2014 Lexus LS 600h Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
All-new, with bold styling, refined ride and interior.
The Lexus LS lineup has been completely redesigned for the 2013 model year. The all-new 2013 Lexus LS uses the same powertrain that it's been using since 2006, a sweet and silky all-aluminum 4.6-liter V8 now making 386 horsepower, mated to the world's first (in 2007) 8-speed automatic transmission. Lexus calls it VVT-iE, for Variable Valve Timing with intelligence and Electronically controlled intake. The LS 460 gets an EPA-estimated 16/24 mpg City/Highway.
Also redesigned is the 2013 Lexus LS 600hL hybrid, a long-wheelbase model that uses a 5.0-liter V8 mated to a pair of electric motors and an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission. We found it incredibly smooth and, with its huge electric torque, it will accelerate nearly as fast as the new 2013 LS 460, even though the hybrid is a lot heavier. The hybrid is considerably more expensive, however, and it gets an EPA-estimated 19 mpg City, so don't buy it for the gas mileage. The hybrid is very clean, though, earning a ULEVII emissions rating from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Lexus claims 15 technology firsts for the 2013 LS, with 50 percent of its parts being totally changed from the previous model. Styling-wise, the new spindle grille is striking, like stacked trapezoids, and with the F Sport model the grille looks hot with black mesh. The hood carries a bold narrow bulge, and the front lights are available with LED bulbs that change the car's character at night. Air intakes in the low front fascia are aggressive on the F Sport.
LS 460 buyers who want a serious luxury car will need to pay extra for the optional air suspension with variable gear ratio steering. The LS 460 didn't feel like a serious luxury car to us without this option.
The LS 460 is 7.2 inches longer than the BMW 640i, on a wheelbase that's 4.5 inches longer, but doesn't look it or feel it; the BMW looks longer because it has a longer hood and sleeker roofline that's about 6 inches lower. The Lexus does have a shapely roofline, sweeping to the rear deck, under which there are twin trapezoidal pipes that suggest power. The trim on all models of the LS 460 is chrome, from rockers to door handles and beyond, and we wish it weren't so, we wish body color trim was available.
The LS 460L is five inches longer than the standard LS 460, although you can scarcely tell, until you look closely at the rear doors. We found the back seat of the LS 460L much roomier than that of the standard model, much more so than the specifications suggest.
The seats are substantially improved over those in the previous version, and the climate control is more sophisticated to a fault. A broad selection of wood interior trim or aluminum trim is available. The steering wheel is nice and thick and the instruments are clean and beautiful. A super-wide display screen is mounted high on the dash near eye level for controlling navigation, audio, phone, entertainment and it's easy to read, even in bright sunlight. The Remote Touch Interface, like a computer mouse, controls things quickly and intuitively. The aluminum knobs are clean, simple, easy to reach and easy to operate. The ambient interior lighting is totally adjustable. There are great soft spots for both elbows for the driver. The knees also contact soft places, by careful design.
The LS460 F Sport model has the best comfort, speed, handling, looks and fun. Besides more seat bolstering and a black spindle grille, it comes with more powerful six-piston Brembo brakes, but engine power is the same.
The LS 460 AWD all-wheel-drive model is slower, being 418 pounds heavier and having 26 less horsepower thanks to a different exhaust system. Its all-season tires don't grip in the summer like the summer tires on the LS 460 or F Sport do.
We found the LS delivered a superb ride and impeccable silence. Advancements in sound isolation minimize wind noise while other innovations reduce road noise.
Five dynamic modes are available to adjust ride and handling and other dynamics. The 8-speed automatic doesn't perform as sharply as the transmission in the German cars do, however.
Dazzling electronic features, some of them optional, include Night Vision that can spot a pedestrian (but not a deer) beyond the range of the headlights, and apply the brakes automatically and stop the car in time if the speed is 25 mph or below.
The 2013 Lexus LS line-up includes seven models: the LS 460 with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the long-wheelbase LS 460L, the sportier LS 460 F Sport, and the LS 600hL hybrid. The non-hybrids all use the 4.6-liter V8 and 8-speed automatic transmission. The V8 makes 386 horsepower with rear-wheel drive, 360 hp with all-wheel drive. The hybrid is a 5.0-liter V8 mated to a pair of electric motors and an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission. Standard equipment is everything you would expect from a Lexus. Pricing was not available when tested.
