If you're going to put an F Sport badge on your redesigned flagship, it has to be the real deal.
This is doubly true on a thinking man's luxury sedan like the Lexus LS, which doesn't tend to attract buyers who get caught up in their emotions. If it's good and priced appropriately, they'll pay for it; otherwise, forget it.
As we point a 2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport down twisty La Honda Road, the back way to work for Silicon Valley executives commuting from Los Gatos, it feels as if Lexus is about to turn a corner with this crowd.
F Sport: Say It With Feeling
Like the 2013 Lexus GS 350, the LS 460 F Sport model is more than a collection of go-faster/look-faster accessories. It's an enhancement on the Sport package offered on last year's LS 460, which already provided a Brembo brake kit, paddle shifters and a sportier suspension calibration. Now, though, the upgrades are applied to a sedan that's fit for cornering in the first place.
Dimensionally, the redesigned 2013 Lexus LS 460 is identical to its predecessor, save for a 1-inch increase in overall length. It weighs nearly the same, too. Lexus reserves the F Sport treatment for the shorter-wheelbase version (116.9), which accounts for 70 percent of U.S. sales. You can have the F Sport package whether you choose rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, though only the rear-drive sedan gets factory summer tires (245/45R19 98Y Bridgestone Turanza ER33 on our tester, though Dunlops will be used as well) and a Torsen-type limited-slip rear differential.
The chassis has been stiffened on all 2013 LS sedans, but the F Sport cars get additional bracing in the rear. Up front, new bushings are said to quicken turn-in response, and the engineers specified rebound springs (within the shock absorbers) to reduce body roll without resorting to a massive stabilizer bar.
On top of that, the LS 460 F Sport rides 0.4 inch lower than other versions and has its own special air springs and stabilizer bars. It also has the quickest version of the sedan's variable-ratio, electric power steering system, which is bundled with the air suspension as an option on other LS 460s (the standard EPS has a fixed ratio). The Brembo brake hardware includes black six-piston calipers squeezing 14.8-inch front rotors — an upgrade over the standard four-pot calipers and 13.1-inch discs (14 inches on AWD cars). You get heavier-duty brake pads as well.
Thusly equipped, our rear-drive 2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport feels sharper around turns than any previous LS. That's a modest achievement, but this is a large sedan, and when you consider that it provides appropriate steering effort and good balance on La Honda and still manages to ride like a Lexus on U.S. 101, you have to give some credit.
"I doubt we could have gone down this road faster in our long-term 2012 Audi A8," our colleague says.
Engine Carries Over
There's no doubt that an A8 4.2 would beat the LS 460 down an entrance ramp, though. The 4.6-liter V8, which still uses a combination of direct and port fuel injection, returns to the LS for 2013, edging up 6 horsepower to 386 at 6,400 rpm and holding steady on torque at 367 pound-feet at 4,100 rpm. (Due to its different exhaust setup, the AWD version is rated at 360 hp and 347 lb-ft, respectively.)
That's more power than the A8 (372 hp), which weighs about the same as our F Sport LS, but the Audi gets out of the hole quicker, and we don't expect the LS to match the A8's 5.2-second 0-60-mph time. It won't get any easier versus the 400-hp turbo V8s in the BMW 750i and Mercedes-Benz S550.
With an expected 19 mpg combined rating, the LS 460 is more fuel-efficient than the Bimmer (17 combined) and Benz (18 combined), but the A8 leads with 21 combined.
Lexus claims 5.4 seconds to 60 for the rear-drive LS 460, but bear in mind the last LS 460 we tested didn't break 6 seconds (we've timed one as quick as 5.8) and the gearing hasn't changed in the car's eight-speed automatic transmission since then.
Of course, the engineers have fiddled with the software, and when you turn the Drive Mode Select dial to Sport, the LS is responsive to throttle input and the transmission downshifts with the haste you expect in a premium sedan. This should be the default setting. Same goes for the F Sport model's rev-matched downshifts, which only happen in Manual mode. We'd like these all the time, on every version.
The 2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport also includes a sound generator to channel more intake noise to the cabin during exciting moments in your driving career. We still wish the V8 sounded tougher, but it's preferable to the base soundtrack.
By the Way, There's Still a Hybrid
It's a footnote in our conversations with Lexus officials, but the low-volume LS 600h L is also revamped for 2013. Other markets around the world will get an F Sport version of the hybrid, but in the U.S., the LS 600h will continue to target the elusive high-income librarian.
The drivetrain hardware is unchanged, still consisting of a 5.0-liter V8, a couple electric motors, a nickel-metal hydride battery pack, two planetary gearsets and a Torsen center differential (it's AWD). Net power remains 438 hp. We're told the car is 7 percent more fuel-efficient this year, thanks to a more aggressive regenerative-braking calibration. Still, officials don't expect the hybrid LS to improve on its 19 city/23 highway/20 combined EPA mpg rating — all the more embarrassing now that the GS 450h gets 31 combined.
"In the future, we are thinking radical change might be necessary to be competitive in the luxury market," Satoru Ohsaku, assistant chief engineer for the LS, concedes. He was referring to the hybrid, but we got the sense that he was really pointing to a radical, new direction for the LS as a whole.
Let Us Look After You
Inside, the 2013 Lexus LS 460 offers a subtly different take on luxury than its German competitors. The seats remain softer and cushier, and there are some oddball wood options — here again, the F Sport model fares best, scoring two different kinds of aluminum trim.
The best of the new features for 2013 is certainly the automatic seat temperature control. This is exactly what it sounds like: The car adjusts the heating and/or cooling of your seat to match whatever set temperature you've selected in the climate control and, in practice, it really works well.
The navigation system works less well, because the Remote Touch mouse-style interface just doesn't feel elegant in the age of iPhones.
In back, though, the product planners made sure the rear entertainment system was at least a Blu-ray player instead of some outdated DVD-only setup. Unfortunately, the Executive Class seating package isn't available on the F Sport model, so no one will be getting a Shiatsu massage (at least not from the seats) while you're on La Honda Road.
Better. But It Needs More Power
Full-size luxury sedans will never sell in huge volumes in the United States, and Lexus officials aren't expecting that to change with the 2013 LS 460.
"Over the first few months of sales, we will sell over 1,000 per month, which is about twice what we're doing right now," Mark Templin, group vice president of Lexus tells us.
No doubt those early customers will be drawn to the LS 460 F Sport, which puts the big Lexus on far more equal footing with the competition on roads that have turns. But even if Lexus manages to keep the price down, it still needs to work on the quickness of the LS. When there are six-cylinder versions of the BMW 7 Series and Porsche Panamera that are just about as quick as the V8-equipped LS, it's harder to rationalize.
Then again, buying a large luxury sedan isn't a rational decision at heart. No one needs a Lexus LS like they need a Toyota Camry. You just want a lavish sedan because you want it and, in that case, the new LS F Sport delivers the most compelling package that Lexus has had in a long time.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.