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Lexus LS 430 2003 Review

Now, with the latest LS430 heading rapidly into middle age, the world has changed again.

THE arrival of the original Lexus in 1989 changed the world of cars. Now, with the latest LS430 heading rapidly into middle age, the world has changed again.

The latest Lexus is still good, but nowhere near as good as it was when it caught Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar dozing at the top of the luxury car tree.

The Lexus brand has also been run down on quality and customer service, without building enough of the golf-club credibility essential to unseat the image winners from the three-pointed star.

The latest LS flagship has some significant new features for 2003, as well as a bolder nose that helps remove its cloak of invisibility, but it also has to battle a hugely impressive new Audi A8 and an old-look Jaguar XJ that's hi-tech under the skin.

As well as the benchmark S-Class and the controversial 7-Series from BMW. Lexus has done its revamp work with the best bottom line of all – no change to the $176,174 price.

The changes for 2003 reflect a new look at the front, with much bigger and bolder headlamps, and at the rear there are freshened tail lamps and exposed exhaust pipes intended to trumpet the car's hi-tech V8 engine. It also has bigger 18-inch wheels, which look a bit different and help with grip.

Mechanically, the engine is unchanged – not that anything was needed with a silky smooth 207kW on tap – but the six-speed automatic has picked up a sequential touch-change shift to make the gearbox more user-friendly.

The latest electronic tweaks start in the nose, with the sensor for the latest laser cruise control, and run to the back where there is a new rear-view camera for parking.

The car also has a low-pressure warning system on the tyres and Lexus is trumpeting headlamps that follow the steering.

Inside, a Mark Levinson sound system is standard – like everything in the Lexus luxury pack – and so are (wait for it) vibrating seats in the back bench.

Lexus sales people say the value advantage is more than $5000 over the superseded model. Important, because its rivals are tough, and getting tougher, and the LS430 still looks too much like a Japanese twist on a German original.

On the road

First-timers who tried the latest LS were impressed. Very impressed.

They liked the comfort and quietness, as well as the surprisingly sporty suspension and an engine that's one of the best in the world.

And they were captivated by the novelty of the parking-aid camera, which flashes its tail-end view on to the television screen set front-and-centre in the dash, as well as the potential for lower-stress freeway travel with the laser cruise control.

All the test team liked the car's improvements, including the punchier sound system and the bolder nose, but people who had come recently from the Audi A8 weren't as happy about the finishing in the cabin or the driving enjoyment.

The Lexus is good, but Audi has made huge gains on the touchy-feely stuff in car cabins and the all-new A8 is a BMW-style good drive.

It retains its value advantage, undercutting the direct engine-and-equipment rivals, although the opposition has managed to make its flagships more affordable with clever work on powerplants and specifications.

The LS430 is an effortless car, around the city and out in the country, thanks to the silky-smooth engine, insulated cabin and suspension which copes easily with Australia's worst roads.

We also liked the latest touch-change auto, which gives the driver more control and feedback, as well as instant access to a power push that's more like a jet turbine than a petrol V8.

It is gentle on fuel, returning 12.3 litres/100km on a relatively rugged trial run, and makes any long-distance trip into an effortless cruise.

Corners? It copes easily with those, too, although you still feel that it's a big car that's not intended for honking through the twisties.

Niggles? We still think the seats are too wide and flat, we couldn't see any change to the steering-fed lamps, and the styling has become Japanese bland in a field of surprisingly stylish flagships.

But it's impossible to fault the boot space, or the quality, or the quietness, or the all-round comfort for five adults.

Yet. The Lexus LS hasn't come as far as its rivals and that's becoming more and more important as they get better and their customer care rises to rival the incredible standard set through the original owner-first mantra set by the Lexus leaders.

There is nothing really wrong with the LS430. The latest changes have made a good car better, and it's worth getting your friends into the passenger seat just to have them gawking at the video picture from the rear-view parking camera.

But it has become a me-too car in a day when its rivals are genuine flagships with real firepower.

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LS430 4.3L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $14,740 – 19,360 2003 Lexus LS 2003 LS430 Pricing and Specs
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