First Drive: 2013 Lexus LS 600h/ LS 460 F SportPosted on October 14th, 2012
Flagship sedan gains technology and performance
By Nina Russin
Dateline: Tucson, Arizona. Although I wouldn’t describe automotive journalism as transcendent, there have been a handful of “Aha!” moments over the past 25 years which changed my perception of the horseless carriage.
Stepping inside the all-new Lexus LS was, for me, elucidating. Touching the Shimamoku wood steering wheel, which I’m told takes 67 processes to create, didn’t trigger my out-of-body experience. Nor did the feel of hand-stitched leather: created by craftsmen who can fold an Origami frog with their non-dominant hand in under a minute. It was the driver’s seat cushion rocked my world.
As a person with disproportionately long femurs, I have gotten used to my legs being unsupported. Most seat adjustments are designed for legs in which femurs and tibias are proportionate. Since mine are not, there’s always a gap between the end of the cushion and the backs of my knees. Moving the seat up, down, forward or back doesn’t fix the problem.
When I sat in the driver’s seat of the 2013 LS, something wonderful happened. The gap disappeared. My legs were the happiest they have ever been, excluding the moment when I qualified for the Boston marathon.
While its seat cushion design is by no means the most important feature of Lexus’ newest flagship sedan, its design speaks volumes about the automaker’s success. From the time Lexus unveiled the first LS in 1989 to the present, the automaker has been obsessed with detail. All luxury manufacturers get the big stuff right. It’s the little things which separate the good cars from the really great ones.
Designed to be different
The first Lexus LS was a very conservative looking car. While that worked in the brand’s favor at first, giving customers the confidence to make the switch from established European brands, over time it lost its luster. Buyers who invest upwards of $75,000 on a car want to be noticed.
So designers adapted Lexus’ new design language, notably the spindle grille and wider tail lamps to its premium sedan. While the target market continues to be buyers in their late fifties, these buyers look at the world with youthful eyes.
Applying the same philosophy under the hood, Lexus introduces an F Sport variant of the LS 460, with a mesh grille, front air intake, brakes, suspension and engine tuning. Lexus continues to offer its LS 600h gasoline electric hybrid, as well as long and short-wheelbase versions of the gasoline-powered sedan.
The rear-wheel drive LS 460 is also available with all-wheel drive, for buyers in climates with severe winters. The LS 600h comes as an all-wheel drive only. The all-wheel drive better balances the chassis with its heavy battery pack between the rear seats and trunk.
With the exception of F Sport enhancements, powertrains are basically carryover from the previous generation cars. Lexus has opted to continue using its V-8 engine rather than going with a more fuel-efficient V-6. All models except the hybrid come with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The LS 600h hybrid has a continuously variable automatic transmission which works in concert with its aluminum block V-8 engine and two electric motors. A nickel metal hydride battery pack recharges the electric motors.
New comfort and safety features
Engineers built on segment-leading comfort and safety features in the outgoing models, by increasing the range of speeds at which the adaptive cruise control functions, introducing blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert and pedestrian detection systems, and enhancing climate control functions.
Adaptive cruise control now functions at speeds below 25 miles-per-hour. It will go to zero, so the driver can crawl through rush-hour traffic when cars periodically stop. Blind spot monitoring illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors to alert the driver about cars which pass through blind spots in adjacent lanes. Cross traffic alert works when the driver shifts into reverse, to warn him about vehicles approaching from either side.
Pedestrian detection with auto-brake is similar in concept to the Volvo system, although Lexus’ version will stop the vehicle completely at slightly higher speeds: up to 24 miles-per-hour. At speeds above 24 mph, brakes slow the sedan down to minimize injury to the pedestrian. Because the system uses infrared cameras, it can detect pedestrians in areas which the vehicle’s headlamps don’t illuminate.
A new climate control feature utilizes steering wheel and seat heaters and coolers to make occupants comfortable on extremely hot or cold days. The heated steering wheel and seat temperature controls are tied into the automatic climate control system, automatically adjusting to the desired temperature.
Test drive in Tucson
In Tucson I drove both the LS 600h and LS 460 F Sport, which represent opposite ends of the LS spectrum. The hybrid LS is basically a refinement of the outgoing model. It maintains that car’s brutally fast acceleration, with a zero-to-sixty time of 5.5 seconds.
The test car had the executive rear seat option, which adds a fixed place center console and massaging rear seats, one of which has an ottoman. The option is popular in Asia, where many buyers of the long wheelbase cars have chauffers. The disadvantage of the option, aside from its cost is the weight it adds to an already heavy car. Curb weight is over 5200 pounds, and that doesn’t include the passengers.
