2001 Lexus LS 430 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Redesigned flagship dazzles with technology.
What a way to ride: The Lexus LS 430 luxury sedan, stretched with more room for passengers and outfitted with elaborate luxury elements, carries advanced mechanical components that can outthink and outperform lesser cars and, in some cases, lesser drivers. The LS 430 functions as a deluxe limousine but acts more like a sporty touring car. It delivers quick acceleration performance along with features designed to take all work out of the driving experience.
A fresh design featuring world-class aerodynamics and incredible production quality marks a new generational treatment for the full-size Lexus flagship. Lexus, Toyota's luxury brand, set benchmarks for quality and customer satisfaction when it was introduced, and much of its initial success is attributable to its LS 400. It was a wakeup call for German auto makers. This new version, the LS 430, confronts heightened competition from Germany, Japan and the United States.
The LS 430 for $54,005 begins as a premium full-size sedan loaded with sophisticated mechanical equipment, extensive safety systems and luxurious appointments. The sole engine, a four-cam 4.3-liter aluminum V8, produces 290 horsepower and mates to an electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission.
High-tech hardware that comes in the aptly named Ultra Luxury Package ($12,290) sounds like science fiction: The package includes laser-guided cruise control, a sonar-based parking guide, a navigation system that triangulates by satellites and coordinates with a DVD-powered data base, and an adaptive electronically controlled suspension. A fan imbedded in the front seats circulates either heated or chilled air. Rear passengers relax with rear air conditioning, heated seats, electric seatback adjustment with memory control and a lumbar back massager. A power-operated sunscreen shades the rear windscreen, but rear passengers must pull down the side sunscreens manually.
Lexus completely redesigned its luxury flagship for 2001. Its engineers extended the wheelbase by 3 inches and raised the roof 1.4 inches, which carved out more interior space for passengers. Yet they held the overall length of the LS 430 to the same 196.7-inch measurement of the preceding (LS 400) design. These spatial changes create a structure that contains a slightly larger cabin sandwiched between an extended hood and blunted tail. A sleek, shapely skin makes the big Lexus appear long and low. Chiseled edges define a bold front grille and stepped hood, all of which give the LS 430 a substantial appearance.
A trapezoidal grille rimmed in bright chrome is flanked by exaggerated triangles of gleaming multi-lens headlamp clusters that wrap each corner and stand above the thick chin-leading bumper. The bumper is segmented by a thin top bead of chrome and low port mouth plus fog lamps curved on the corners. Smooth creases in the sides of the grille thrust it forward on the face and these stepped lines move up the hood toward windshield pillars to bump the central hood section higher than side shoulders.
All other body shapes look subtle in a conservative treatment where shoulders roll fluidly into side panels with only a hint of flares around wheelwells. The cant of the windshield doesn't tilt any more rearward into the roofline than the rear window slants in an opposing line. Curvaceous rear pillars blend seamlessly into rear flanks. A conventional tail features a horizontal deck leading to a vertical back panel with oversized corner taillamps, which conceals a big trunk.
Despite the quiet linear statement this styling suggests, streamlining is so good that this Lexus earns a best-in-the-world aerodynamic rating of 0.25 Cd (coefficient of drag), which enables it to slice through still air so smoothly it practically negates wind noise. The smooth exterior form is further enhanced by the remarkable fit of body panels. Although Lexus has long been recognized for achieving superior fit for body sections, the quality achieved by the LS 430 reaches to a new dimension as engineers used a supercomputer to digitize all body surfaces, then worked out new fit tolerances ten times more precise than the previous process.
Slip into one of the cushioned seats of the LS 430 and you'll find yourself in a padded and protected passenger compartment that scores as one of the most luxurious environments in the automotive world. At the same time, it's a sophisticated space overflowing with high-tech gear and power-motivated gadgets installed to make the experience of driving and riding safe, always comfortable and at times even sensuous and pleasurable.
The expanded structure forges a larger cabin with ample space for heads and legs and elbows, including enough room in the rear seat to cross even long legs without touching the front seatback. A standard layout puts two bolstered bucket seats up front on either side of a console containing an automatic shifter gate and a storage bin with padded armrest for the lid. In back, the three-person bench seat has contoured spaces for two and a broad center fold-down armrest. The armrest features a padded storage drawer and a panel to control the heated seats, compact disc player and rear climate control system. Extensive applications of leather and rich wood set an opulent mood.
