- The spindle grille works
- A strong, silent type
- A smooth cabin to go with a smooth ride
- Limousine-like rear seat (L models)
- Excellent Mark Levinson sound option
- F Sport isn't as tuned-in as we'd hoped
- Hybrid is big, heavy, super-expensive
- Transmission doesn't always behave
- Hybrid gives up lots of trunk space
The new F Sport turns up the heat just a little bit, but you'll still savor the 2013 Lexus LS more for its interior appointments and luxurious long-distance comfort than for its performance.
The LS sedans are the ne plus ultra members in an already luxurious Lexus lineup. With the 2013 Lexus LS 460 and its hybrid version, the LS 600h L, Lexus packs some of the most advanced technology found anywhere in its lineup, plus some of the richest finishes.
This year, the LS gets a restyled exterior and interior, and the addition of a new F Sport model brings a promise of a more aggressive stance from a brand known more for tight build quality and utterly silent cabins. And there's progress, though not as much as the italicized, brushed-metal badging of the F Sport might promise.
The LS' best-executed change, we think, is the adoption of the new "spindle" grille treatment that's worked its way into other Lexus vehicles, one by one, as they've been revamped. It's distinguished, finally, by its own distinctive styling notes, not graced by elegant echoes of others. There's still plenty of been-there in its silhouette, but Lexus designers are on to something--even more so, inside its lavishly trimmed cabin. There, the horizontal theme that's wrapped itself around the cockpit in the GS and ES sedans is warmly interpreted, capped by a 12.3-inch LCD screen and framed by a selection of wood or metal trims that ping a slightly alternative chord, whether they're shimamoku wood stained a dark grey, or the lighter shades of the Hybrid's bamboo.
Smooth ride quality and a serene, limo-like ultra-luxury interior remains the priority of the Lexus LS, with driving dynamics more muted than those of some other large luxury sedans, even with the addition of the F Sport. The pièce de résistance is the LS 600h L: it eschews the V-12 or twin-turbo V-8s of other luxury sedans in favor of a gas and electric duo that delivers a net of 438 horsepower and 20 mpg combined on the EPA cycle. Were it more composed and less jittery in ride, and more direct in its steering, it'd be worth considering despite its huge price tag of more than $100,000.
In a slightly more realistic realm, the LS 460, the extended-wheelbase LS 460 L, and their all-wheel-drive counterparts all display a similar set of road manners. There's brisk acceleration from the 386-hp V-8, and almost imperceptible shifts from the eight-speed automatic, but handling is no strength. Zero to 60 mph runs take as few as 5.4 seconds, but a real hustle through a canyon road will take longer than any of its competition, due to dull responses from the steering and boundy, plush ride motions.
On the F Sport, a sport-tuned air suspension, variable-ratio steering, Brembo brakes, and special 19-inch forged wheels with summer tires can change the feel, but not so much as to make the Lexus LS unrecognizable. It's still a more softly sprung vehicle than any of its German counterparts, or even the Infiniti M or Jaguar XJ. Body control is better, and there's somewhat crisper response from the steering, but it's still very light and unenthusiastic. All LS sedans offer some measure of driver-adjustable attitude; the base car's Eco, Normal, and Sport modes are augmented on air-suspension cars with a Sport + and Comfort modes that subdivide its personality into more discrete, still obviously comfort-oriented, tunings.
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 have been revamped and have excellent support and power adjustments in just about every direction; F 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.
A navigation system is now standard in the LS 460, as are heated and cooled front seats; and a rearview camera. Bluetooth and iPod connectivity are standard on all LS models, along with Bluetooth audio streaming. Lexus' Remote Touch, a mouse-style controller, drives the infotainment functions, while Entune links the audio system to your smartphone for mobile-app usage, including audio streaming and Facebook updating. 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. Major options also include climate-controlled, massaging rear seats; a Blu-Ray DVD entertainment system; and the ottoman-style backseat, fold-down wooden trays, and rear cooler box.
2013 Lexus LS
The spindle grille works with the Lexus LS' finessed looks, and the new interior translates well from the GS.
There's one way in which the 2013 Lexus LS has made indisputable progress--carved out new space for itself among all the distinct, even polarizing, uber-luxury sedans. It's all up front, and inside.
With every new Lexus that lands, a spindle grille's shown up on the front end. It's been a remarkably flexible theme that seems to play as well on the RX crossover as it does on the ultrasueded LS. The hourglass pinch at the center of the LS' face finally gives it a recognizable identity, something the "L-finesse" styling theme that takes up the rest of its silhouette failed to do when it launched on this latest generation in 2007. The two play off each other well, but we're still more intrigued at how the new theme will exercise itself over the rest of the body, which remains anonymously attractive, with a touch or two at the back--LED taillamps, some inwardly angled lines--hinting at the front end's new drama.
