Can it really be 20 years since the first LS was introduced? There are many readers of RideLust that were not even around when Lexus was first launched, but some of us remember when it was almost a laughable concept to think that a Japanese automaker would try to match up against the world’s greatest luxury brands. Two decades later and Lexus offers a full range of cars and SUVs with varying degrees of performance. But so does parent company Toyota. The most important “mission” for Lexus is luxury. And just like in 1989, no Lexus car has more of it than the 2009 LS 460.
The LS comes in four varieties, (a hybrid “600h” is a whole ‘NOTHER price point above these); the LS 460 in either rear or AWD, and the LS 460L, again configured in either rear or AWD. The difference between “L” and “non-L” versions is around an extra 5 inches added to the wheelbase, and the option of rear-reclining seats.
There aren’t many complaints about the LS, but the one knock is its preference for a smooth, comfortable ride that eliminates the element of performance that is inherently a part of other luxury sedans. This, however, can not be attributed to the engine options which provide plentiful amounts of power. All-wheel drive models come with a 357 horsepower, 4.6 liter V8, while rear-wheel drive versions get an even 380 horses capable of rocketing the sedan to 60 mph in a lithe 5.4 seconds.
The all-wheel-drive system features a Torsen limited-slip center differential to distribute torque between the front and rear tires. Normally, the front-to-rear torque split is set at 40:60, but it can vary between 30:70 and 50:50 depending on driving conditions. In either model the LS adopts the world’s first computer-controlled eight-speed automatic transmission that renders shifting virtually undetectable. In terms of road trip competence, the LS is arguably the best vehicle in the world with this endless expanse of power and an available advanced “adaptive variable suspension” that easily eliminates typical road imperfections.
Brakes for the LS have been improved for 2009, and now are fully electronically controlled to determine how much brake force to put at each individual wheel in all weather and driving conditions. A vehicle “Dynamics Integrated Management system” is also integrated to control body roll under winding road conditions. With all of the options checked, the LS offers 11 airbags and a pre-collision system that uses radar to detect an impending impact and activates Brake Assist, which moves seats to a neutral position, closes the windows and sunroof and tightens the seat belts. Additionally, the headlights are automatic-leveling and also aim themselves to the left or right to better illuminate around corners, while tail lamps are LED units which deliver enhanced visibility to other drivers.
Despite its size and powerful powerplant, the 2009 Lexus LS 460 does not disappoint when it comes to fuel efficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates fuel economy at 16 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.
The exterior of the LS is unremarkable in comparison to other luxury brands. If you were to ask someone what single stylistic feature comes to mind with BMW, Cadillac, or Audi they would give you concise description of the brands most prominent aesthetics. But the LS, like most Toyota products, is fairly featureless, which is not to say that it is ugly. Perhaps being featureless is a style in and of itself. After all, the original LS was that way as well. At best, the ’09 has a clean, conservative and slightly muscular character that carries a BMW-esque shaped tail with twin exahaust pipes forward unincumbered to slightly angled headlight units and an aerodynamically-inclined front hood and grille. What is unmistakable about this car, is the attention to fit-and-finish, both in and outside.
Where the 2009 Lexus LS seals the deal is in the interior, which is on par with anything in the world. Purportedly, Lexus designers took their inspiration from the first-class cabin in an airplane, and if that is true, it shows.
In standard form, occupants are treated to surroundings that are both high-tech and well-appointed by any standard, including cars that cost double the Lexus’ price tag. However, those looking for an ultra-exclusive experience, one where your seat is in the back and not behind the wheel, will be drawn to the “L” long wheelbase version which, among other things, has an infrared camera to measure backseat passengers’ body temperature tied into climate-controlled reclining rear seats complete with a foldout ottoman and shiatsu massage function, a rear-seat refrigerator, and a 9-inch ceiling-mounted video monitor. Materials are predictably comprised of fine leathers and wood and and a full range of upscale electronics including an optional Mark Levinson audio system, that many contend is the best stereo offered in a luxury car, ever.
The ’09 LS comes with a new four-spoke tilt-and-telescope leather-and-wood steering wheels (heated on the up-level versions) that feature redundant controls for audio, information, cruise control, radar cruise control option, telephone, and a new brake-hold feature. To use the brake-hold feature, just come to a stop, push down the brake pedal, touch the button on the steering wheel, and the brakes stay on regardless of vehicle attitude until you touch the gas pedal. All models come with perforated leather seats, with the option of semi-aniline leather with the Luxury Package option. Like the ESwhich we previously reviewed, the LS lacks an iDrive-like driver interface device, that in most reviewers estimations, that actually works in Lexus’ favor. The LS also comes with “Advanced Parking Guidance System” as an option that assists the driver with parallel parking or backing into a parking spot.
Both trim levels of the 2009 Lexus LS and LS L offer 18 cubic feet of trunk space. However, options can decrease the trunk’s size significantly. The optional rear seat climate control system and reclining rear seats both steal space from the trunk, with the result that a well-optioned LS has one of the smallest trunks available in the super-luxury class.
The rundown of the manufacturer’s suggested retail prices does not uncover many surprises: LS 460 ($63,825); LS 460 AWD ($67,350); LS 460 L ($73,735); LS 460 L AWD ($77,260); LS 600h L ($106,035). Though seemingly steep to us normal folks, the LS is comparable, if not cheaper, than its competition. None of which deliver the bells and whistles available in this car.
There is a reason that the flagship sedan of Lexus is perennially ranked as the top luxury vehicle. It may be a more cerebral ride than those from BMW or Audi, but if you are resting your body in the automotive equivalent of heaven, who would care?