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Lexus LS430(2001)

SEE ALSO: Lexus Rover Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig


MODEL: Lexus LS430 
ENGINE: 4.3-liter V8 
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 290 hp @ 5,600 rpm/ 320 lb-ft @ 3,400 rpm 
TRANSMISSION:  Five-speed automatic 
WHEELBASE: 115.2 in. 
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 196.7 x 72.0 x 58.7 in. 

From its inception, the Lexus LS series was designed to be the ultimate in luxury automobiles. When Toyota created the Lexus brand, and the LS luxury sedan high end of that line, it did so with the idea of showing everything that could be done to make a true luxury car at a (relatively) affordable price. Sure, Rolls-Royce makes a great luxury car, but it is priced at more than a quarter of a million dollars; the Lexus LS400 started at something like one-fifth that price.

Now Lexus has a new 4.3-liter V8 engine to put in its vehicles, and has created the LS430 to reflect that new engine. Styling changes are subtle, so as not to rock the boat, but the combination of new engine, new technology to make the ride more pleasant, and new amenities make the LS430 one of the best automobiles this writer has ever driven. And if they would just relocate those sound system controls that are on the steering wheel, I might upgrade that rating to THE best automobile I have driven.

First the engine. Power has remained at 290 horsepower with the new engine, but torque has increased from 300 to 320 lb.-ft.. The LS400 was by no means underpowered, but the extra 300 cc and 20 pound-feet do make a huge difference. You can floor the accelerator for passing or entering highways and have no fear that you will run out of juice before the job is accomplished.

Power gets to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission that was as smooth as the engine. In our winter snow ride, we were also grateful for traction control, ABS, and ECT, a stability driving aid that kept the LS430 from spinning off the road or plowing headfirst into a snow drift.

We were coming back from our daughter's house in Virginia and were traveling a two-lane road with few passing opportunities. As is often the case on this road, I was behind a slow poke. But I grabbed the first opportunity to pass, and went from the relatively slow 50 mph to more than 80 mph in a matter of seconds. I accomplished the pass safely and pulled back in lane and coasted back to the speed limit with no risk to life or limb of the occupants of either car.

As with the LS400, you never hear the engine under normal driving conditions. With my right foot planted firmly on the floor, there is a hint of engine noise from under the hood, but when you're not pushing it, the engine is silent. You need the tachometer in a car like this just to know the engine is running.

The ride is luxury-car soft on all road surfaces. Constant readers will remember that my daughter lives on a dirt road with a washboard surface. I didn't know it in the LS430. The suspension smoothed out the little ripples to give a comfortable ride that we haven't had with most other cars.

That dirt road in Virginia, as well as my street in Emmaus, Pa. were both located on the Lexus GPS navigation system. This is the first navigation system that had our home street on it, as well as side streets in all the areas we drove through. While we didn't use the navigation system for directions, we did use it as a map to track our progress. Had we encountered any difficulties or heavy traffic, we could have used the system to figure out a new route to avoid any tie-ups.

Front passengers sit in individual bucket seats that are heated and ventilated. You can either heat them, as we did in the winter, or cool them, as you might want to do in the summer. The perforated leather surface of the seat allows an internal fan to blow hot or cool air through it.

In the rear is a bench seat wide enough for three passengers and with enough legroom so those passengers don't have to suffer. We put my 6-4 son-in-law back there with our daughter and grandson in his car seat (which was easy to transfer to the Lexus because of new child seat tethers), and both were comfortable with the legroom available.

In general the sound system was excellent, delivering good sound and versatility. However, there are two function switches on the steering wheel that change the mode of entertainment (AM/FM/CD/cassette) if you accidentally touch them, or change the station or CD track. After a while, these accidental changes started to annoy us, because everything else about the LS430 was so perfect.

I liked the fold-in exterior mirrors that would nestle close to the car whenever you parked to prevent damage from other cars (or pedestrians) who might pass by. On one cold, snowy morning, though, the mirrors refused to go out to their normal position, which made the ride to work a challenge.

I don't drive Lexus LS430s (or LS400s for that matter) as often as I would like. There is always the temptation to not return the car when Lexus wants it back, and then I'd be in trouble. As I said at the outset, this may well be one of the best automobiles on the market today, if not the best. And while the price has risen to $68,000, when you compare it to the competition, it is reasonably priced.