2005 Lexus LS 430
    MSRP
    $56,225
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    2005 Lexus LS 430 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    A benchmark for smoothness.

    Introduction

    Drivers who want a smooth, carefree luxury car should look no further than the Lexus LS 430. It whisks occupants along in supreme comfort, allowing the driver to concentrate on other, more pressing matters than the automobile. Its ride is silky smooth yet it handles quite well, with smooth, effortless steering and good grip. It's also powerful, with a strong V8 and a smooth six-speed automatic. And it features the latest in active safety technology. 

    Inside is a beautiful interior with rich wood accents and buttery soft leather trim, seats so comfortable that you never think about them, and controls that are a paragon of ergonomic excellence. Every convenience feature imaginable is provided. 

    Quality, durability and reliability are Lexus hallmarks. For the 10th consecutive year, Lexus was the highest-ranking brand in a J.D. Power and Associates dependability study; based on surveys of owners, the study named LS 430 the most problem-free car in its class after three years of ownership. The LS 430 is also a perennial quality leader, as cited in J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study, which surveys owners after 90 days of ownership. 

    Toyota launched its luxury channel with the 1990 LS 400, an event that changed the rules for luxury car ownership. The third-generation LS appeared as a 2001 model. Model year 2004 brought major changes to the LS 430: revised styling, suspension refinements, safety improvements, and mind-boggling technology. A new six-speed automatic replaced the previous five-speed for improved acceleration performance without sacrificing fuel economy. There are more airbags than ever before (eight) and seat belts with pretensioners. There's a tire-pressure monitor, an optional backup camera, headlights that swivel for seeing around corners, and optional Dynamic Laser Cruise Control that maintains a set following distance to the car ahead. With the options Bluetooth and SmartAccess, you can unlock the doors, start the car, drive off, and make hands-free phone calls without even pulling your key or your cell phone out of your pocket or purse. 

    Lineup

    The 2005 Lexus LS 430 is powered by a 290-horsepower 4.3-liter aluminum V8 and comes standard with the six-speed automatic transmission. The LS 430 ($55,675) comes as one model, loaded with every feature expected of a flagship luxury sedan and more. Standard features include a power moonroof with auto open/close, a power rear sunshade, and lighted rear-seat vanity mirrors. 

    Leather trimmed upholstery comes standard, but upgraded leather trim is optional in Black Semi-Aniline ($2,100), Saddle Comfort Nappa ($2,100), and Ecru ($1,460). A Premium Package ($1,390) adds front climate-controlled (heating/cooling) seats, heated rear seats, and sonar-based Intuitive Parking Assist. 

    Optional 18-inch wheels with all-season tires ($220) are among the options to replace the standard 17-inch wheels. An optional Euro-tuned Sport Suspension ($220) sharpens handling and includes the 18-inch wheels and 245/45R18 tires. 

    A Custom Luxury Package ($5,935) is available that includes a Mark Levinson audio system, navigation with rear back-up camera, Bluetooth, dynamic cruise control (Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Pre-Collision Systems or Dynamic Laser Cruise Control without Pre-Collision), Intuitive Parking Assist, climate-controlled front seats with fans that circulate heated or chilled air, rear seat heaters, headlamp washers, and power door closers. The aptly named Ultra Luxury Package ($11,320) features all that plus the Adaptive Variable Air Suspension, SmartAccess keyless entry and ignition, and a number of rear-seat features: sunshades for the rear passenger doors, a rear seat adjuster with memory, rear climate-controlled seats with a massage feature, and a rear air conditioner with optical deodorizer. 

    Walkaround

    The Lexus LS 430 is an attractive luxury car that makes a substantial, upscale statement. It isn't a head turner, though, and tends to blend in, particularly in areas frequented by luxury cars. 

    Subtle but substantial styling revisions instituted for model year 2004 distinguish it from previous models: The front fenders, hood, headlamps, fog lamps, grille, front and rear bumpers, trunk lid, and front and rear combination lamps were redesigned. Dual tailpipes protruding from the lower edge of the bumper project a look of power and performance. LED brake lights are brighter, light up quicker, last longer, and draw less current than traditional brake lights, plus they look neat. 