The LS 460 and LS 460 AWD come standard with a coil spring rear suspension with electric power steering and three driving modes. The F Sport adds the air suspension with variable gear ratio steering, which is available as a package for the standard LS 460, and five modes. The F Sport gets a distinctive grille, bolstered seats, bigger brakes, and sharper shifting.
Even being 6 inches higher than the BMW 640i, the Coefficient of Drag of the LS 460 is an impressive 0.26. The new grille is striking, with a bold shape like a cross between a bowtie and lightning bolt. We wish the chrome enclosing the six-sided grille weren't there; at least the F Sport uses black eggcrate in the grille, as opposed to the horizontal bars on the plain LS 460. The shape of the grille deserves a brushed stainless or aluminum surround, classier than chrome. Or all black on a light colored car, like the White Nova.
There's a bitchin' bulge in the hood, long and narrow and pointed like a vector. The headlamps, sharp and flowing, are the same with either base xenon or LED bulbs inside, but at night the beams change the car's entire image and look.
Directly under the headlights, at the bottom front corners of the car, there are air intakes shaped to balance and contrast the headlights. The thick front bumper passes through the middle of the grille, where it's black and disguised.
The roofline sweeps stylishly over shapely pillars to the rear deck. The downward lines at the rear of the car point outward to make it look wide (secure and balanced with a low center of gravity); on the previous LS 460 they pointed down and in, to make the car look narrow. Changing times. Twin trapezoidal pipes say power.
Looking at a 460 and 460L from the side, you can barely see the five inches of added length, until you look closely at the rear doors. The tip-off is the chrome surrounding the windows. In fact, look around, there's chrome trim everywhere, from rockers to door handles. We think there should be an option to get body-colored and not chrome trim. The Lexus flagship should have at least one clean and classy model.
The new seats in the LS 460 are excellent, in leather that's beautifully perforated; the new camel color is beautiful and makes the beige look boring and plain. Standard driver adjustment is power 16-way with 4-way lumbar. The cushions in the seat and back have been improved to keep the driver from slipping forward and also to maintain correct posture at the pelvis. However with 16 ways to change the seat, no doubt you can over-ride to get your incorrect pelvis posture back where you like it.
The heated/cooled seats heat 50 percent faster than before. They have an automatic setting that links it to the temperature setting in the cabin. Lexus is thinking too much about our butts. Someone forgot to take into consideration that 68 degrees to the air around the body isn't quite the same as 68 degrees pushed through little holes into your back and butt, which if you're like us just feels like weird chilling on your thighs, like maybe you wet yourself. But you don't have to use auto, you can select a spot on the dial that works for you.
The F Sport adds bolstering to the seats, which improves the fit and comfort. In the non-bolstered standard LS 460, the seatback didn't grip enough to stop back-sliding on freeway cloverleaves, not even driving hard. If we had to buy an F Sport to get the good seats, then we would.
Despite the roofline being nearly 6 inches higher than the BMW 640i, there's 4 inches less headroom in front. Go figure. We figure it could only mean a higher seating position in the LS 460, and therefore better visibility of the road, especially since the hood isn't as long as the BMW's.
Overall, the climate control system is so sophisticated that it takes many pages in the manual to describe. The number of hours that Lexus engineers spend trying to pamper buyers must be staggering. Something called Climate Concierge gives you an idea, just with the name. But as often happens, they go too far. They think they're doing you a favor, but when the fan speed is locked by the temperature that's set, you get things you don't want and can't change. We hate it when that happens.
F Sport interior trim is aluminum, including the pretty pedals, with classy suede-like headliner. F Sport is only available with black leather. The steering wheel, thick in diameter, is all leather-wrapped, as opposed to wood.
There are five wood trim packages for the LS 460, including walnut, matte burled ash, bamboo, and the new Shimamoku, which means striped in Japanese. At the press launch, Lexus showed a video of the making of a Shimamoku steering wheel, and it's amazing the amount of work that goes into each wheel, 67 processes in 38 days.
