- Strong (and near-silent) acceleration
- Exceptional ride quality
- Ultra-luxury backseat (L models)
- Top-notch sound system (Mark Levinson)
- Conservative, almost dull styling
- Front seats could use more support
- Indecisive transmission (LS 460)
The 2012 Lexus LS sedans combine executive-class interior appointments and long-haul comfort with noteworthy tech features; but driving enjoyment is missing.
The Lexus LS 460 and its hybrid version, the LS 600h L, are the flagship models of the Lexus lineup, offering some of the most advanced technology features in any vehicle, along with lavish cabin appointments. Smooth ride quality and a serene, limo-like ultra-luxury interior is the priority, with driving dynamics more muted than those of some other large luxury sedans. The pièce de résistance, the LS 600h L, avoids the big V-12 engines of other top-of-the-line luxury flagships, instead offers the combination of a V-8 and hybrid technology, to bring gas mileage numbers well into the 20s, along with stronger performance.
The standard-length LS 460, the extended-wheelbase LS 460 L, and the hybrid LS 600h L flagship all have a rather comparable driving experience. Brisk acceleration, with a seamless wave of torque, and barely a hint of engine noise make passing and cruising rather effortless, but handling is no forte. The Lexus LS 460 lineup includes a 380-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 and eight-speed automatic transmission, with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (where the engine makes 357 hp and less torque), and can get to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds.
In the LS 600h L, Lexus teams a 5.0-liter V-8 engine and a hybrid drive system for V-12-like power, with the combination achieving 438 horsepower. The hybrid system dispatches its power through a full-time all-wheel-drive system and a "shiftless" continuously variable transmission (CVT), which can simulate eight manually shifted gears when needed. From inside, the LS 600h L is also quiet, and just as quick, with its 20 mpg city, 22 highway EPA ratings considerably better.
Most of the LS models feels oriented more toward the toward driving experience than the riding experience. The only exception are cars equipped with a special Sport Package, including a sport-tuned air suspension, Brembo brakes, and special 19-inch forged wheels. As such, the LS 460 models get some added body control and somewhat crisper response; but even then, the numb, light steering throughout the lineup puts the damper on any enthusiasm. The Sport Package setup and the standard setup in the LS 600h include Comfort, Power, and Sport modes that give the throttle, steering, and suspension a different calibration.
The extended-wheelbase LS 460 L and LS 600h are about five inches longer than the standard-length LS 460, and most of that stretch goes to rear legroom. Even short-wheelbase models come with enough space for taller, lankier passengers, though, and across the line, large, comfortable front seats, well contoured backseats, and a large trunk make these sedans great choices for those with important guests to transport—or just impressive long-haul comfort. The front seats aren't quite as supportive as they could be in the corners (Sport versions have somewhat more bolstering), but they're great for long trips.
In extended versions, there's a standout ottoman-style seating option with built-in massage features, both of the backseat positions, in top-of-the-line models, get power adjustability. Trims remain impressive even when matched up with those in top Mercedes and BMW flagships, and the top-notch aniline leather is supple and delicate compared to what you get in other Lexus models. If you're more often chauffeured, add the Executive Class Seating Package, and you'll practically have a Rolls-Royce-caliber space back there.
Bluetooth and iPod connectivity are standard on all LS models, along with Bluetooth audio streaming. A Mark Levinson entertainment system is available on the LS 460 and standard on the LS 600h L, offering 19 speakers, 19 audio channels, 450 watts of power, and 8GB of hard-drive space for music. Other options include a navigation system with real-time traffic and dynamic rerouting; heated and cooled rear seats; a backup camera; ventilated seats; a DVD entertainment system; and the ottoman-style backseat, fold-down wooden trays, and rear cooler box.
2012 Lexus LS 460
The Lexus LS has a commanding presence, but without the styling drama wrapped around its competition.
Conservative styling has its place in the car world, and it's found a home in the Lexus LS. The "L-Finesse" styling theme pioneered a few years ago has given today's LS a softly curved, elegant, and feminine shape--even while the rest of the Lexus lineup moves into modernity with a jagged, masculine look.
It's handsome, and it will look good for quite a long time, as the past editions have continued to do. The Lexus LS doesn't quite have the curb appeal of its rivals, though--particularly the glamorous Jag XJ, or the feline Infiniti M56. Long-wheelbase models carry a little more visual weight, but like the short-wheelbase cars, they might also be mistaken for an ES 350 from a distance.The LS received a slight touch-up a couple of years ago, and the model that wore the best of the new look is the LS 460 Sport, featuring a subtle body kit that went along with suspension and handling upgrades, and distinctive forged alloy wheels. As for the LS 600h L, it's distinguished from the nonhybrid cars by a different grille and blue-tinted taillights-there's little, really, to set it apart from less-expensive versions, especially from a distance.