    The LS 430 looks long and low, sleek and shapely. It cuts an understated profile that's attractive. Its large passenger cabin with a generous greenhouse is sandwiched between the long hood and short rear deck. Its canted windshield and elegant A-pillars are set off by the slant of the backlight (rear windscreen) and thick, curvaceous C-pillars that blend seamlessly into the rear flanks. The bold, trapezoidal grille thrusts it forward, while the hood bulges with power. The grille is rimmed in bright trim. The short, horizontal deck leads to a vertical back panel with oversized lamps at the corners, camouflaging the mass of the trunk. 

    One of the most aerodynamic cars on the road, the LS 430 is streamlined that it earns a 0.26 coefficient of drag, 0.25 with the optional air suspension. That contributes to exceptionally low wind noise and improved fuel economy. 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 10 times more precise than on the previous-generation (pre-2001) models. 

    Interior

    The interior of the Lexus LS 430 is quiet, comfortable and luxurious. It isn't a showy interior, but the workmanship and attention to detail are first class. 

    Majesty leather trimmed upholstery is standard and comes in a choice of Saddle, Ash, Cashmere, Ecru, and Black (Saddle and Ecru are only available with the Custom/Ultra Luxury packages). We found the light colors beautiful. The black is nice, but no one does black as well as BMW and Mercedes. Perforated semi-aniline or Comfort Nappa leather trim are optional and further enhance the luxurious ambiance. Rich wood trim in Golden Bird's-Eye Maple or Walnut warms the LS 430 interior beautifully and there's an optional Antique Walnut with fired edges that's quite interesting. 

    The seats are roomy and can be quickly adjusted to a comfortable driving position. The driver faces an adjustable steering wheel trimmed in wood and leather with easy-to-use controls for the audio system. Vivid electroluminescent gauges with white needles rank among the best available. Window switches are illuminated, making them easy to find at night. 

    The cabin of the LS 430 is loaded with technology designed to make driving safe and pleasant and, for the most part, does just that. The available SmartAccess system eliminates the need to use the keyless remote to open doors and eliminates the need to insert a key into the ignition. Just leave the fob in your pocket or purse and you can open locked doors or start the car by pressing a button. This works well for the most part, but we sometimes found ourselves fighting locks. The system on our car was set up so it only unlocked the drivers door, leaving the passenger doors and the trunk locked. 

    A seven-inch touch screen at the top of the center stack controls climate and audio and the optional navigation system. A set of hard buttons integrated along the driver's side of the touch screen is provided for the primary climate controls (Temperature, Fan, Auto, Recirculate, Defrost). It's easy to operate. Your passenger should have no trouble finding and adjusting the temperature for her or his side of the cabin. And it's quite sophisticated. Temperature sensors around the cabin detect any hot spots where the sun is baring down and direct cool air specifically to them. The system also takes voice commands. Say, '68 degrees,' and it'll adjust the climate control accordingly. 

    A similar set of buttons to the right allows quick access to key navigation and audio functions. This combination of hard buttons and touch-screen buttons works well, though we struggled at times with the navigation system. At one point, I could not figure out how to get the system to end one destination and take a new one. However, navigation systems are getting better every year, and the Lexus system is sophisticated, with some 5.6 million data points. It even displays building footprints in Manhattan and Chicago. 

    A backup camera packaged with the system can help the driver spot objects (and children) behind the car. Whenever Reverse is selected, the system automatically projects a color image onto the navigation screen of whatever the camera lens can detect behind the car. Looking at this screen can help the driver spot objects that might be difficult to see in the mirrors or over the shoulder. 

    Bluetooth capability is part of the optional navigation system as well. When combined with a Bluetooth-equipped phone, this wireless technology lets you transfer personal phone books to the system and make hands-free phone calls using the car's touch-screen display. You can place a hands-free call in different ways depending on your preference, but to reduce driver distraction the one-touch dial feature is the only dialing function that's accessible while underway. The system can store up to 18 one-touch dial numbers, and you can use steering wheel controls to answer and end calls as well as adjust call volume. This greatly extends the util. 