The battery pack and electric motors are primarily for power enhancement rather than gas mileage. Average fuel economy is 20 miles-per-hour, and the V-8 engine requires premium 91 octane gasoline.
Front-to-rear weight balance is 52-48, so the sedan doesn’t suffer from the nose-heavy feel that some Lexus hybrids have. All-wheel drive automatically sends power to the wheels with the best traction. However the car’s sheer mass is obvious when the driver corners. It’s simple physics: something the engineers can’t do much about.
Visibility around the vehicle perimeter is good. The optional blind spot warning system on the test car is helpful weaving through dense traffic on the freeway.
Inside, the car is dead quiet, so the driver and passengers can converse or enjoy the sedan’s premium sound system.
As a driving enthusiast, the new F sport LS is the model to buy. It’s powerful, nimble and responsive. A Sport plus setting enables the driver to manually select gears using formula-style paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Shifting is crisp and smooth. Even using the manual gear select mode, there is virtually no shift shock.
Although the V-8 engine can’t match V-6 blocks for fuel economy, the block’s performance is flawless. It is quiet with absolutely no vibration, and offers the driver an abundance of both torque and horsepower. Zero-to-sixty acceleration for the rear-wheel drive model is a tenth of a second faster than the 600h. But what is more noticeable is the incredible steering response at high speeds.
The specially tuned suspension maintains a chassis height ten millimeters lower than the regular LS, for more stability at high speeds. The air suspension automatically adjusts shock and spring damping to make the car rebound extremely well over rough road surfaces without beating up the occupants.
A torsion limited slip differential automatically transfers engine power between the rear wheels to maintain traction. Enormous six-caliper Brembo front brakes stop the car on a dime. A new hollow wheel design absorbs chatter from the tires over washboard road surfaces to deaden the noise.
The LS sedans seat either four or five passengers, depending upon the rear seat configuration. As mentioned above, product planners went to extreme lengths to offer the most elegant and comfortable upholstery available, with exquisite trims ranging from aluminum to the Shimamoku wood.
The executive rear seat package has a flip-up swivel writing surface as part of the fixed center console, as well as a storage cubby, DVD player, overhead reading lamps, cupholders and power points.
The driver’s seat is the most comfortable one I’ve ever sat in, as mentioned in the lead to this story. There is ample storage space around the passenger compartment, including a large locking glovebox, deep center console bin with 12 volt, auxiliary and USB ports, and a removable tray for portable electronic devices, map pockets and cupholders.
The trunk of the LS 600h is larger than on the outgoing model, but still rather small for a four-passenger car. Because of the battery location, there is no rear seat pass-through. It will hold golf bags and two passenger’s luggage, but carrying luggage for a family of four on an extended road trip would be a challenge. The gasoline-powered LS has a much larger trunk.
All models come with front, side, side curtain and front occupant knee airbags, adaptive front headlamps, tire pressure monitoring, and vehicle dynamic integrated management, which combines antilock braking, traction and stability control in a manner which is invisible to the driver.
Pricing for the 2013 LS 460 starts at $71,990 for the rear-wheel drive sedan; $74,935 with all-wheel drive. The long wheelbase LS 460 is priced from $78,290 for the rear-wheel drive variant and $81,775 with all-wheel drive. The LS 600h is available only as a long wheelbase sedan, priced from $119,910. Pricing does not include the $895 delivery charge.
Like: The LS 460 is a stylish, powerful sedan with segment-leading safety, comfort and convenience features. Buyers who appreciate true craftsmanship will be impressed both by the refined powertrain and interior fit and finish.
Dislike: Trunk on the LS 600h is very small, especially if the car is going to be used by multiple passengers on long road trips.
Models: LS 460 F sport, LS 600h L
Base price: $71,990 (excluding the F Sport option package); $119,910 (LS 600h)
As tested: N/A
Horsepower*: 386 Hp @ 6400 rpm (F sport); 389 Hp @ 6400 rpm (LS 600h)
Torque*: 367 lbs.-ft @ 4100 rpm (F sport); 385 lbs.-ft @ 400 rpm (600h)
Zero-to-sixty: 5.4 seconds (F Sport); 5.5 seconds (600h)
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 16/24 mpg city/highway (F Sport); 19/23 mpg city/highway (600h)
Comment: * Horsepower and torque ratings for the LS 600h are for the gasoline engine only, and do not include the electric motors.
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