New style, old top shelf quality

By David Linklater

The Lexus LS sedan has been given a more European look

The LS460 F Sport comes exclusively with V8 power, it's nearly 5.1 metres long, 2.5 tonnes and is equipped with an astonishing array of equipment.
The LS460 F Sport comes exclusively with V8 power, it's nearly 5.1 metres long, 2.5 tonnes and is equipped with an astonishing array of equipment.

One of the problems with Lexus used to be a lack of styling cohesion. While European luxury brands have always seemed to have the knack of creating a family look across multiple models, different Lexus models have often looked like the product of different companies.

No longer. Lexus is now obsessed with establishing a corporate look of its own and here it is: based around the overwhelming but certainly unmistakable "spindle grille" design already seen on the facelifted RX crossover and all-new GS sedan.

Next to get the treatment is the brand's flagship sedan, the LS. But it does pose a question: has the obsession with consistency taken this styling template a bit too far? Unless you're a Lexus-spotter, you might be hard pressed to tell an LS from a GS at a distance. Probably not pleasing for somebody who has paid in excess of $200,000 for the finest four-door Lexus has to offer.

The LS is still top-shelf when you look more closely. The car comes exclusively with V8 power, it's enormous (nearly 5.1 metres long, 2.5 tonnes) and is equipped with an astonishing array of equipment.

All models have air suspension, five-step Drive Mode Select system, 12.3-inch multimedia screen, 19-speaker Mark Levinson audio ... I could go on for a really long time.

It's not completely new, though, this LS. It's a thorough revamp of the old car, with more than 3000 changes. On the outside, only the doors and roof are carried over.

The determination to be more European (funny, I thought its greatest strength was being obviously Japanese) extends to Lexus making its cars more aggressive to look at and to drive, with so-called F Sport packages.

For the LS460, F Sport brings the expected exterior enhancements - spoilers, big wheels and such - but it's not merely show. The package also brings Brembo brakes, sports suspension, paddle shifters (with throttle blipping on downchanges) and a limited-slip differential. Like all LS models, the Drive Mode Select is cleverly configured for quick changes in attitude: in Sport, for example, you get sharper engine and transmission response, but select Sport Plus and the suspension comes on board too.

All promising stuff, but it doesn't turn the LS into a super-sedan. It's very quick (0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds, thanks to 285kW/493Nm) and capable in corners for such a large car, but what's lacking is a little flair. The LS is too slick to be a sporting sedan - the steering is light, the brakes powerful but lacking in progression, the V8 powerplant very quiet until throttle meets floor.

Like the smaller GS F Sport models, the LS460 has a system that generates extra engine noise in the cabin, but it's still pretty low-key by V8 standards.

In fact, the things that make the LS one of the world's finest and most pleasingly aloof luxury cars are the same things that undermine the F Sport's ability to create those big-grin moments. You can't win a 200-metre sprint wearing a tailored suit, even with some flash running shoes on.

If the F-Sport is supposed to be an exciting driver's car, it doesn't go nearly far enough. It feels a bit half-hearted and I can't help but feel the macho bits are a distraction from the superlative quality and refinement the LS offers.

And yes, you can have the LS460 sans the F Sport package. Nice to have the choice, but Lexus still does luxury best.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Even a $209,500 car has its limits: LS460 F Sport still feels like more of a super-luxury car than a sharp sports sedan.

- NZ Herald

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