New models - Lexus - LS
Lexus LS430 facelift full of features
Lexus LS430 aims to improve its standing against luxury heavyweights
25 Sep 2003
By TERRY MARTIN
UNABLE to make inroads into the lucrative German-dominated limousine market, Lexus Australia has added a multitude of features and held pricing firm with its upgraded LS430 launched this week.
In the first facelift since the third generation LS sedan was released in November, 2000, Toyota’s premium brand has sought to improve its standing against formidable rivals such as the BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-class, Jaguar XJ and Audi A8 with a more neo-conservative appearance, a six-speed automatic transmission and chassis alterations made to enliven the driving experience.
Starting from $175,900 ($274 below the outgoing model) and on sale from mid-October, the reworked LS430 maintains its $30,000-plus advantage over BMW’s 745i and Benz’s S430.
It also adds some attention-seeking features including driver and passenger knee airbags, adaptive cornering headlights, reverse-parking wide-angle camera and voice-activated controls compatible with the so-called Bluetooth mobile phones.
Further extending its value status, to the tune of $10,000, are once-optional items like an 11-speaker Mark Levinson audio unit, water-repellent side windows, electric sunshades and programmable rear seats that vibrate upon request.
"This Lexus comes without an option," said Lexus Australia senior executive vice-president, John Conomos.
"It is the most completely specified Lexus ever built and it is arguably the best specified of any of its market segment competitors." With spec often less a concern to consumers at this level than the badge involved and the corporate kudos that goes with it, the Japanese marque has also improved the LS430’s driving characteristics with a retune of the double wishbone suspension, substantial steering revisions and inclusion of 18-inch wheels (up from 17s).
Redesigned undercarriage aerodynamics are also claimed to have improved stability and refinement.
The 207kW/417Nm 4.3-litre quad cam V8 is virtually unchanged, however the new adaptive-shift six-speed auto with pseudo-manual mode is the prime factor behind the car now being claimed to reach 100km/h in 6.3 seconds, 0.4 seconds earlier than its predecessor.
Notable exterior changes include a lower front-end, a more pronounced bonnet profile and twin exhaust outlets.
On the inside, the backlit instruments are more elaborate, satellite navigation is upgraded, rear floor lighting is improved and the air-conditioning unit is claimed to be cleaner. Active cruise control and a tyre pressure monitor are also introduced.
The third generation LS was expected to create a surge in customer demand and annual allocation was set at 300 units at its launch – a figure Lexus Australia has not come close to achieving.
According to VFACTS statistics, it sold 210 in 2001, slumped to 140 in 2002 and to August, 2003, was falling further with 81 cars delivered.
The aim now is to improve on accounting for three per cent of all Lexus sales to five per cent.
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:SEQUENTIAL shifting, suspension and steering tweaks, bigger wheels, reworking the design – changes such as these brought with the LS430 have more to do with catching up to its competitors than surpassing them. Not like the LS400.
On paper and in the real world, the 4.3-litre V8 is some distance behind BMW’s 4.4, however the Lexus engine continues to impress with its quietness at idle, wonderful smoothness, strong acceleration and great responsiveness throughout the rev range.
Fuel consumption remains in the high-teens for urban and adrenaline-rush conditions, at least four litres per 100km higher than the official 12.2L/100km (combined) figure suggests.
The new six-speed transmission is a welcome inclusion, not so much for its pseudo-manual mode or additional gear – sequential shifting is more a marketing tool than a must-have and the sixth ratio becomes a second overdrive gear – but the tighter-spaced low and intermediate gearing which works better in demanding situations. While the old five-speed auto was no clunker, downshifts on large throttle openings also tend to come a little smoother and earlier.
When put to the task, the sequential manual is simple to engage and use, and refuses to shift in either direction until man, rather than machine, makes the call.
The suspension alterations are welcome, with the handling properties now going up a small notch without compromising the plush, absorbent ride. Despite a small weight increase, the big 1900kg sedan remains well planted to the road and exhibits good balance and reasonable control.
The 245/45 18-inch Bridgestone Turanza tyres provide excellent traction, although for all the claimed steering improvements (remounted rack, revised bushes, new pump etc) the steering still feels a little light and numb. It also allows far too much shiver and shake through the tiller whenever the car encounters some rough portions of road.
As ever, the brakes are excellent for feel and stopping power.
Like all the technological treats in the LS430, the reverse-parking camera and active cruise control are simple to master and effective, too, when operational. For all its cleverness, the cruise control does not work in rain, direct sunlight and some other conditions and cannot pull the car up if the traffic ahead has slowed to a crawl – a panic-stricken buzzer comes on to encourage the driver to slam on the brakes.
Inside, trainspotters will notice Toyota switchgear in the spacious and opulent cavern but on the whole the LS430 is remarkable for its incredible comfort, wonderful ergonomics, first-rate refinement, great attention to detail and impeccable fit and finish.
Features such as improved stereo sound and seat vibrators do not go unnoticed in the rear compartment, although DVD monitors are an obvious omission. A long-wheelbase version, not due until the next generation, is also needed to pander to the chauffeured buyer.
The boot is huge and holds a full-size alloy spare wheel, but a drinks cooler blocks access to the back seat – not that a big lump of timber would be carried all that often in such a vehicle.
Some shortfalls remain in the driving department. There are still no real technological marvels over and above competitive cars and the exterior continues as a would-be Mercedes S-class.
Once the public at large – and Toyota Motor Corporation itself – gets over the fact that this is not a European brand but a bona fide rival all the same, the LS430’s standing in the market is bound to improve.
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