The differences between models are minor. F Sports wear their own mesh grille, black grille trim, and round fog lamps, along with F Sport badges and on some, an exclusive shade of white. Hybrids have their own grille look and badging and wheel designs.
Dramatic is a good word for the reinvented cockpit, too. It's another iteration of the horizontally themed cabin that works so well in the GS, retrimmed in a higher grade of wood and metallic finishes and surrounded by leather. A larger, 12.3-inch-wide LCD screen dominates the center of the dash, and Lexus' vividly bright gauges get their own information display, an almost six-inch screen implanted in their midst. Aluminum is used for some of the controls, and on the F Sport, it makes up the pedals and other interior trim. Standard versions wear walnut, maple, or a "shimamoku" processed wood stained a very dark grey; Hybrids have attractive bamboo trim we wish could be ordered elsewhere. All versions offer a choice of handsome leather trim, with a new saddle color; F Sports have their own leather selection and a black Alcantara headliner.
2013 Lexus LS
It's still a smooth, strong, powerful piece, but the Lexus LS' F Sport edition doesn't quite match the promise of its name.
Slightly more eager, slightly more responsive than before, the 2013 Lexus comes in two basic flavors: LS 600h L hybrid and LS 460 luxury sedan, the latter in short- or long-wheelbase editions, with rear- or all-wheel drive. This year, it adds an F Sport model that's aimed primarily at its hard-charging German luxosedan competition, and it aims to capture some of their handling precision through the miracle of electronic controls.
It doesn't quite work out that way for the F Sport, which remains planted in a softer-sprung school of handling than anything with a Deutsche accent. Though it's more controlled than ever, it's not transformed in anything like the dramatic fashion we've found in the 2013 Lexus GS F Sport.
In the very expensive 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 moves very quickly, and with almost uncanny quietness. The only time you hear the gasoline engine is when accelerating hard. Acceleration is quick; Lexus claims a 0-60 mph run of 5.5 seconds. But the LS 600h L doesn't feel very sporty. Its variable-ratio steering responds mostly with lightness and distance. And though cornering is surprisingly flat, thanks to the the adaptive air suspension that affords different settings for those driving systems, the hybrid also rides a little stiffly in most modes, a consequence of its heavier curb weight. Fuel economy is rated at up to 20 mpg combined, not bad for a 5200-pound sedan, but not absolutely breathtaking.
The LS 460 seems more intensive change, though its drivetrain is largely carried over from last year. A 4.6-liter V-8 doles out an effortlessly smooth, usually silent 386 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque. With a curb weight of between 4,200 and 4,900 pounds, the LS' 0-60 mph times are estimated at between 5.4 seconds to 5.9 seconds, and its top speed is posted at a regulated 130 mph. It's 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 base versions without air suspension offer electronic control of transmission, revised electric power steering, and throttle in Eco, Normal, and Sport modes. Eco slows out the throttle for better mileage, while Sport speeds it up along with steering response for a nonlinear boost across the board. 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. We've also found the transmission can seem indecisive at times, since it has so many gears from which to choose, but it doesn't demand anything from the driver.
All-wheel drive is an option, and air suspension comes with long-wheelbase models. Even on these models, the same effortlessness pervades the LS driving experience. There's a plushness that plays through the steering, which remains a light-touch affair even when Sport mode is engaged. The ride is exceptionally controlled and smooth, even in the air suspension's stiffest mode, probably because the air suspension now shares information between wheels to control ride motions as a whole, not as individual wheels. Eighteen-inch wheels and tires are standard, by the way, with 19-inchers an option.Expectations are higher for the F Sport, since Lexus has done a good job revamping its GS sport sedan under the same initials. The F Sport teases with a faint hint of the visceral snap that dominates the Jaguar XJ, BMW 7er or the Benz S-Class. The driving experience is no longer exactly effortless, now that the electronics of the air suspension, transmission, steering, and throttle allow some custom tailoring.
The carryover drivetrain adapts new controls to tackle that mission. The automatic offers paddle controls and a manual mode, but on prototypes we drove, it didn't respond as swiftly as promised. The gear indicator held firm at the top of its range, despite clicking and tapping to trigger downshifts that should have been legal, given the place on the tach. Downshift blipping are exclusive to the F Sport's flavor of this gearbox. The low gears are staged and groomed still for luxury, and though upshifts are quicker, the LS' gearbox still feels like it deliberates more than the six-speed in an XJ. There's still a measure of control lacking for the driver, a missed connection.