Lexus calls their gauges Optitron meters, so they must be special, although to us they just look like analog gauges. They are clean and beautiful, like the BMW 6 Series, except the Lexus needles are organic white at night, not bright orange. The display screen is mounted high on the dash near eye level, and it's a super-wide 12.3 inches, capable of displaying three functions: controls, navigation, and audio/phone. We found it to be highly useful and not distracting. Putting all three areas of information in one place keeps the eyes in one place. The screen is treated to be visible in the sun, and it was for us, on our bright sunny day driving.
The LS lacks the option of a head-up display. Lexus says they're still working on it. BMW (and Cadillac and Mercedes and Audi) beat them to that one big-time.
The Remote Touch Interface, which Lexus describes as a haptic joystick mechanism, like a computer mouse, controls things well. We watched an engineer work it like a teenager plays a video game, so we know it's do-able.
Much thought has gone into the controls and aluminum knobs, to make them clean, simple, easy to reach and easy to operate. Hoo-bleepin-ray. The interior lighting is totally adjustable, blending by location and function three shades of white: Champagne White (5000k illumination), Warm White (3000k), and White Heat 8800k).
There are great soft spots for both elbows for the driver. Big pad on the center console is relaxing. The knees also contact soft places, by careful design.
At the rear, there are all kinds of upgrades that are available at extra cost, some of them standard on the LS 460L.
The LS 460L is five inches longer than the standard-length versions. Lexus stats give rear legroom at 35.8 inches in the 460 and 36.7 inches in the 460L long-wheelbase that's 4.8 inches longer. We asked Lexus where the 3.9-inch difference went, and they explained with some mumbo-jumbo about the method SAE measures legroom, having to do with the bend of the knee and the length of the femur.
All we know is that, sitting in the rear of the LS 460L, there was a ton of legroom. And, according to the specs, the regular LS 460 has 5 inches more legroom than the BMW 640i, which claims only 30.8 inches.
Available is Ultra-Luxury seating, with four-zone climate control with air filter, air purifier, and smog sensor. On the day of our test there was a gigantic oil refinery fire across the bay, spewing tons of noxious chemicals into a gigantic black cloud in the sky. We might have sent our speeding Lexus LS into the toxic black cloud to see if we would come out alive, but we didn't. But it was comforting to know we had an air purifier for these times.
Then there's available Executive Class seating with just two seats in the rear, with a console having 25 dials each controlling something, from a multifunction massager to Blu-ray movies on a 9-inch screen, not to mention the blackjack table.
If you want your LS to feel like a Lexus luxury car, you need the optional package including the air suspension, variable gear ratio power steering, and five dynamic modes, from Eco to Sport Plus. We drove an LS with coil-spring shock absorbers, simple electric power steering, and three modes, and we discovered the bumpier ride and heavier steering were not Lexus-like.
We also drove an all-wheel-drive model, which gains 418 pounds and loses 26 horsepower to a different exhaust system, and it's way slower. Its all-season tires don't grip like the summer tires on the rear-wheel-drive. The gas pedal felt like it had a long throw, because not much happened when you pressed it. If you must have traction for snow, then get all-wheel drive; but the loss in acceleration is not worth any gain in all-wheel-drive balance during hard cornering on dry pavement.
The rear-wheel-drive F Sport has the most comfort, speed, handling and fun. It's got the air suspension package, six-piston Brembo brakes, more bolstering in the seats, and a black mesh spindle grille. But no more power, using the same 4.6-liter V8 making 386 horsepower, sweet and silky for years.
With five dynamic modes to play with (or to adjust, it depends on how you look at it), there are many cars to describe here. Or maybe just one, the Lexus that worked in every suspension situation it faced that day, although it wasn't challenged with hard cornering or bumpy roads, no opportunity. But it's a great ride for how the car is going to be driven 90 percent of the time, in summer weather. Riding shotgun with us for a day in the hills south of San Francisco, delightfully, was Nobuo Murata, top engineer for ride and handling, describing his team's efforts to get the ride right, especially with the air suspension, which lowers the car. We also drove together in the coil-spring car, and you could tell Murata-san was less excited.
