SEE ALSO: Lexus Rover Buyer's Guide
Lexus has been a phenomenal success, going from new entry in the luxury car business to one of the standards of the industry in less than ten years. But success has not made Lexus any less of a force to be reckoned with for its competitors. If anything, it has driven the company to produce cars that are better than ever. "The relentless pursuit of perfection" is more than an advertising slogan.
Consider the corporate flagship sedan, the LS400. With the 1998 model, the Lexus philosophy of constant improvement has resulted in an automobile that, while superficially similar to its predecessors outside, is more muscular and luxurious. As the 1989 LS400 was a challenge to American luxury car manufacturers, the 1998 LS400 is the car that the next generation of German premium luxury cars will have to beat.
A large amount of city and highway driving in all kinds of weather was necessary during my week with the 1998 LS400. In a lesser car, it could have been tedious or aggravating. In the LS, it was pleasant. Improved road manners, a quiet, comfortable interior, and a new, high-performance powertrain make it a world-class premium luxury car.
APPEARANCE: Tasteful conservatism and evolutionary styling change befit a premium luxury automobile, and allow easy product identification. The 1998 LS400 is discernably a Lexus, and at first glance seems little different from its namesake of 1989, let alone last year's car. Closer examination reveals a look that is more athletically toned, yet still elegant. Subtle cues whisper "performance." The new LS is differs little from the previous version, but minor changes make all the difference. Restyled headlight clusters are more rounded and smaller, leaving space between the lights and the grille. This, and a restyled front bumper and lower fascia that incorporates a more apparent air dam, enhance the subtly sporting look of the car. The new front fascia echoes the discreet performance image given by the small ducktail spoiler on the trunk lid.
COMFORT: The 1998 LS400's increased performance envelope hasn't decreased comfort any. Occupants are spaciously coddled in the sort of two-tone leather and burled wood environment that is expected in a premium luxury car, and there are many new interior features this year. More supple leather covers the front bucket and rear contoured bench seats. Seat, window, mirror, and steering wheel adjustment is power-assisted, of course; now all windows go up or down with one touch of the button. The new "Customized Body Electronics System" allows the owner to customize 35 different electrical functions, including headlight and interior light delay off time and remote entry functions. The highly-visible electroluminescent instrument cluster has a new multi-function display. When the climate control system detects high levels of pollutants in the outside air, it automatically recirculates cleaner interior air. The optional CD changer is located in the dashboard, above the glove box, for easy access. When the optional navigation system is fitted, navigation, audio, and climate system control is done through a touch screen mounted in the center of the dash. It responds best to a light touch, and, while initially a bit confusing to use, rapidly becomes second nature. If only VCRs could work so easily....
SAFETY: The 1998 Lexus LS400 has next-generation dual frontal airbags and front-seat side airbags.
ROADABILITY: The athletic character hinted at by the 1998 LS400's styling shows on the road. It has become much more of a European- style luxury car, and now combines very good handling ability with first-class ride comfort. Previous LS400s were known more for ride comfort and quiet isolation than handling. The new one loses nothing in comfort, is actually quieter, and gains noticeably in handling abilities. It is much more of a driver's car than previous LS400s. Credit the microchip - a new, standard-equipment Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) system electronically monitors the handling of the LS400 and uses the antilock brake and traction control systems to help avoid loss of control. An optional semi-active electronically-controlled air suspension is available.
PERFORMANCE: Nowhere is the 1998 LS400's new muscle more apparent than when pressing the accelerator pedal. The new electronic throttle control connects that pedal to a dual overhead cam 4.0-liter, 32-valve V8 with continuously variable intake valve timing for more power, better fuel economy, and lower emissions compared to previous versions. With a maximum of 290 horsepower and 300 lb.ft. of torque, the LS is as quick as many performance sports sedans. Its new 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission deserves some of the credit for the increased performance and efficiency, and shifts quickly with seamless smoothness.
CONCLUSIONS: The Lexus LS400 has become an international executive express - quick, fast, and comfortable.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 52,900 Price As Tested $ 58,805 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 32 valve V8 with continuously-variable valve timing Engine Size 4.0 liters / 242 cu. in. Horsepower 290 @ 6,000 Torque (lb-ft) 300 @ 4,000 Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 122.2 in. / 196.7 in. Curb Weight 3,890 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 13.4 Fuel Capacity 22.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium Tires P225/60 VR16 Bridgestone Turanza ER33 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone with coil springs / independent double wishbone with coil springs Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 19 / 25 / 20 0 to 60 mph 6.4 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 14.8 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.28 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Wood and leather accented steering wheel and shift knob $ 330 High-intensity discharge lights $ 500 Lexus navigation system $ 2,250 In-dash Lexus 6CD auto changer $ 1,050 Power tilt & slide moonroof $ 1,120 Carpeted floormats $ 112 Wheel locks $ 48