Today's cars are already so technologically advanced, the only thing left is to build one that drives for you. The all-new 2007 Lexus LS 460 comes awfully close to crossing that line.
Although this replacement for the LS 430 doesn't actually drive itself, it is the first luxury sedan that will take the reins from the driver's hands and park itself. That's right, park itself. The LS 460 can be parallel-parked or reversed into a conventional space without so much as a manicured little pinkie touching the wheel.
This innovative system is in addition to a more powerful, more fuel-efficient V8 engine, the world's first eight-speed transmission, standard and long-wheelbase body styles, and the usual top-notch Lexus quality. These upgrades elevate the Lexus LS 460 to rival the recently redesigned Mercedes-Benz S550.
Your chauffeur's next car
The Lexus LS 460 L is the company's first long-wheelbase model, and while it hopes the expanded offering will attract new buyers, the targeted audience is a relatively small group of high earners. Lexus expects to sell approximately 30,000 LS sedans in the U.S. in 2007, with the long-wheelbase version comprising less than 30 percent of that volume.
Measuring nearly 203 inches in overall length, the LS L is 4.7 inches longer than the standard LS, and rides on a 4.7-inch-longer wheelbase. The 116.9-inch wheelbase of the standard length LS 460 is 1.8 inches longer than the wheelbase of the outgoing LS 430.
Weight is also up. The LS 460 weighs 4365 pounds and the LS 460 L gains an additional 100 pounds. But even with its expanded feature content, the LS 460 weighs just 375 pounds more than the 2006 Lexus LS 430.
No matter which LS wheelbase you choose, the car comes standard with an all-new 4.6-liter V8 with intelligent dual variable valve timing. This is the world's first electrically controlled valve timing system, replacing hydraulic control valves to improve cold-start performance and increase power output as well as fuel economy.
Despite its small displacement, the engine makes almost as much power as the 5.5-liter V8 in the Mercedes-Benz S550. Officially rated at 380 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 367 pound-feet at 4100 rpm, this ultrasmooth V8 puts out 102 hp and 55 lb-ft more than the LS 430's old V8. The Benz peaks at 382 hp at a lower 6000 rpm and 391 lb-ft of torque at a much lower 2800 rpm.
The Benz also packs a seven-speed automatic, which is so last year. Lexus has mated its powerful new V8 to an eight-speed automatic which has fewer parts and is 10 percent lighter than the previous six-speed unit, yet is similar in size. Lexus also says that 1st and 2nd gears are low to improve launch performance, and gears three through eight have closer ratios for better fuel economy. The sedan's estimated EPA ratings of 19 city/27 highway are way up from the previous 18/25 rating.
Next spring expect to see the LS's EPA numbers climb even higher when Lexus adds the LS 600h L, the world's first vehicle with a full hybrid V8 powertrain, to the model lineup.
New suspension improves ride and handling
A new lightweight multilink upper and lower double-joint front suspension with hollow stabilizer bar provides straight-line stability and further quiets the LS's already tomblike ride. This setup also shortens the LS's turning radius, now best-in-class at 17.7 feet for the 460 and approximately 18.5 feet for 460 L depending on whether it has 18- or 19-inch wheels.
Weight has also been cut from the rear suspension, which uses struts with multilink control arms and a stabilizer bar to further isolate passengers from road bumps.
In addition to the standard suspension setup, an improved air suspension with Normal, Comfort and Sport modes is an option on only the LS 460 L. It's controlled by a switch on the car's center console, unless it receives feedback from the Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM), the LS's all-encompassing vehicle stability control system. Instead of reacting to an already occurring driving situation, VDIM is designed to anticipate vehicle instability in every direction while making stabilizing corrections and adjusts accordingly.
Electric power steering and big brakes
Newly developed electric power steering replaces the LS 430's old rack, turning down the volume even further on noise, vibration and harshness. It also works with VDIM to improve safety. Add the optional air suspension and it integrates variable gear ratio steering as well, providing a sportier feel to the otherwise light and often artificial-feeling electric steering.
Large, ventilated four-wheel disc brakes and an electronically controlled brake system work together to slow this luxury flagship. Opt for the L's Touring package and you'll get high-performance pads and 19-inch wheels along with the air suspension.
Comfort comes in several configurations
All of these high-tech mechanicals are complemented by the LS 460's quiet, sumptuous interior. Leather, leather and more leather covers the expansive cabin, accented by the finest wood and metal trim. Your chauffeur can chuck the driving gloves. The new, baby-smooth steering wheel is buffed beyond belief — twice as many times as in the past, and for three hours compared to the half-hour process used on the LS 430.
A 16-way power driver seat and 12-way power passenger seat will support even the most discriminating backside. The LS 460's Comfort package includes climate-controlled front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel and a rear power sunshade. The Comfort Plus Package adds rear power seats with power headrests, rear side airbags and climate-controlled seating in the back as well.
As sumptuous as the 460's interior is, comfort is taken to a whole new level in the 460 L. Its Rear Seat Upgrade Package includes the Comfort Plus Package, plus four-zone rear air-conditioning with air purifier and a ceiling-mounted air diffuser, a rear cool box for storing beverages, power rear door sunshades and a rear audio control panel. Finally, the Executive Class Seating Package adds a four-person seating configuration with a center console and retractable table, a power recline right rear seat with massage and a leg rest, a rear-seat DVD system with power-opening 9-inch screen and infrared rear-seat body-temperature sensors so the chauffeured needn't be bothered.
Actual legroom measurements for the front and rear haven't yet been released, but there's ample room, no matter which body style you choose. Cargo room is also plentiful, with both the 460 and 460 L offering 18 cubic feet, except for vehicles equipped with the four-zone climate control system, which reduces cargo volume to 12 cubic feet. A convenient one-touch open-close power trunk lid is a stand-alone option.
Does everything except cook you dinner
As you would expect in a Lexus, there's an endless assortment of bonus electronic gadgetry. In addition to the two levels of parking assistance — a Dynamic Radar Cruise Control system and Pre-Collision system that paces the car in front of you — an all-new navigation system with real-time XM traffic reports that reconfigure drive routes based on current traffic congestion is available.
Standard stuff now includes push-button start and Bluetooth with the nav system. Audiophiles will be blown away by the optional Mark Levinson Reference Surround, a 19-speaker audio system that pumps out 450 watts of power.
But the star of the show is the Advanced Parking Guidance system that includes a dozen exterior sensors. Allow the car to measure the desired space by slowly passing it as you would to position yourself to parallel-park, pausing to let the car's front side sensors mark the distance. The target space then appears as a box on the nav screen for confirmation of its precise location. If the box appears squarely in the open space, push the activation button and release the steering wheel. It does feel slightly eerie as the wheel spins on its own, but driver input is still required to control the car's speed by modulating the brake pedal.
Crossing over to greatness
At the 2007 Lexus LS 460's starting price of around $70,000, Lexus' new flagship takes aim at some of the best cars in the world, including the Audi A8, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series. The new Lexus may not be as pretty as the Audi, or as powerful as the Mercedes, or as driver-focused as the 750i, but it is the only one that can park itself. And in the fad-driven, gizmo-obsessed luxury sedan market, that makes it the darling of the moment.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.