The Lexus LS interior is styled with less reverence to tradition than any BMW or Mercedes (and formerly, any Jaguar); it's smooth and opulent in its own way, with wood and leather mated perfectly to tightly grained, well-matched plastics. An LCD screen dominates the center console, while the driver faces especially clearly designed gauges. Inside, the LS 460 Sport Package adds a distinctive black and saddle leather interior, with sport seats and steering wheel, as well as a pair of shift paddles fitted behind the steering-wheel rim.
2012 Lexus LS 460
Acceleration is strong on all Lexus LS sedans, but the driving passion is lacking.
Lexus champions an effortless driving experience. They succeed, and it's fine, until you consider the strong possibility that driving excitement comes from effort--more opposite lock on the steering wheel, a stronger foot on the brake pedal, a perfectly coordinated heel and toe. The visceral snap that's present in a Jaguar XJ, BMW 7er or Benz S-Class is missing, and that's kept the LS from pulling alongside those cars in the real luxury sweepstakes.
We've spent thousands of miles in LS sedans since they first emerged in 1990, and the uniformity of the experience is amazing. Each one has poured out buttery-smooth power with nary a hair out of place--noises quelled, vibrations damped out. The trend continues with the current lineup, which includes a 380-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission, in rear-drive form or fitted with optional all-wheel drive (in which case the engine makes 357 hp and slightly less torque, but gets a limited-slip differential with a torque bias of 40:60 that can vary from 30:70 to 50:50 depending on road conditions).
The LS can't be faulted for its responsiveness: Lexus says 0-60 mph times of 5.4 seconds are within reach, or a half-second more for AWD versions. The transmission does seem indecisive at times, since it has so many gears from which to choose, but it doesn't demand anything from the driver--unless they've chosen the Sport model, which is fitted with paddle shift controls.
The effortlessness pervades the LS on the road, even in the Sport edition. Cars with the base suspension ride well but are a bit too soft for crisp handling response, and numb, light steering don't encourage enthusiasm. Though it's fitted with low-profile tires and a tauter, adjustable suspension, the LS Sport is only mildly more assertive than the base LS, and still less responsive and less crisp than an S-Class or an Audi A8. The plushness plays through the steering, which remains a light-touch affair. Long-wheelbase cars have exceptionally controlled, smooth rides even in the air suspension's stiffest mode.
In the LS 600h L, Lexus teams a 5.0-liter V-8 engine and a hybrid drive system for V-12-like power. The gasoline V-8 makes 389 horsepower on its own, but altogether the system achieves 438 horsepower. The hybrid system dispatches its power through a full-time all-wheel-drive system and a "shiftless" continuously variable transmission (CVT). For more control during sporty driving, the CVT can simulate eight manually shifted gears. The full-hybrid system can operate for short distances, almost silently, on electric power alone. There's even an EV button-a feature never before used on a Toyota hybrid in the U.S. market-that forces the system to use only electric power for several minutes. It recharges its nickel-metal-hydride battery packs either via the engine or through a regenerative braking system.
The LS 600h L also moves very quickly, and with the same almost-uncanny quiet; the only time you hear the gasoline engine is when accelerating hard. Acceleration is just as quick—Lexus claims a 0-60 mph run of 5.5 seconds—but the LS 600h L delivers an EPA-rated 20 mpg city, 22 highway.
Like its kin, the LS 600h L doesn't feel sporty either, but with its adaptive suspension it steers well and corners surprisingly flat, thanks to the three modes-Comfort, Power, and Sport-that afford different ranges of response for the throttle, steering, and suspension.
2012 Lexus LS 460
Comfort & Quality
Regal rear-seat accommodations let the Lexus LS lay claim to true luxury, but hybrids lose a little trunk space.
Seating room is in ample supply in the Lexus LS, and even more regal in the long-wheelbase versions. The cabin isn't extravagant with over the top materials, but it's dazzling in its obvious attention to finish and fit and detail.
The LS's front seats aren't all that supportive--Sport models have a bit more bolstering--they're wide, multi-adjustable, and softly cushioned for interstate treks. The LS seems narrower inside than the big German luxury sedans, and the center console's fairly wide. Regardless, knee and head room are still good.
