The Lexus LS 430 is among the easiest of the big luxury cars to live with. It whisks occupants along in supreme comfort. Its ride is silky smooth. It handles well, with effortless steering and excellent grip. Its powerful V8 delivers strong performance and is paired with a smooth six-speed automatic.
Inside is a beautiful driving environment with rich wood accents and buttery soft leather trim, seats so comfortable that you never think about them, and controls that are a paragon of ergonomic excellence. Every convenience feature imaginable is provided and, for the most part, those features are easy to operate. In every way, the LS 430 is the hassle-free luxury car. It may not have the cache of a BMW or Mercedes, but it’s far easier to operate than the 7 Series and it’s more up to date than the aging S-Class.
Safety is cutting edge. Every LS 430 comes with no less than eight airbags, plus seatbelts with pre-tensioners. Its headlights swivel to help drivers see around corners. An optional Pre-Collision Safety System actually anticipates unavoidable frontal collisions, preemptively retracting the front seat belts and pre-arming the Brake Assist. Also optional are a backup camera for seeing what’s behind you, and Dynamic Laser Cruise Control that maintains a set following distance from the car traveling ahead. Other high-tech options like Bluetooth® and SmartAccess allow you to unlock the doors, start the car, drive off, and make hands-free phone calls without even pulling your key or your cell phone out of your pocket or purse.
The LS changed the rules for luxury car ownership when it was originally introduced, combining quality, technology, dependability and excellent dealer service, and that continues today. Lexus has been the highest-ranking brand in the J.D. Power and Associates dependability study for more than a decade; based on surveys of owners, the study named the LS 430 the most problem-free car in its class after three years of ownership. The LS 430 is also a perennial leader in the firm’s Initial Quality Study, which surveys buyers after 90 days of ownership.
The 2006 Lexus LS 430 comes in just one trim level, and it’s loaded with every feature expected of a flagship luxury sedan. Leather-trimmed upholstery comes standard. Several leather upgrades are available, however, including Ecru, Black Semi-Aniline and Saddle Comfort Nappa; all three require the purchase of an additional upgrade package, and Saddle Comfort Nappa is restricted to models painted Black Onyx or Flint Mica. Also standard: a power moonroof with auto open/close, a power rear sunshade, and lighted rear-seat vanity mirrors.
The available Premium Package adds climate-controlled front seats with fans that circulate heated or chilled air, heated rear seats, and sonar-based Intuitive Parking Assist.
The available Modern Luxury Package bundles a Mark Levinson® audio system, navigation system, reversing camera, Bluetooth® communications technology, climate controlled front seats, heated rear seats, and Intuitive Parking Assist.
The available Custom Luxury Selection includes the Mark Levinson® audio, navigation system, rear backup camera, Bluetooth®, Dynamic Laser Cruise Control, Intuitive Parking Assist, climate-controlled front seats, rear seat heaters, headlamp washers, and power door closers.
The available Ultra Luxury Selection features all that plus Adaptive Variable Air Suspension, SmartAccess keyless entry and ignition, and a number of amenities for rear seat passengers, including: sunshades for the rear passenger doors, a rear-seat adjuster with memory, climate-controlled rear seats with a massage feature, and a rear air conditioner with optical deodorizer. The Custom Luxury and Ultra Luxury packages can be paired with the Pre-Collision Safety System, in which case Dynamic Radar Cruise Control is substituted for the laser system.
The available Sport Package combines a handling-tuned suspension with 18-inch wheels and summer tires. The same package with chromed wheels costs a bit more.
The LS 430 comes with a 278-horsepower 4.3-liter aluminum V8 and a six-speed automatic transmission. (The same engine was rated 290 horsepower last year, which might lead some consumers to wonder how Lexus let those 12 horses get away. What has in fact happened is that the Society of Automotive Engineers, or SAE, has revised its test procedures for horsepower and torque, and as a result some of the numbers are coming out lower this year. So in fact all the ponies are still in the stable; but the racing commission is counting them differently. There is no change in performance over last year’s model as it’s the same.)