Superb ride and impeccable silence. Now that's Lexus-like. And there are advancements in sound isolation on the all-new LS. To reduce wind noise and improve aero stability, there are small wings on the A pillar, barely noticeable. The mirrors block the slipstream, and that creates an air pocket around a car at speed, allowing it to feel like it's blowing around on the highway.
The Lexus definitely lacks wind noise. If it's this easy to silence wind noise and improve stability on the freeway in the wind and around big rigs, especially given multi-million-dollar wind tunnels, we wonder why no one thought of these little aero wings before. We asked Murata-san, but the conceptual nature of the question was a bit beyond his English.
It also lacks wheel noise, with the second innovation, the optional hollow-core wheels. Further contributing to a quiet cabin, there's yet another innovation, small saw-toothed fins inside the grille that somehow silence the air.
The five dynamic driving modes share programming in the areas of powertrain, suspension and steering. They're not all changed with each mode.
Normal is default. Eco backs off the throttle (and dials back the AC), without changing anything else. Comfort softens the suspension. Sport S adds a sharpened throttle and transmission, and Sport S+ stiffens the suspension and quickens the steering.
We played with the modes a lot. Comfort is the mode for driving aroundy patchy city streets; it soaks up the bumps, and it's not too soft in other places. Since the Sport S mode doesn't stiffen the suspension beyond Normal, it's a good one to stay in, the ride is way comfortable. Sport S just sharpens the throttle and transmission, both of which are good things any time, we think, not just for sport driving.
Even Sport S+ is not uncomfortably firm, and quicker steering is always good, too. Despite the name, Sport S+ is not radical, not a mode to be saved for the track, it's quite functional in daily driving.
At its sharpest, under full throttle at redline and shifted with the paddles, the 8-speed is not a quick-shifter like the German cars. The Lexus is an automatic, not a twin-clutch, and it shifts in .3 seconds. There is blipping downshift control, which takes .2 seconds.
If you don't get the package with the air suspension and five modes, the shift lever is in the console, not paddles. We liked its console location, and enjoyed manually shifting there, driving that LS 460 with coil springs. The paddles are okay too, but you have to grip the steering wheel with your hands at the wide spokes at 9 and 3 o'clock, to reach the paddles. Right paddle is upshift, left is downshift, as it should be.
We didn't get a chance to test the 6-piston Brembo brakes in the F Sport, but really, they need to be tested? If you think your driving demands big beefed-up brakes, go for it. With the 19-inch BBS alloy wheels on the F Sport, you can see the whole calipers between the thick spokes.
As for the hybrid, the LS 600h L is so smooth it's almost surreal. Its 389-horsepower engine, matched with the enormous torque of the electric motor, propels this 5360-pound car from 0-60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. It's EPA-rated at 19 miles per gallon City. According to Lexus, the 600h L produces exhaust emissions nearly 70 percent cleaner than its cleanest competitors.
The hybrid drive system uses two powerful electric motors and a battery system consisting of a 288-volt DC Nickel Metal Hydride pack located behind the rear seat. In the trunk is a 12-volt auxiliary battery to power the audio system, navigation and lighting. The LS 600h can operate in EV Mode, in which the vehicle will stay in electric-only mode at speeds below 25 mph for about a half mile.
The Lexus LS line-up is all-new for 2013. If we're talking the rear-wheel-drive F Sport model, it's a contender for best luxury sedan. Extreme quiet, impeccable ride, great cornering, silky V8 with 8-speed automatic. However, the standard Lexus LS 460 needs the package with air suspension and easier power steering at slow speeds, to feel truly Lexus-like, while the all-wheel-drive models are somewhat slower. The 600h L hybrid is a car and maybe a class of its own.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the new LS models in the Pacific Northwest.
Lexus LS 460, LS 460 AWD, LS 460 L, LS 460 L AWD, LS 460 F Sport, LS 460 F Sport AWD, LS 600hL.
Options As Tested
Lexus LS 460 F Sport.
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