SEE ALSO: Lexus Buyer's Guide
Lexus has quite a record in the auto industry, going from startup to benchmark in remarkably little time. The first generation of its flagship LS400 sedan, introduced in 1989, targeted American luxury tastes, and very successfully. The second-generation LS400 made its debut in 1998, and was aimed right at the European premium luxury brands. Now the third generation LS debuts, and promises to give serious competition to all makers of premium luxury cars.
Little has been left unchanged in the 2001 Lexus LS430. For starters, the name is new, as the engine has been modified and enlarged for greater performance, although not at the expense of fuel economy or emissions. The wheelbase has been lengthened three inches, giving more interior space, but the overall length remains the same for easier maneuverability. All body panels are new, as is the interior.
I've been driving an LS430 with the "Ultra Luxury" option package for the past week. It is fully comparable to any European V8-powered premium luxury car, including those costing considerably more than its not inconsiderable price. It is a driver's car, although the heated, reclining, vibro-massage rear seats are mighty inviting on a cool day. Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to drive LS430s with varying equipment levels at the press introduction. The car is impressive even in "base" trim, and only gets better with options. As can be seen from the 2001 LS430, Lexus seriously pursues perfection.
APPEARANCE: Although Lexus calls the LS430 "edgier," its styling changes are basically evolutionary. There is no doubt that it is a premium Lexus, with a slightly-changed but still familiar shape. It's conservative but not overly formal thanks mostly to the new front end's larger version of the chrome-trimmed Lexus grille and multi-element headlights behind large triangular plastic covers. The overall shape is sleeker and more rounded than that of last year's LS400, but the LS430 will not be mistaken for a coupe. Careful attention to details has resulted in very slippery aerodynamics, for low wind noise levels, good stability, and fuel economy. The LS430 has plenty of chrome trim - around the perimeter of the car at bumper level, around the side and rear windows, and even on the door handles - but it is discreet, tasteful, and adds to the premium look of the car.
COMFORT: Want a definition of "luxury"? Look no further than the LS430's Luxury Package rear seat. Adjustable for back angle, heated, and with vibro-massage, it's the epitome of indulgence. Rear seat passengers definitely do not get second-class accommodations, as they also can have separate audio and climate controls, storage areas, and a cooler box behind the armrest. Front occupants won't suffer, with available climate-controlled seats, which use a thermoelectric heating/cooling element and air- circulation fan to provide warmth or coolness as needed. Seat comfort is exemplary. The interior design and materials are elegant and understated as expected in a contemporary premium luxury car. If it doesn't look overly opulent, check out the details and exquisite fit and finish. The Lexus signature "Optitron" instrument display is easily read in any lighting condition. Cars with the navigation system use that system's liquid crystal display to also control the audio and climate control systems. The Mark Levinson audio system turns the LS into a portable concert hall, and the six-CD changer is in the dash, allowing for two locking glove boxes.
SAFETY: The 2001 Lexus LS430 has a safety-cell chassis with front and rear crumple zones, variable-force front airbags, front seat side airbags, and both front and rear side curtain airbags. Four- wheel antilock disc brakes with Brake Assist and Vehicle Skid Control are among its active safety features.
ROADABILITY: Lexus LS, a driver's car? Well, yes, actually. Its stiffer, strengthened unibody structure feels bank-vault solid and ensures precise control by the fully-independent double wishbone suspension as well as low noise levels. The "Ultra Luxury Package" includes air suspension with adjustable ride height and two damping settings. In "normal" mode, it has the soft, smooth ride preferred by many traditional luxury customers. "Sport" mode is a touch firmer, with less body motion, but still comfortably smooth. Call it "sport- touring," and enjoy a spirited drive on your favorite scenic road. For cars without the Ultra Luxury Package, a sport-tuned version of the regular suspension is available. I had the opportunity to drive an LS430 so equipped at the press introduction and found it to be similar in feel and handling to the sport mode of the air suspension. The Dynamic Laser Cruise Control system will automatically slow the car if traffic ahead slows, and the ultrasonic-based Intuitive Parking Assist brings a new (and positive) meaning to the term "park by ear."
PERFORMANCE: With 290 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque, the LS430's 4.3-liter engine moves the car quickly, quietly, and efficiently. Lexus's VVT-i variable valve timing system helps, as does a slight displacement increase from the LS400's 4.0-liter V8. The "Intuitive Powertrain Control" system ties engine, transmission, and throttle-control systems together for a smoother driving experience. The LS is quicker than many sport coupes, but is never rough or uncivilized. It is also classified as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle.
CONCLUSIONS: Lexus keeps redefining perfection with its flagship sedans.
SPECIFICATIONS 2001 Lexus LS430 Base Price $ 54,005 Price As Tested $ 68,740 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 32-valve V8 with variable valve timing Engine Size 4.3 liters / 262 cu. in. Horsepower 290 @ 5,600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 320 @ 3,400 rpm Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic with adaptive shift logic Wheelbase / Length 115.2 in. / 196.7 in. Curb Weight 3,955 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 13.6 Fuel Capacity 22.2 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium gasoline, 91 octane Tires P225/55 HR17 Bridgestone Turanza Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, antilock and Brake Assist standard Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone with air springs all around Drivetrain Front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 25 / 20 0 to 60 mph 6.3 sec (mfgr) 1/4 mile (E.T.) 14.7 sec (mfgr) Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.26 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Ultra-luxury package - includes: EMV Mark Levinson audio system; navigation system; Lexus Link; Dynamic Laser Cruise Control; Air Suspension; power rear window and manual door sunshades; power adjustable rear seat with massage, heat, and memory; rear air conditioner; rear cooler box; rear-seat audio controls; front climate-controlled seats; power door closers; headlamp washers; power moonroof; Intuitive Parking Assist; wood and leather steering wheel $ 12,505 Interior package with Comfort Leather $ 1,450 17-inch alloy wheels with summer tires $ 100 Trunk mat $ 66 Wheel locks $ 59 Delivery and processing $ 545