2002 Lexus LS 430
2002 Lexus LS 430 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Sybaritic comfort with science-fiction technology.
Introduced last year, the Lexus LS 430 represents the third generation of this full-size flagship. The LS 430 is a direct descendent of the ground-breaking LS 400 that appeared in 1990. The LS 430 continues unchanged for 2002.
Many consumers and experts alike regard the Lexus LS 430 as the new benchmark for high-tech luxury in a meticulously crafted sedan. It offers every luxury amenity you could want, plus a few we would never have imagined. It presented a very real example of everything technology makes possible, with systems that out-think and out-perform lesser cars and, in some cases, lesser drivers. Its functional aerodynamics and exacting quality control lead the rest of the world industry.
At once a deluxe limousine and high-performance touring car, the LS 430, delivers quick acceleration and agile handling along with features designed to take the work out of driving.
The LS 430 retails for $54,405. That figure buys 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.
Opt for the aptly named Ultra Luxury Selection ($12,485) and the factory adds a list of hardware that reads like science fiction: 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 that rides on air rather than springs. A fan inside the front seats circulates either heated or chilled air. Rear-seat passengers relax with their own air conditioning and air filtration system; plus heated seats, with electric seatback adjustment, memory control and a power lumbar massager. A power-operated sunscreen shades the backs of rear passenger's necks. Side-window screens are provided, but must be pulled down manually.
When Lexus redesigned its luxury flagship last year, the wheelbase was extended 3 inches, and the roof raised 1.4 inches. This provides more interior space for passengers. Yet the clever Lexus engineers held the overall length of the LS 430 to the same 196.7 inches as its predecessor, the LS 400. That makes parking and garaging easier.
The slightly larger cabin of the LS 430 is 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 is rimmed in bright chrome. Gleaming multi-lens headlamps wrap around each corner, forming exaggerated triangles. They stand above the thick chin-leading bumper. A thin bead of chrome segments the bumper at the top. Smooth creases in the sides of the grille thrust it forward, and the hood bulges in the center, suggesting power.
Like its predecessor, the LS 430 presents a subtle profile, a conservative treatment where shoulders roll fluidly into side panels with only a hint of flare around the wheelwells. The cant of the windshield echoes the slant of the backlight (rear window). 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, camouflaging the mass of the trunk.
Despite these quietly linear lines, the big Lexus is so streamlined that it earns a 0.25 coefficient of drag, one of the best drag coefficients of any vehicle built. Its superb aerodynamic shape enables it to slice through still air so smoothly, it practically negates wind noise. The slick exterior form is further enhanced by the remarkable fit of the body panels. Although Lexus has long been recognized for superior fit and finish, the quality achieved by the LS 430 reaches a new dimension. Engineers used a supercomputer to digitize all body surfaces, then worked out new fit tolerances ten times more precise than on the previous car.
Slip into one of the cushioned seats of the LS 430, and relax in one of the most luxurious environments in the automotive world. At the same time, the padded and protected passenger compartment is a sophisticated space, overflowing with high-tech gear and power-motivated gadgets to make the driving experience safe, comfortable, even sensuous and pleasurable.
There's ample space for heads and legs and elbows, and enough room in the rear seat to cross even long legs without touching the front seatback. The three-person rear bench 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 system. Extensive applications of leather and rich wood set an opulent mood.
The driver faces an adjustable steering wheel trimmed in 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, 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 voice commands to direct the action.
Again and again, the Lexus uses complex computer technology to simplify the driving experience. The automatic climate system, for example, reads temperature sensors around the cabin, and sun-sensing articulated air registers deploy in particular areas as needed to combat a solar heating.
Extensive safety measures begin with the strong structure, incorporating impact-absorbing crumple zones and steel reinforcements surrounding the passenger compartment. Seat-mounted side airbags help augment the required front-mounted bags to shield front-seat riders. Side-curtain airbags are mounted above the side windows, front and rear. High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers and front side window glass that repels water enhance driver visibility.
Active safety controls include anti-lock brakes, which automatically apply extra braking force during emergency stops. An advanced vehicle skid control (VSC) system weds ABS and traction controllers with microprocessors to correct oversteer or understeer. These systems help the driver to maintain control of the LS 430 in emergency maneuvers even when he or she panics and makes mistakes.
The Lexus LS 430 delivers excellent throttle response and impressive handling for a vehicle of its size and weight. Quick acceleration gives the LS 430 a lively feel. Yet it rides so smoothly and quietly that triple-digit speeds feel sedate, as we found at the 4.0-mile Road America road-racing circuit at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
The 4.3-liter engine generates 290 horsepower and, more importantly, 320 foot-pounds of torque. That's enough to propel the big Lexus from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.7 seconds, according to Car and Driver magazine, and past the quarter-mile mark in about 15.3 seconds. That is quite quick. That means the Lexus LS 430 leaves the Acura RL in the dust. It's not as quick as a BMW 540i, Mercedes E430, or Jaguar S-Type 4.0, however. Top speed of the LS 430 is electronically limited at 131 mph.
Lexus builds one of the quietest cars available. The LS 430's engine is barely audible. Mechanical and road vibration is damped out as well. No other automaker does a better job than Lexus in creating such a serene and rattle-free zone for riders.
Technology helps ensure the driver keeps the LS 430 on the road in an emergency handling situation. Its Intuitive Powertrain Control module analyzes throttle position, vehicle speed and engine load before allocating torque to the rear wheels.
With power directed to the rear wheels and independent suspension all around, the LS 430 provides a classic chassis layout for driver control. Anti-lift and anti-squat suspension geometry reduces body pitch when accelerating or braking. Lateral roll, or body lean, is held to a minimum in hard corners. The Ultra Luxury Package includes adaptive suspension damping to further isolate the passenger compartment from uncertain road conditions.
A no-cost optional Euro-style touring suspension brings firmer shock settings for more sporting manners.
Another high-tech option puts a laser to work with the cruise control to maintain a pre-set distance between the Lexus and the 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 maintain a safe distance.
The new Lexus LS 430 flagship sedan dazzles with sophisticated styling and high-tech hardware, but its best attributes may be the quietness and cushy refinement of its luxurious passenger cabin.
LS 430 ($54,405).
Options As Tested
Ultra Luxury Package ($12,485) 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, power moonroof, air suspension; Ecru Nappa leather ($1,460); Tire upgrade ($100) includes 17 x 7.5 in. alloy wheels, 225/55/HR 17 H-rated tires.
LS 430 ($54,405).
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