The back seat is where the LS does its convincing impression of a German executive sedan, especially in long-wheelbase form. In either, tall passengers will have no issues with space or comfort, and the five extra inches of wheelbase in the L models gives them limousine-like leg room. The space alone doesn't impress you? Lexus offers upgraded seats with massaging functions and ottoman-style footrests, as well as power adjustment for the backrest.Trunk space and interior storage are fairly large, and hybrids have 2 cubic feet more space thanks to a recent repackaging of their batteries. As for quality, few vehicles at any price point are assembled with the Lexus LS' tight panel gaps, though other luxury four-doors offer far richer-looking materials. Some of the LS switchgear mimics that used in much cheaper Lexus models, but the same can be true of vehicles from Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, and Audi, too.
On top of it all, trims remain impressive even when matched up with those in top Mercedes and BMW flagships, and the top-notch aniline leather is supple and delicate compared to what you get in other Lexus models. The cabin of the LS models, no matter which one you get, is tight and hushed from wind and road noise more than nearly any other model. You only slightly hear the engine when accelerating.
2012 Lexus LS 460
No crash-test scores are available, but the Lexus LS has had an excellent reputation for safety.
Car safety boils down to a strong vehicle and an alert driver. The Lexus LS does its part, though its excellent reputation for safety awaits updated crash tests from both of the major agencies.
In the 2011 model year, both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) changed the way they calculate safety ratings. As of yet, neither has refigured its rankings for the LS. Prior to the change, the LS was a top-rated vehicle by both. (The IIHS does give the LS a "good" rating for their front-impact protection systems.)
All the requisite and now-common safety technologies are present in the LS, including front side airbags, dual front knee bags, full-length side-curtain bags, and active headrests. Rear-seat side airbags are available. Lexus' flavor of stability control is intertwined with its traction control and anti-lock brakes.
Lexus now offers an Enform and Safety Connect system on subscription basis; the telematic systems notify Lexus if the vehicle is involved in an accident and summon emergency personnel automatically.
The Lexus LS also features a self-parking system that steers the vehicle into a parallel or row parking spot as the driver backs up; some will find it helpful and a safety aid, but to others it's a gimmick.
2012 Lexus LS 460
Flourishes of technology occupy every possible cranny in the Lexus LS lineup.
The LS is a flagship in every sense of the word, at least in its Lexus interpretation. It's an excellent ownership experience, and effortlessly smooth performance--but it's also a tour de force of the latest technology in cars.
With all the lavish options, you might want to sit in the backseat while someone else does the driving. Every LS includes the expected power features; a sunroof; satellite radio; and USB and iPod connectivity, as well as Bluetooth with audio streaming. The long-wheelbase LS 460 L adds on climate-controlled front seats; heated rear seats; park assist, which helps steer the car into parallel spots; power door and trunk closers; and xenon headlamps.
Options include a navigation system with real-time traffic and dynamic rerouting; heated and cooled rear seats; a backup camera; ventilated seats; a DVD entertainment system; and the hybrid-only ottoman-style backseat, fold-down wooden trays, and rear cooler box. If you're more often chauffeured, add the Executive Class Seating Package, and you'll practically have a Rolls-Royce-caliber space back there.
The standout entertainment feature available on the LS 460 and standard on the LS 600h L is a Mark Levinson audio system with 19 speakers, 19 audio channels, 450 watts of power, and 8GB of hard-drive space for music.
2012 Lexus LS 460
In its class it's quite green, but the Lexus LS range is still more competitive with crossovers and SUVs than with efficient large sedans.
The Lexus LS lineup is made up of some of the most technologically savvy vehicles on the planet--not the least of which is the complex, gas-and-battery LS 600h L hybrid. With all the electronics and innovation, though, the LS sedans still are only about as fuel-efficient as a seven-seat crossover.
The EPA rates the rear-drive LS 460 and its long-wheelbase companion at 16/24 mpg, about what you'd see in Toyota's Highlander ute. All-wheel drive lowers the highway rating by one mile per gallon. The LS 600h L hybrid, meanwhile, earns a rating of 19 mpg city, 23 highway—superb in the class.
And purely from a green perspective, the standard LS 460 is a better pick for carrying five adults in comfort than most full-size sport-utility vehicles. That said, if you can forgo a little interior space, the Mercedes-Benz E350 Bluetec has a clean-diesel engine and enables an even better 33 mpg on the highway.