The LS' redesigned suspension, steering and braking systems get tauter for more road feel and tighter control in the F Sport. Its air suspension comes with additional Comfort and Sport+ modes, the latter of which tightens the air shocks to something we'd still call only mildly firm, despite the F Sport's 19-inch tires (summer or all-weather). The F Sport gets the variable-ratio steering system too, but no rear-steer setup like the smaller GS, because of its place at the top of the Lexus the lineup. It's just a bit more assertive, with light feel and just a suggestion of feedback. It's just not as composed as it could be, when dodging shadows on the Skyline above Palo Alto, and grabby brakes and a high-set pedal make it conversely difficult to drive smoothly in town.
There's yet more to set the F Sport apart on paper, less to draw direct comparisons with the German benchmarks. It rides 0.4 inches lower, has Brembo six-piston caliper brakes, and a suspension brace for better rigidity. On rear-drive models, there's even torque vectoring--a Torsen differential between the rear wheels, one that distributes torque to the outside wheel to boost cornering. It's still just mildly more assertive than the base LS, and still less responsive and less crisp than an S-Class or an Audi A8.
The real heresy comes with a sound generator that amplifies some intake noises to enrich the driving experience. Lexus? Adding noise into the equation? From a brand that's championed an effortless driving experience, it's an ironic twist. For all of the past 22 years, Lexus has been about removing those disturbances. Noises have been quelled, vibrations have been damped out. Their re-introduction, and the first pass at pulling the LS into tauter shape, shows the pressure put on the LS by vehicles like the Hyundai Equus, which replicates the silent, unemotional driving experience well enough for substantially less.
2013 Lexus LS
Comfort & Quality
Exceptional seats in front and limousine-style space in back give passengers a great place to relax; hybrids lose valuable trunk space.
You won't find emu leather or knurled carbon fiber inside the cabin of the Lexus LS. Its finishes are more traditional, but its sleek new interior is very roomy, and fitted with exquisite care.
With a 116.9-inch wheelbase on standard versions, seating room is in ample supply in the Lexus LS, and downright regal in the long-wheelbase versions, which ride on 121.7 inches of wheelbase. The spacious cabin is immediately noticeable in front, where Lexus' redesigned seats also distance themselves from the flatter, less shapely chairs of last year's version. The redesigned seats are really great, with lots of bolstering where needed, and heating and ventilation standard. Multi-adjustable 16 ways for the driver and 12 ways for the passenger, the seats have lumbar support and three-position memory and a firmer feel that's still more plush than the stiffer cushions of a big BMW or Mercedes-Benz. They also have the longest bottom cushions in recent memory, extendable with power assistance. Even the seatbelts have power height adjusters.
It's somewhat narrower inside the LS than in those premium German luxury sedans, and the center console's fairly wide, which gives an impression of less elbow room. Nonetheless, knee and head room in front are still good.
In the back, the big Lexus does its best impression of the top-drawer German megabuck four-doors, especially in the L long-wheelbase models. Both body styles give tall passengers plenty of head room, and the more tidy proportions of the standard car don't cramp the style. Passengers won't have any issues with space or comfort. That said, the long-wheelbase cars truly are impressive: their five extra inches of wheelbase give them limousine-like leg room, and available seating options that omit the middle seat and include massaging functions and ottoman-style footrests, as well as power adjustment for the backrest, up the decadence a few notches. The back seats can be heated and cooled, and fitted with lumbar adjustment; the rear glass can be covered with sunshades.Trunk space is good at 18 cubic feet, and hybrids now have 10.1 cubic feet of trunk space, thanks to a recent repackaging of their batteries. Interior storage is also dandy: the glovebox is pretty slim, but the center console is deep and has an elegantly damped lid that slides and pivots backward. The cool box offered on four-seat models is deep enough for our favorite beverages; you'll have to test out your own.
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. The glovebox lid that used to be damped with effortless feel now feels light and insubstantial.
The cabin isn't extravagant with over the top materials, but it's dazzling in its obvious attention to finish and fit and detail. 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. Wer're not in love with Lexus' printed aluminum F Sport trim, though, and we'd love to see the Hybrid's bamboo trim offered on the non-hybrid sedan.
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. Lexus has gone to extra lengths this year to mute the cabin even more than in the past--and then added some ambient exhaust noise back into the cabin on F Sport models.
