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The upper-luxury car market is in a state of serious decline in many countries at the moment, with sales in Australia for example down by more than half in recent times.
People either can’t afford cars, or don’t want to be seen in ostentatious vehicles, or, and this is the most likely among many of the very rich, are going for highly equipped SUVs.
Lexus has been the leading Japanese upper-luxury car market worldwide for more years than its competitors care to remember. When the first Lexus, the LS Line, was introduced in 1990 it was greeted with considerable scepticism by many pundits. These people have since been proven wrong.
Extreme quietness and smoothness were combined with a level of build quality that was close to perfection right from the start made many consider the Lexus LS400, as it was then, as an option instead of one of the big two German marques.
Now in a move that’s surprised many, Lexus has given the LS Line a major working over in the styling stakes, giving it a shape that’s anything but ordinary. The new Lexus LS’s big ‘spindle-grille’ front is complemented by flowing lines that could almost be Italian in the flair of their flare.
Upper-luxury cars tend to be on the conservative side, with the Audi, BMW and Mercedes offerings being much more conventional in their bodies. Only time will tell if the Lexus planners have got it right...Due to the need to keep the cost of the redevelopment of the latest Lexus LS Line under control during the harsh years of the GFC this is not an all-new model.
Rather it carries much of the existing ‘skeleton‘ but with significant changes in shape and mechanically. The doors and the roof panels have been carried over but everything has been reshaped. The floorpan has been strengthened and has had some aerodynamic aids added to further reduce noise levels and at the same time make it a little slicker through the air to minimise fuel consumption and emissions.
Inside there have been major revisions to the seats and dash area, with the very large central screen being borrowed from the all-new Lexus GS we reported on recently. This unit holds a lot of information but does so in a way that minimise distraction to the driver. Technology upgrades are a feature of this Lexus.
The very sophisticated air conditioning system has numerous sensors that monitor interior temperature in several locations, even including the seats, as well as readings of humidity. In the topline models there’s even checking of the strength of infrared rays coming through the glass.
Equally fascinating is the fact that the clock. It is designed to look like a traditional old-style unit, but is actually a high-tech electronic machine that keeps an eye on its poison on the planet using GPS satellites. Meaning it can update itself as it moves from one time zone to another.
This smart clock is just thing for the time-confused folks living in Coolangatta / Tweed Heads who can lose or pick up an hour just by driving across an intersection when daylight saving is force in NSW! Major primary safety features are driver fatigue and inattention warnings and automatic collision avoidance, or crash severity mitigation if avoidance becomes impossible.
Lexus tells us suspension changes are aimed at giving the new Lexus LS a sportier feel without taking anything from the comfort and quietness that have been a hallmark of the model since the beginning. Though we have undertaken major technical presentations and looked over and under the new LS in detail, we are yet to drive it. So we can’t comment on the change in suspension philosophy. Stay tuned.
The Lexus V8 engines are modified versions of the existing units and produce slightly more power while having lower petrol consumption and emitting less CO2. The automatic transmission is the same eight-speed unit that has been used in the superseded models. The exception is the hybrid version which uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
To let it mimic a conventional auto the CVT has eight pre-set ratios that can be chosen by a driver who feels the computer has the car in the wrong ratios. As before, a petrol-electric LS variant is offered, but this time around it will be sold as standard with the short wheelbase, not the longer one seen previously. This has led to a price reduction of around $30,000.
Similarly, Lexus found that most previous owners of the standard LS didn’t want the extended wheelbase, so that latter model is now sold only on special order. Lexus Australia tells us that around 90 per cent of LS buyers have bought themselves another LS when the time came to move up from their old car.
The strikingly different shape of this new car may challenge that history - it will be interesting to witness what happens over the next year or so. Our feeling is that today’s older buyers are more amenable to change than those of previous generations – but, as we said previously, only time will tell.
The new Lexus LS Line range is:
LS 460 F Sport: $189,900 (automatic)
LS 460 Sports Luxury: $192,400 (automatic)
LS 600h Sport: $217,900 (automatic)
LS 600hL: POA