“Now it is time to build a car better than the best in the world.” When Toyota’s US chief Yukiyasu Togo got this note from Eiji Toyoda himself in August 1983, he knew the chairman meant business. And he did mean business. By October 1984, a core team of designers and engineers was in place, and by 1985, the team was put up in a huge beachfront mansion in Laguna Beach and were given leased BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class limos to let them live the luxury lifestyle their target customers were used to.
Six years, more than 1,400 designers, 3,500 engineers, 950 engine prototypes and 450 test models later, the first LS 400 rolled out to general consensus that the new brand had achieved what Toyoda had set out to do. Lighter, quieter, more fuel efficient and a lot cheaper than the BMW 735i, the LS was good enough to give the Germans a run for their money. From then on, Lexus’s flagship saloon had been setting new standards in a market that had until then been dominated by the Teutons.
However, these standards were mostly for its exemplary build quality, lavish appointments, and eerily silent cabins than great looks or sportiness. In fact, while competition went ahead with constant updates to their designs and performance, Lexus religiously stuck to its conservative designs and muted driving dynamics. Until now. With the 2013 model, Lexus has sought to change this, giving the LS a restyle both inside and out. Although the carmaker insists it’s an all-new model, it’s rather more of an extensive redesign.
The most notable change is the adoption of the spindle grille that’s already found its way to the GS, ES, RX and LX models in the line-up. Together with the redesigned projector headlights framed by L-shaped, seamless light tube daytime running lights and thin vertical foglights, it gives the LS a positively more aggressive stance than before. The bonnet, which was just a plain sheet of flat metal before, now gets a rib down its centre that breaks up the monotony.
There’s still plenty of the old LS in the silhouette, but a crisp line starting from the D Pillar and flowing into the bootlid lid before kinking down towards the rear bumper, and a new set of taillamps with L-shaped LED optics give a fresh look to the reworked rear end. As lavishly appointed as it was, the previous LS’s cabin was probably the blandest in the segment. Although not as striking as the exterior revisions, the cabin too gets some refurbishments that should help Lexus stretch the ageing platform for a few more years before an actual all-new model appears.
Taking centre stage on the new GS-style dashboard is a wide 12.3in LCD screen, below which there’s a classy-looking analog clock that replaces the previous digital unit. While the screen displays everything from sat-nav data to fuel-economy stats, all this info is accessed via the controversial mouse control placed beside the gear shifter on the centre console. I hated it in the CT 200h, and I find it equally annoying in the LS.
The fanatical attention to fit and finish that Lexus engineers are known for comes through clearly in the LS’s interior, which abounds with the highest quality materials brought together by the most flawless craftsmanship. Space is plentiful, front and rear, especially in the long wheelbase version tested here. The new Shimamoku interior finish, which involves a month-long process of layering dark and light veneers, is just an example of the obsessive level of attention given to the interior.
Apart from the cosmetic changes and the added technology, the 2013 LS remains virtually identical to the outgoing model, mechanically. The LS 460 continues to be powered by a 4.6-litre V8, albeit with a minor bump in power. The V8 motor cranks out 382bhp at 6,400 revs — that’s seven horses more than before — while torque remains unchanged at 493Nm, and is still mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Acceleration is brisk, and gearshifts seamless, but the engine’s performance dulls in comparison with the powerhouses offered by German and British competition. But then, these weren’t the Lexus’s strongpoint anyway. And when it comes to luxury and comfort, the 2013 LS takes it up a notch. The cabin is unnervingly silent, so much so that those with even a mild case of isolophobia are sure to have a panic attack. It cruises sublimely and is splendidly comfortable, irrespective of the surface you drive it over.
It soaks up bumps as magnificently as a Rolls-Royce Ghost would, or dare I say, even better. The front seats have to be the most comfortable in the class with excellent support, and are power adjustable in endless ways, while the massaging ottoman-style rear seats cocoon you in ultimate luxury. In addition to these, Lexus engineers have increased body rigidity, thanks to laser screw welding and adhesive body bonding techniques, while new frequency adapting dampers help control pitch and bounce better. The car also offers driver-adjustable suspension modes ranging from Eco and Comfort to Sport and Sport+.
The revised steering feels more responsive and accurate, so does the new set of brakes, which offer more pedal feel. Predictably, the 2013 LS model comes packed with loads of advanced features, including blind-spot monitoring, dynamic cruise control, a collision-avoidance system that will bring the car to a complete halt if it detects an imminent impact, driver-attention monitoring, a rear cooler box, a 19-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, and even a quad-zone climate system that detects the temperature of the car’s occupants and individually adjusts the air conditioning accordingly.
Right from the first model in 1989, Lexus has had a captive customer base that wouldn’t care about sporty performance or flamboyant design, but were content with subtle packaging of quality and the unimpeachable ride quality the brand offered them. With its latest version of the LS, Lexus is sure to have kept this core group happy while probably managing to get the attention of a new set of buyers who liked Lexus cars but wished they looked a bit more muscular and aggressive.
It’s still no match for a Jaguar XJ, an Audi A8 or a BMW 7 Series when it comes to brawny good looks, but bring the brand’s unmatched resale value and dependability record into the equation, and the 2013 LS 460, with prices starting at Dh325,000, offers great value. And it’s one that will absolutely do the venerable Eiji Toyoda proud.