Passive safety features include seat-mounted side airbags (to help provide torso protection), rear side curtain airbags (to help provide head protection), and knee airbags, in addition to the federally mandated driver and front passenger frontal airbags. Most important are the seatbelts, which feature pre-tensioners, force limiters, and retractors; be sure to use them as they’re the first line of defense in a collision. The optional Pre-Collision System uses radar to detect obstacles in front of the car and, if it determines a frontal collision is unavoidable, can preemptively retract the driver’s and front passenger’s seatbelts, which can help prepare those occupants. The system also pre-pressurizes the Brake Assist which, after the driver applies the brakes, automatically applies increased braking force to help reduce collision speed.
The Lexus LS 430 is an attractive luxury sedan that makes a substantial, upscale statement. It isn’t a head turner, though, and tends to blend in, particularly in areas frequented by luxury cars.
That said, the Lexus flagship is long, low, sleek and shapely. It cuts an understated profile that’s attractive. Its large passenger cabin and generous greenhouse are sandwiched between the long hood and short rear deck. Its canted windshield and elegant A-pillars are set off by the slant of the backlight (rear windscreen), and by thick, curvaceous C-pillars that blend seamlessly into the rear flanks. The bold, trapezoidal grille thrusts forward, while the hood bulges with power. The grille is rimmed in bright trim. The short, horizontal deck leads to a vertical back panel with oversized lamps at the corners, camouflaging the mass of the trunk. LED brake lights are brighter, light up quicker, last longer, and draw less current than traditional brake lights, plus they look neat. Dual tailpipes protruding from the lower edge of the bumper project a look of power and performance.
One of the most aerodynamic cars on the road, the LS 430 earns a 0.26 coefficient of drag, 0.25 with the optional air suspension. That contributes to exceptionally low wind noise and improved fuel economy. The slick exterior form is further enhanced by the remarkable fit of the body panels. Although Lexus has long been recognized for superior fit and finish, the quality achieved by the LS 430 in recent years reaches a new dimension. Engineers used a supercomputer to digitize all body surfaces, then worked out new fit tolerances 10 times more precise than even Lexus could achieve just six years ago.
The interior of the Lexus LS 430 is quiet, comfortable and luxurious. It isn’t showy, but the workmanship and attention to detail are first class.
The standard leather trim upholstery, called Majesty, comes in a choice of Ash, Cashmere, Ecru, and Black. (Ecru is available only with the Custom/Ultra Luxury packages). We found the light colors beautiful. The black is nice, but no one does black as well as BMW and Mercedes. Perforated Black Semi-Aniline or Saddle Comfort Nappa leather are optional (again requiring a Custom or Ultra package) and further enhance the luxurious ambiance. Rich wood trim in Golden Bird’s-Eye Maple or Walnut warms the LS 430 interior beautifully. Some color combinations come with an Antique Walnut trim with fired edges that’s quite interesting.
The seats are roomy and can be quickly adjusted to a comfortable driving position. The driver faces an adjustable steering wheel trimmed in wood and leather with easy-to-use controls for the audio system. Vivid electroluminescent gauges with white needles rank among the best available. Window switches are illuminated, making them easy to find at night.
The cabin of the LS 430 is loaded with technology designed to help make driving safe and pleasant and, for the most part, it does just that. The available SmartAccess system eliminates the need to use the keyless remote to open doors and obviates the need to insert a key into the ignition. Just leave the fob in your pocket or purse and you can open locked doors by pulling the handle and start the car by pressing a button. This works well for the most part, but we sometimes found ourselves fighting locked doors. The system on our car was set up so it only unlocked the driver’s door, leaving the passenger doors and the trunk locked; it can probably be programmed to unlock all the doors.
A seven-inch touch screen at the top of the center stack controls climate, audio and the optional navigation system. A set of hard buttons integrated along the driver’s side of the touch screen is provided for the primary climate controls (Temperature, Fan, Auto, Recirculate, Defrost). It’s easy to operate. Your passenger should have no trouble finding and adjusting the temperature for her or his side of the cabin. And it’s quite sophisticated. Temperature sensors around the cabin detect hot spots where the sun is bearing down and direct cool air specifically to them. The system also takes voice commands. Say, “68 degrees,” and it’ll adjust the climate control accordingly.
A small display above the optional navigation screen shows driver’s and passenger’s temperature setting, outside ambient temperature, and the time. Directly below the navigation screen is a pair of vents that can oscillate from side to side.
