BY STEVE WALKER
The captains of industry who might buy and spend their time reclining in the back of a luxury saloon like the Lexus LS are a demanding bunch. They didn't get where they are today by installing their trusted chauffeurs behind the wheels of vehicles that fall below the very highest standards of opulence and refinement. They also didn't get where they are today by buying used cars. Which is why demand for the LS and its ilk tends to fall off dramatically once they have a few miles on the clock and a shiny new replacement in the showrooms. It all goes to make them look conspicuously cheap for the used buyer willing to shoulder the running costs.
Models Covered: LS: 4dr saloon (4.6 petrol, 5.0 Hybrid [standard, SE, SE-L, L])
By 2006, Lexus was well established as a major rival to the big German premium brands - BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. The achievement of a company founded in 1989 rising to such a position of prominence should never be underestimated, even if Lexus did benefit from having the might of Toyota propelling it along. The challenge for Lexus, however, was to shrug off the pats on the back that came with it being as good as the competition and knuckle down to the task of becoming better. The LS was a perfect place to start, as the flagship model in the range and a direct rival for luxury car royalty like the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. A breakthrough for Lexus here could have far-reaching benefits. This LS arrived in the latter stages of 2006 in LS460 guise. It followed in the footsteps of the LS430, which sold between 2000 and 2006, and the LS400 which had its innings between 1998 and 2001. The car is powered by a 4.6-litre V8 engine that sends power to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. In summer 2007, that V8 was supplemented by another one but this was the 5.0-litre eight-cylinder engine in the LS600h - a hybrid. The continuing rejection of diesel by the core Lexus markets around the world including Japan and the US saw the brand put its eggs in the hybrid basket when demand increased for greater efficiency. The resulting LS600h assists its V8 petrol engine with an electric motor and sends the resulting power to all four wheels.
What You Get
This Lexus LS series as a whole came as a refreshing change to that which went before. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and as such, perhaps Mercedes was blushing coyly as the first two generations of LS models shamelessly aped the S-Class in many details and functions. By 2006 however, having matured as a company, Lexus was able to express its own design language and its own philosophy on how a luxury car should operate. The LS could be nothing other than Japanese and although it is very different in execution to the alternatives from BMW, Audi and Mercedes, it's no less effective. Although the fascia could never be described as pretty, being illuminated like Shinjuku at night, it's easy to access all the major functions, of which there are a lot. Build quality is excellent, space in the front is excellent and space in the back of the short wheelbase model is adequate, if a little down on the German competition. The long wheelbase car offers enough room to really stretch out and warrants the employment of a chauffeur. The only minor grumble is the relatively mean 330 litre boot in the LS600h, the capacity of which is impinged upon by the hybrid battery packs.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Lexus build quality and reliability really does set the standard and niggles with the manufacturer's products are rare. There will be concerns about buying a vehicle as complex as the LS600h second-hand but as yet, there's little evidence to suggest it will be anything other than faultlessly reliable. Insist on a detailed Lexus service history and a high specification.
(approx based on 2007 LS460) A new radiator is around £900. An alternator should be close to £750, a starter motor around £450 and rear brake pads would be around £80. A headlamp will be around £350, and expect to pay close to £1,000 for a full exhaust system (inc Catalyst).
On the Road
The 4.6-litre V8 engine that powers the Lexus LS is virtually inaudible at idle and little changes as you ease it up to cruising speeds. Perhaps it lacks the devilish punch of acceleration you get when flooring the throttle in an S500 or a 750i but the LS460 is far from slow. It's just that the silky engine, the slurring 8-speed automatic gearbox and the soothing multi-link air suspension work to slow your perception of the car's pace. The Lexus handles tidily up to a point and then you begin to feel its substantial bulk but most of the time, it's a car that demands to be driven in a calm, measured manner, so its effortless progress can really be appreciated. Behind the wheel or camped in the rear with a copy of the FT, the LS never feels less than luxurious on the road. Although it may be a hybrid, the LS600h isn't lacking in power. There's a total of 439bhp on tap, courtesy of a 388bhp 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine and a 221bhp electric motor which combine to devastating effect. Drive the Lexus LS600h as if you stole it and it will accelerate to 60mph in 6.0 seconds and run on to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. Unlike the LS460 petrol model, the hybrid gets a clever variable transmission that's mated to a Torsen differential that divides the engine's power between the front and rear wheels. If anything, it's even quieter and is at its best silently wafting around town on just the electric motor. Vigilance will be required though as pedestrians won't hear it coming. Don't expect a sports car, as the 2,355kg kerb weight means this is a hefty piece of automotive real estate, but the LS600h can still corner with some tenacity when pushed. The official economy figure is just over 35mpg, with emissions measured at 219g/km. That's not bad for a luxury saloon but it hardly makes the LS600h an environmental poster child. The LS460 gets 25mpg and 261g/km.
A used Lexus LS is a very interesting proposition. The wonders of depreciation (only if you're the buyer not the seller) mean that this top line luxury saloon can be obtained for tempting prices these days and there's no question that it's a highly capable vehicle. An LS is a very different proposition from the usual Germanic options. It's extremely well built but lacks the same design subtlety in the cabin. Reliability should be top draw and no car is much more refined and comfortable than an LS when cruising. Performance is strong but the 8-speed gearbox on the LS 460 can get itself in a muddle with all those ratios and the LS isn't one to hurry along a twisty road. In the end, it amounts to the Lexus take on what a luxury saloon should be. On sampling the car, you may well agree that it's a perspective that makes sense.