2013 Lexus LS
The Lexus LS has had an excellent reputation for safety, but no crash-test scores are available.
With only some spotty crash-test scores available, the Lexus LS' safety profile isn't complete. Based on its excellent performance in the past, we're giving it a high score that also takes into account a raft of new safety technology that's been made available for the 2013 model year.
As of yet, neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has re-tested the LS completely, since changing their methodology in the 2011 model year. Before that change, both agencies gave the LS their top scores. As of now, only the IIHS has tested the LS in a limited way; it earns "good" scores for front-impact and rear-impact protection.
Lexus fits more standard safety gear than is required. On top of the usual features--front and curtain airbags, stability control--the LS also has front side and knee airbags and active headrests. Rear-seat side airbags are an option as well.
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.
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.
Adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beam headlamps are available once more. Among the new safety options this year are blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts, a lane-keeping assist that nudges the car back into its lane when it senses a drift off course; and a new Pre-Collision Safety system with stereo cameras that can detect obstacles in the road ahead, with the assistance of infrared vision. With the optional system, the Lexus LS can bring itself to a complete stop if it detects trouble at speeds of up to 24 mph.
2013 Lexus LS
It never lacked for technology, but a wide touchscreen navigation system and rear-seat snack trays rival the finery from some ultra-luxe brands.
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.
An ever more plush set of standard features greets buyers of the 2013 Lexus LS sedan, even if it's only the LS 460 they've signed on for. Of course, stepping up into long-wheelbase, F Sport, and Hybrid models tips the scales with more equipment--some of it absolutely decadent.
The lineup starts with the base LS 460, proceeding through the LS 460L, LS 460 F Sport, and LS 600h L models, with all-wheel drive available on most of the lineup. Standard equipment on all models includes power windows, locks, and mirrors; automatic climate control; keyless entry and pushbutton start; cruise control; a sunroof; leather upholstery; an AM/FM/CD/DVD player; satellite and HD radio; Bluetooth with audio streaming; a USB port and iPod connectivity; heated and ventilated front seats linked to the climate-control system; and a navigation system with voice control, 3D mapping, and a 12.3-inch-wide display that can show three side-by-side maps or functions, to avoid driver confusion, Lexus says.
Also standard is Lexus' Remote Touch system, a new addition to the sedan. It uses a mouse-style controller to operate audio, climate, navigation, and phone functions, and to tie into Entune, which is also standard. Entune links smartphones to the LS' infotainment system, so that drivers can operate its functions, including a handful of apps, via Remote Touch. Those apps now include streaming audio from Pandora; Yelp!; Facebook; MovieTickets.com; OpenTable; even Bing for local searches.
On all-wheel-drive models, Lexus adds a standard heated steering wheel and a heating system that warms the front passenger area more quickly; a windshield de-icer and headlight washers also are standard.
On the options list are features like power rear seats with climate control; an ottoman for rear seats that includes massaging functions for the seats, a control panel for the seats and entertainment system, a retractable table, and a refrigerated cooler box; a rear-seat entertainment system with a Blu-Ray DVD player, an SD card slot, and a nine-inch LCD screen; and a 19-speaker Mark Levinson sound system with 450 watts of power and an 8GB hard drive for music storage. An Executive Class seating package on long-wheelbase cars turns the five-seat LS into a truly regal four-seater.
2013 Lexus LS
The hybrid performs well on paper, but in all, the Lexus LS doesn't have much better gas mileage than a seven-seat crossover.
Even with the vast array of technology at its disposal--including an eight-speed automatic, some lightweight materials, and an entire model dedicated to fuel savings, the gas-and-battery LS 600h L hybrid--the 2013 Lexus LS still only manages the fuel economy of a big crossover SUV.
In base form, the Lexus LS 460 with rear-wheel drive is rated by the EPA at 16 miles per gallon city, 24 miles per gallon highway, for a combined rating of 19 mpg. That's for either the standard- or long-wheelbase edition, and they're figures close to those you'd earn in Toyota's Highlander. Adding all-wheel drive drops by one mile per gallon the highway gas mileage number and the combined rating.
The LS 460 does encourage drivers to behave more responsibly with an ECO light on the gauges. It meters fuel usage, and blinks rapidly when acceleration pushes the sedan into lower-economy modes.
The LS 600h L hybrid, meanwhile, earns a rating of 19 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, and 20 mpg combined—solid ratings for the class, but in our experience, somewhat difficult to replicate. It does attempt to coach drivers to economize with a more detailed display that shows hybrid-driving modes in the place of the tachometer, except when Sport mode is selected.