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Preview: 2007 Lexus LS 460 and LS 460 L

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2007 Lexus LS460

by Carey Russ

The fourth-generation, 2007 Lexus LS, which will go on sale in mid-October, may be the most important car in the company's short but illustrious history since the original LS 400 of 1989. The new LS 460 sets new standards for the company in styling, craftsmanship, and customer-driven features. It's the quietest, most-powerful, most sumptuously comfortable, and most fully-featured car that Lexus has yet built. It also challenges the German luxury manufacturers more directly than ever, as for the first time there is a long-wheelbase version of Lexus's flagship LS sedan.

It also can also park itself, given the right options and conditions.

The 2007 LS is styled in the manner of its smaller siblings in the GS and IS series with a design language Lexus calls "L-finesse". In its build process at the plant in Tahara, Japan, the new LS 460 combines the latest automated assembly and inspection processes with something remarkable for its rarity in the construction of mass-produced automobiles today - inspection and finishing by highly-skilled humans. Each car is hand-sanded, twice, during the application of alternating layers of paint and coatings. After computerized probes measure the vibration of each completed engine as it is rotated by an electric motor, a human inspector determines the engine's final acceptability by listening to it with trained ears. And each car that comes off the assembly line is driven by a skilled test driver.

If that sounds obsessive, there's more. The designers wanted the LS 460's xenon projector-beam headlights to have lenses with crystal-like properties - so they built a lens out of crystal. Its optical properties were carefully determined, and the production lenses designed and built to emulate crystal. Door sounds are important to car buyers, and Lexus carefully studied people's reactions to the sounds of doors built from various materials. Heavy wooden doors, as found in an old and very upscale house, were judged the best-sounding, and gave Lexus developers a benchmark for door sound.

The two new LS models are the regular-length LS 460, which has a 1.77-inch longer wheelbase and 0.59-inch greater length than the previous-generation LS 430, and the long-wheelbase LS 460 L, with a 4.72-inch stretch in the rear seat area of the passenger cabin that affects both wheelbase and overall length equally. Standard equipment levels are, as expected, high, and many options in the regular model are standard equipment in the long-wheelbase version.

The long-wheelbase model is Lexus's first entry into the prestige luxury class currently dominated by German marques. It was developed is response to customer demand.

The new LS's chassis platform is all-new, and features extensive use of aluminum in the suspension for reduced unsprung weight, to improve ride and handling. Coil-over spring/shock units are standard, with a sophisticated multi-mode air suspension available on the LS 460 L.

The namesake 4.6-liter V8 breaks new ground. A dual-overhead cam, 32-valve design with a block and heads cast from aluminum alloy, it's the first completely new Lexus V8 in the 17 years of the company's history, and is the first production engine to use electric-motor control of cam phasing. This is done on the intake cams, while the exhaust cams use hydraulic phasing control. Fuel is delivered to the cylinders by both port and direct injection, and the engine is designed and built to have the lowest possible frictional losses, for smoother, more efficient, and more powerful operation. Its 380 horsepower and 367 lb-ft of torque are considerably more than the output of the old 4.3-liter engine - enough to accelerate an LS from a standstill to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. But fuel efficiency is closer to that of a smaller V6, with EPA ratings of 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. It gets a ULEV II emissions rating.

Not all credit for performance with efficiency goes to the engine. Behind that engine is the world's first production eight-speed automatic transmission. Lower low ratios allow quicker acceleration, while overdrive seventh and eighth gears improve highway fuel economy. Closer ratios and new electronic and hydraulic controls improve smoothness and quiet, and the entire package is no larger or heavier than the previous-generation six-speed transmission. For driver familiarity, there is a standard console-mounted shift lever, with manual mode.

The highest standards of passive and active safety are maintained, and all safety systems are integrated for optimum response to accidents or incidents. There are eight standard airbags, or eleven with some option packages. The latest iteration of the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system integrates and oversees the Antilock Braking System (ABS), the Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Electronically-Controlled Brake (ECB), Electronic Power Steering (EPS), and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) systems, and engine torque by means of the electronically-controlled throttle. The direct tire-pressure monitoring system includes the oft-forgotten spare. The Pre-Collision System (PCS) comes with radar-based Dynamic Cruise Control, and tightens safety belt pretensioners and the car's steering and suspension response when a possible collision is detected.

Lexus interiors have always been noted for their vault-like quiet and fine design and materials, and the new LS only furthers that reputation. In standard trim, it's competitive with anything in its class. The long-wheelbase model may be outfitted with options that put it over the top. Like comfort? Try the "Executive Class Seating Package" - besides upgraded materials, rear dual-zone climate control, power sunshades, and a cool box, it offers a right rear seat with a 45-degree recline, leg rest, and multifunction vibromassage. Also included is a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with a 9-inch power-operated screen. The available Mark Levinson "Reference Surround Sound" audio system boasts 19 speakers and 450 watts of clean power. According to Lexus representatives, it would cost about $100,000 to duplicate. Hmmm, buy this audio system and get a free Lexus in which to put it....

The navigation system, standard in the L and optional in the short-wheelbase model, places all of its data not on the usual DVD, but on a 30-GB hard disc. There is plenty of disc space left over, allowing owners to record from the CD changer directly to the disc if desired. Navigation, audio, and climate functions are controlled by a simple, familiar touch-screen interface. The obscure little multipurpose buttons beloved by German manufacturers are nowhere to be found.

At the time that the 2007 LS 460 was introduced to the press in San Francisco, California, pricing was not set. But Lexus representatives mentioned $70,000 as the entry point for the prestige luxury class, so it is safe to assume that neighborhood for the long wheelbase model's base price, and somewhat less for the short wheelbase model.

As could be judged from a day driving a 2007 LS 460 L on the roads north of San Francisco, the effort that Lexus has put into the car's design and construction was very worthwhile. The LS 460 is a major step forward for Lexus. As comfortable and inviting as the Exectuive Class right rear seat may be, the driver's seat is just as good in its own way. Previous LS generations were not known as driver's cars, in the manner made famous by the Germans. This one is. Even in long-wheelbase form, with the standard suspension, it handled the narrow, twisting, and indifferently-paved roads of Marin County with continental aplomb. Acceleration and braking were spectacular, and, even though the L weighs in at over 4300 pounds and is by no means small, it was remarkably nimble. For the first time I can remember in a Lexus, there was a the feeling of a direct connection with the road. Nothing intrusive, but nowhere near as isolated as previous Lexuses.

Still, the best was saved for last - a demonstration of the Advanced Parking Guidance System (APGS). It works with the Intuitive Park Assist (IPA) system and the navigation system's backup camera. The procedure is as follows: for parallel parking, pull up in front of the desired space, a meter (3 feet) from the car in front of the space. Using the backup camera and the touch screen, place the target box in the space. Then place the car in reverse, and take your hands off the wheel but keep your foot over the brake pedal to ensure that car speed is under 2.5 mph. The car will steer its way into the rear of the space, near the car or obstacle behind it. At this point, it's up to the driver to then drive the car forward. Touching the steering wheel or accelerator immediately disconnects the automatic parking process.

At the moment, this only works on level or nearly level ground, into a parking space 6.5 feet or more longer than the car. Backing in to a parking space is a similar procedure. So right now, it won't squeeze an LS into a marginal space on a steep San Francisco hill, but this is only the first generation of the system. And Lexus takes its slogan, "The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection" very seriously, indeed.