    Driving Impression

    The Lexus LS 430 sets the benchmark for smooth ride quality. This is one smooth, quiet car, and riding in it is very pleasant. The engine is barely audible. Mechanical and road vibration is damped out. No other automaker does a better job than Lexus in creating a zone of serenity for driver and passengers. 

    Its soft suspension and slow steering lead some to believe that the LS 430 doesn't handle well when compared with such European benchmarks as the BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but we haven't found that to be the case. The LS 430 can, in fact, be driven hard, whereupon it reveals lots of grip and very good handling. It responds predictably when driven to the limit of the tires in corners, though it doesn't encourage you to do so the way a BMW does. The softness of the suspension results in squirmy transient response when compared with the BMW 745i. But the LS 430 does generate lots of grip and offers the responsiveness afforded by rear-wheel drive and double-wishbone suspension front and rear. Its monotube shock absorbers are larger and more technologically advanced than those on pre-2004 models, resulting in flatter cornering response and a smoother ride. The steering system was also improved, providing more road feel, more feedback, more precision. 

    For those who want more, two suspension options are available, a sport suspension and an air suspension. The Sport Package features a sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch wheels and tires. This improves handling feel while maintaining a smooth, comfortable ride, and we highly recommend it. While Mercedes and other manufacturers offer sport suspension packages that result in a harsh, choppy ride, this isn't one of them; even with the sport suspension, the LS 430 rides smoothly and softly. The optional air suspension allows the driver to switch between two shock-damping modes (and to raise the ride height for driving in deep snow). However, the car floats a little more on the air suspension, even in the Sport mode, making it feel bigger, more boatlike. We prefer the sport suspension. 

    To say the Lexus V8 is smooth and quiet is an understatement, and the new six-speed automatic shifts so smoothly it's almost seamless. The 4.3-liter V8 generates 290 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque, the latter figure contributing to the LS 430's impressive acceleration performance. Lexus says the LS 430 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, a significant improvement over pre-2004 models. The performance improvement is almost entirely a result of the six-speed automatic. First gear is lower, and second, third, and fourth gears are closer together, all of which makes for a quicker launch and quicker acceleration. Yet the LS 430 still earns an EPA-estimated 18/25 mpg City/Highway, a benefit of the transmission's long-legged fifth and sixth gears. The driver can manually control shifting, though we found it usually best to put it in Drive and let it does its job. Engine and transmission are designed to favor smoothness over performance, however, so they do not offer the crispness of a BMW powertrain, the other end of the spectrum. The engine's electronic throttle control (drive-by-wire) system helps smooth acceleration from a standing start by very slightly delaying throttle opening when the driver steps on the accelerator pedal, and the transmission favors smoothness over shifting speed. The Lexus V8 and six-speed automatic are a powerful team, delivering strong acceleration performance for quick passing and freeway merging. 

    The brakes are responsive and easy to modulate for smooth stopping power. Four-channel, four-sensor ABS helps the driver maintain steering control during panic stops. Brake Assist is designed to determine if the driver is attempting emergency braking and, if the driver has not stepped hard enough on the brake pedal to activate the anti-lock brake system, it applies maximum braking pressure until pedal pressure is rel. 

    Summary

    The Lexus LS 430 excels as a luxury sedan with a cabin that's quiet, comfortable, and luxurious. It is a meticulously crafted car that offers every luxury amenity imaginable, plus a few we would not have imagined. Its construction quality is the best in the industry. Everything about its operation is smooth. Its powerful V8 and six-speed automatic are a smooth, silent team. Its ride is silky, its steering is smooth and precise, its brakes allow easy modulation for smooth stops. If you want a premium luxury sedan that delivers no-hassle smooth, luxurious sailing, the Lexus LS 430 should be at the top of the list. 

    Reporting from Newport Beach, California, was New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough. 

    Model Lineup

    Lexus LS 430 ($55,675). 

    Assembled In

    Tahara, Japan. 

    Options As Tested

    Euro-tuned Sport Suspension with 18-inch wheels ($220) includes 245/45R18 summer tires; Modern Luxury Package ($4,980) includes Mark Levinson Audio, Lexus Navigation system with rear back-up camera and Bluetooth‚ front climate control seats, rear seat heaters, Intuitive Parking Assist. 

    Model Tested

    Lexus LS 430 ($55,675). 

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