Lexus: A luxury sedan redux

By David Linklater

The new Lexus GS450h, right, continues the legacy of luxury motoring established by the LS400 in 1989. Photo / David Linklater
The new Lexus GS450h, right, continues the legacy of luxury motoring established by the LS400 in 1989. Photo / David Linklater

New hybrid closest yet to incomparable LS400

You like? I do. The gold car you see here is the first right-hand drive Lexus ever built. It's a 1989 model and was the personal car of former Toyota New Zealand chief executive Bob Field. It was also featured in the closing ceremony of the 1990 Commonwealth Games at Mount Smart, where excited athletes jumped on it. How dare they.

This car is magnificent, from its 15-inch alloys to its Lexus-branded in-car cellphone (on a coiled cord, of course). The phone works, or would, if the 025 network was still operational.

I love this car. The Lexus LS400 was designed to be the world's best luxury sedan: the last word in comfort, refinement, build quality and technology. It was.

If you ask me, Lexus has lost its way a little in the last few years, trying to chase sales volume by chasing its German rivals with more aggressive visual style and sportier handling.

But Lexus does still make models fit to take up the LS400 mantle. The closest, I would argue, is the other car you see here: the new GS450h. The GS-hybrid meets the brief for understated style, eerily quiet running (especially on battery) and high technology, especially with our car's optional Luxury package fitted.

As you'd expect over two decades of model development, the latest LS is a lot bigger than the first one. The GS on the other hand has the same 2850mm wheelbase, although Ye Olde LS is 49mm longer thanks to all that rear overhang.

The LS was dripping with new features in 1989. It was one of the first luxury cars to have an automatic tilt/telescopic steering wheel, with powered everything: memory seats (driver and passenger) and seatbelt adjustment. The instrument panel is electroluminescent with a three-dimensional effect - common on a Camry now, but futuristic in its day.

This particular car, which has been through Toyota's Thames plant for refurbishment, is astonishingly smooth and quiet, even by 2012 standards. The four-speed automatic can be clunky and the car is a bit wobbly in corners, but it's not as young as it used to be. Who cares? You feel no desire to hurry in this car.

The quality of some materials in this old LS even puts the GS to shame. However, the 450h is a world away in terms of technology. It's not just the hybrid powertrain, which offers 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds and Combined economy of 6.3 litres per 100km (LS400 8.5sec/13.8 litres), it's also cabin equipment like a 12.3-inch information screen (the largest ever fitted to a production car), the phenomenal Mark Levinson 17-speaker audio system, a driver drowsiness detection system, and an ion generator for the tri-zone air conditioning, which moisturises your skin as you drive!

I started as a motoring writer in 1994; back then, the LS400 cost $165,000. In 2012, the GS450h is $158,900 - and that's with the optional $24,000 luxury package included.

You're getting a lot for your money with the GS450h - except, perhaps, the immense sense of wellbeing you feel driving a 23-year-old luxury classic.

- NZ Herald

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