The drivers faces an adjustable steering wheel of wood and leather mounted in front of a new instrument panel with vivid electroluminescent analog gauges that are among the best available. To the right and immediately above the console a seven-inch touch screen incorporates controls for climate and audio systems, as well as the optional navigation system. All variables and instructions show up on the screen as bold and legible icons that simplify operations; you can also use simple voice commands to direct the action.
Simplicity is a cockpit theme despite the complexity and sophistication of features that use interpretive sensors linked to miniature computers that can think and act. For instance, the automatic climate system includes temperature sensors around the cabin and sun-sensing articulated air registers that deploy in particular areas as needed to combat a solar temperature gain.
Extensive safety measures work in this Lexus, beginning with the strong structure incorporating impact-absorbing crumple zones and steel reinforcements surrounding the passenger compartment. Frontal and seat-mounted side airbags shield front riders. There are also curtain side airbags front and rear mounted above side windows. Driver visibility is enhanced by High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers and front side window glass that repels water.
Active safety controls include anti-lock brakes with extra brake force applied automatically during emergency stops. An advanced vehicle skid control (VSC) system weds ABS and traction controllers with micro-processors to correct oversteer or understeer when cornering. These systems help the driver to maintain control of the LS 430 in emergency maneuvers even when he or she panics and makes mistakes.
Despite its two-ton mass and full-size dimensions, the LS 430 leaps to action and manages some spry moves that border on the sporty side of performance. We discovered this while tossing the Lexus around the 4.0-mile Road America road racing circuit at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Although you wouldn't want to make a race car out of a Lexus LS 430, the race track allowed us to push this big sedan to its limits in relative safety to measure the speed and test vehicle dynamics.
Quick acceleration gives the LS 430 a lively feel. Yet it rides so smoothly and quietly that triple-digit speeds on the race track felt much slower. The 4.3-liter engine generates 290 horsepower and, more important, 320 foot-pounds of torque. That's enough to propel the LS 430 from 0 to 60 mph in only 6.3 seconds and past the quarter-mile mark in less than 15 seconds. Top speed, electronically limited, is 131 mph.
You'll hardly hear the engine, however, because this LS exceeds the previous edition for its ability to dampen mechanical vibrations and insulate the passenger compartment from external noise. No other automaker does a better job than Lexus in creating such a serene and rattle-free zone for riders.
Lexus adds an Intuitive Powertrain Control module to the engine that analyzes performance aspects such as throttle position, vehicle speed and engine load before mustering a precise quantity of engine torque for any driving situation. In effect, the smart system can tame the driver's varying throttle commands and provide a smoother flow of power.
With power directed to the rear wheels and independent suspension at all four wheels, the LS 430 provides a classic chassis layout for driver control. Anti-lift and anti-squat geometry lets the suspension check body movement when accelerating or braking. The system holds lateral roll to a minimum in hard turns. The Ultra Luxury Package includes adaptive variable road-sensing suspension damping to further isolate the passenger compartment from changing external conditions. A no-cost optional Euro-style touring suspension brings firmer shock settings for sporty manners.
Another high-tech option puts a laser to work in the cruise control system to maintain a pre-set distance between the Lexus and another vehicle in front of it. The smart system removes the last vestige of work associated with automatic cruise control because it can detect a vehicle ahead and modulate speed to prevent running upon it. The future is here.
The new Lexus LS 430 flagship sedan dazzles with sophisticated styling and high-tech hardware, but its best attributes may be the quality of quietness and cushy refinements incorporated in a luxurious passenger cabin.
LS 430 ($54,005).
Options As Tested
Ultra Luxury Package ($12,290) includes Dynamic Laser Cruise Control, Intuitive Parking Assist, in-dash DVD navigation system, adaptive suspension, front seats with heat/cool control, four-spoke wood and leather steering wheel, power rear window sunshade, manual sunshades for two rear doors, heated rear seats, rear air conditioning, rear seat adjustment with power slide and memory, power trunk and door closer, Mark Levinson 240-watt audio system with 11 speakers, 17 x 7.5 in. alloy wheels, 225/55/HR 17 H-rated tires power moonroof, air suspension; destination charge.
LS 430 ($54,005).
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