The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2005 Lexus LS 430 Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

A Great S Is A Great S.

By Marc J. Rauch, Exec. Vice President & Co-Publisher

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Lexus

So what do you want to know? That Lexus’ big gun has a new face lift for 2005, or that is has knee airbags in the front compartment, or a new six-speed automatic transmission. Is that the kind of info you’d like to help you decide if you should buy this car?

If it is, then go read someone else’s review, because the reason to buy the LS 430 is not any of that stuff. You should buy this car, if you can afford it, because it’s an unbelievable machine. There is nothing about the driving characteristics and capabilities of the LS 430 that takes a back seat to any other car south of the six-figure border. My on-road impression is that it’s as good as a Mercedes S430 (and quite possibly the S500).

The two vehicles look very similar, handsome and stately, and like an S-Class, the LS is a master of the road. Acceleration response is immediate and robust. The ride is sa-moooth. The car glides like a big cruiser power boat on a rippleless lake at dawn. So much so, in fact, that I wanted to set the cruise control, get up on the seat back, poke my head through the sun roof and steer with my feet. Unfortunately my margarita kept spilling every time my hand hit the rim of the sun roof, so I had to sit back down and use a more conventional operating technique.

Is the LS 430 better than the S430? I don’t think so, but then neither do I think it’s inferior to the S. How do you get better than ten on a scale from one-to-ten? Like the guy in Spinal Tap, I’d have to put an eleven on the scale. I’d have to drive both cars simultaneously to really make an equal comparison, and even if I could accomplish that feat, I’m not sure that my internal grading talent is sensitive enough or acute enough to detect the differences.

Except in the area of “bottom line” comfort; there is a difference here. The LS 430 has a more comfortable seat than the S-Class. Yeah, Mercedes has made in-roads in recent years in providing more cushiony seating, but it still doesn’t compare to the soft American Car-like feel of any Lexus. On the other hand, I do recognize that there are a lot of people that like the stiffer feel of a Teutonic seat. It’s just that since I’m giving you my driving impressions of how a seat feels to me, I let my ass do the talking for me.

Hey, hey, hey, I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve read this guy’s reviews before, and most of his opinions are pulled from the very same place!” That may be true, but my toches does know what feels good!

There are several different creature-comfort points of comparison between to two vehicles that could sway a buying decision one way or the other. For example, I like the way the Mercedes ignition works: sort of an instant-on without the cranking. I’ve always thought that this little feature has a special richness to it (Rolls Royce’s do this too). On the other hand, I like the LS 430’s adoption of live video back-up assistance (seen on the center console navigation monitor – borrowed from Lexus’ Japanese cousin, Infiniti).

Image and value-retention are two other points of comparison, rather interesting ones. The model I tested had a sticker price just over $72,000 (base is $56,000-ish, but it moves up quickly with the Ultra Luxury and Interior Upgrade Packages). A similar MB S430 (with 4matic all-wheel drive) would cost about $6k to $8k more ($78k to $80k). Roughly speaking the price is in the same ballpark: if you can handle 72 thou, what’s a few more? To some, if they can afford the price, they want the world to know it. Mercedes makes the louder statement. But other people like to keep their zipper closed. Lexus creates a more demur pronouncement. Consequently, image is purely an issue of personal preference. If you’re basing your decision between the two on image, you just have to decide who you are.

Regarding value, both vehicles have fairly attractive retention values, and in studying a comparison on of actual resale prices for 2002, 2003, and 2004 models versus their retail prices when new, it looks like the percentages are virtually the same.

So, if in my estimation, the Lexus LS 430 is only as good as the wonderful Mercedes S430, and if the value proposition for either vehicle is basically the same, what is the deciding factor in choosing the Lexus over the Mercedes? The deciding factor might be customer service. Lexus dealers typically get incredibly high marks from their vehicle owners (and Lexus maintenance costs tend to be lower than a Mercedes). I’ve heard rave after rave. And when you consider that customer service is key to big money spenders, whether it’s for clothing, travel, restaurants, or automotive service, this could be the deal breaker that you’re looking for.

But look, you can’t go wrong either way: a great S is a great S.