Facelifted Lexus LS road test

  • Updated LS Range priced from £71,995 to £99,495
  • F-Sport version of the LS available for the first time
  • Available to order now for delivery in January 2013

When the Lexus LS was first conceived in 1983 the plan was to build the best luxury car in the world.

The plan took shape and in 1989 the first LS rolled off the production line, complete with state-of-the-art technology and comfort levels designed to turn the heads of dyed-in-the-wool Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi buyers.

This revised fourth-generation LS is no different and it’s loaded with what is described as ‘world-first’ technology. Luxury features include the so-called climate concierge system that uses infrared sensors to monitor the facial temperature of each occupant of the car and adjust the air-con accordingly.

You’ll pay for these levels of luxury though. The order books are open now for the updated Lexus LS, with prices ranging from £71,995 for the LS 460 Luxury to £99,495 for the hybrid LS 600h L Premier.

This is just a mid-life refresh but it is a fairly major one with more than 3,000 changes to the car overall. Most notable is a completely reworked front end that looks sharper with a new bumper, grille and light cluster. All the body panels except the doors and roof have been changed.

There have also been plenty of changes to the suspension to improve driving dynamics, and the interior has had a spruce-up with the addition of new kit.

For the first time the LS range now includes an F-Sport option, a model with reputedly more sporty dynamics. The LS 460 F-Sport comes with Brembo brakes, a lateral damping system, 19-inch F-Sport alloys, a Torsen limited-slip differential and suspension modifications.

Additional changes include a more aggressive looking front end and the interior gets a different look too with a dark cabin finish, perforated leather seats and steering wheel. Lexus scuff plates, aluminium pedals and an aluminium effect finish on the dash complete the look.

Somewhat surprisingly, in this diesel-obsessed market, Lexus has reintroduced the LS 460 petrol model following requests from customers. That means the LS range now comprises three models: the LS 460 Luxury, the LS 460 F Sport and the LS 600h L Premier.

If you are monumentally loaded you’ll doubtless go for the full hybrid LS 600h long-wheelbase L Premier model. It is powered by a 439bhp 5.0-litre V8 engine and it’s also bung full of standard safety kit including blind spot monitoring, a pre-crash preparation system and lane-keep assist.

The longwheelbase version is a car to be driven in rather than to drive – the Ottoman seat in the back tells you that. With a Blu-ray player, numerous adjustments allowing you to put your feet up, an ability to move the seat in front at the touch of a button and a back massage system, you know this is for rich businessmen who have no intention of getting behind the wheel.

If you go for the ‘cheaper’ LS 460 model you can choose between the Luxury and the F-Sport model, both of which are powered by a 382bhp 4.6-litre V8 petrol engine. The Luxury features 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic Bi-Xenon headlamps and LED daytime running lights. Inside you get leather upholstery, four-zone climate control and air conditioned electrically adjustable front seats (16-way for driver and 14-way for front passengers).

The interior is lit by soft white interior lamps and the instrument panel lighting moves and changes in intensity in line with vehicle start-up and switch-off. You get a 19-speaker Mark Levinson audio system with a DVD player, DAB tuner, Bluetooth and USB/aux-in ports. The sat-nav and entertainment systems can be controlled via a 12.3-inch central display, the largest on the market today.

Buyers can go bonkers on the options list but if you go for the LS 600h L Premier you can also specify a night-view system. This feature provides the driver with a view of hazards outside of the direct beam of the headlights.

To drive the Lexus isn’t exactly invigorating but it is quick. Both the 460 and 600h deliver a pillow-soft ride as well as refined, linear acceleration. The 460 is the fastest, completing the 0-60mph sprint in just 5.7 seconds, while the 600h gets there in 6.1 seconds. Both have an electronically limited top speed of 155mph.

Luxury versions of the LS all tend to lunge in the corners but they still possess enough grip for the experience to be reasonably entertaining. The F-Sport promises more positive handling and it’s the best choice for the luxury buyer who is looking for more dynamic driving characteristics.

Even though the 600h is powered by a hybrid powertrain, it’s stretching it to call it ‘green’. Fuel economy is claimed to be 32.4mpg while CO2 emissions are 199g/km. While that’s better than the 460, which claims an average of 26.4mpg and 249g/km, the hybrid system with its monstrous 520Nm of torque is not for the environmentally conscious.

So, it’s a luxury barge featuring massive petrol engines that’s designed to deliver maximum comfort. In some respects it’s delivered what was first conceived all those years ago.

Is it on par with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series? Sadly not, but this slicker-looking LS is closing the gap on the heavy hitters in the luxury market.

Also consider:

Audi A8

Plenty of rear legroom, great range of engines but a rather understated piece of luxury kit.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The best luxury car in terms of the total package. Assured driving dynamics and it exudes an air of quality that beats all the rivals.

BMW 7 Series

The nicest to drive of them all, but it just doesn’t have the wow factor of the S-Class.