A similar set of buttons to the right allows quick access to key navigation and audio functions. This combination of hard buttons and touch-screen control works well, though we struggled at times with the navigation system. At one point, I could not figure out how to get the system to forget one destination and accept a new one. However, navigation systems are getting better every year, and the Lexus system is sophisticated, with some 5.6 million data points. It even displays building footprints in Manhattan and Chicago. A little time spent with the owner’s manual (and your salesman) should make you an expert.
A backup camera packaged with the available navigation system can help the driver spot objects behind the car. Whenever Reverse is selected, the system automatically projects a color image onto the navigation screen of whatever the camera lens can detect behind the car. Looking at this screen can help the driver spot objects that might be difficult to see in the mirrors or over the shoulder. This is a great feature and we really like having it.
Bluetooth? capability comes with the optional navigation system. When combined with a Bluetooth®-equipped phone, this wireless technology lets you transfer personal phone books to the system and make hands-free phone calls using the car’s touch-screen display. You can place a hands-free call in different ways depending on your preference, but to reduce driver distraction the one-touch dial feature is the only dialing function that’s accessible while underway. The system can store up to 18 one-touch dial numbers, and you can use steering wheel controls to answer and end calls as well as adjust call volume. This greatly extends the utility of a handheld cell phone, which can remain in your pocket or purse while underway. The system can be programmed to work with up to four different phones, allowing different members of the family to tap into the system, and Lexus says its dealers can order compatible phones from a wide choice of major providers.
The standard audio system includes an in-dash, single-feed six-disc CD changer, and a 15-function information display with a trip computer and compass. The audio controls are large, elegant, and easy to adjust. The optional Mark Levinson? premium audio system is designed to deliver optimal sound quality regardless of where you’re sitting. Presets allow the driver to tune the sound quality according to the number and placement of your passengers. The speakers are carefully arranged for optimum sound imaging. XM® Satellite Radio is available by subscription, eliminating the need for the driver to reset stations when driving long distance. This brings high-quality music and 24-hour news and sports channels into the cabin, no matter where you drive.
Back-seat riders find the LS 430 offers comfortable and luxurious accommodations with lots of leg room and convenience features that aren’t included in the front seats of some cars. The three-person rear bench has contoured spaces for two and a broad center fold-down armrest. The armrest features a padded storage drawer and a panel to control the heated seats, compact disc player and rear climate system. Extensive applications of leather and rich wood trim set an opulent mood.
The Lexus LS 430 sets the benchmark for smooth ride quality. This is one smooth, quiet car, and riding in it is very pleasant. The engine is barely audible. Mechanical and road vibration is damped out. No other automaker does a better job than Lexus in creating a zone of serenity for driver and passengers.
The soft suspension and slow steering lead some to conclude the LS 430 doesn’t handle as well as European models such as the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Indeed, when pushed to the limits the big Lexus does not handle as well as the big BMW. However, the LS 430 is not a sloppy luxo-barge. In fact, the LS 430 can be driven quite hard and with confidence, whereupon it reveals lots of grip and very good handling. It responds predictably when driven to the limit of the tires in corners, though it doesn’t necessarily encourage you to do so the way a BMW does. The softness of the suspension results in squirmy transient response when compared with the BMW 745i. But the LS 430 does generate lots of grip and offers the responsiveness afforded by rear-wheel drive and double-wishbone suspension front and rear and it handles predictably. Its monotube shock absorbers were made larger and more technologically advanced for the 2004 model year, and this has resulted in flatter cornering response and a smoother ride. The steering system was improved at the same time, providing more road feel, more feedback, and more precision.
The adaptive air suspension included in the Ultra Luxury package allows the driver to switch between two shock-damping modes (and to raise the ride height for driving in deep snow). However, the car floats a little more on the air suspension, even in the Sport mode, making it feel bigger, more boatlike.
We much prefer the available Sport Package, which combines a sport-tuned suspension with 18-inch wheels and summer/performance tires. This improves handling feel while maintaining a smooth, comfortable ride. While other manufacturers offer sport suspensions that result in a harsh, choppy ride, this isn’t one of them; even with the sport suspension, the LS 430 rides smoothly and softly. We highly recommend it and think it’s a bargain.
To say the Lexus V8 is smooth and quiet is an understatement, and the six-speed automatic transmission shifts so smoothly it’s almost seamless. By the SAE’s new reckoning, the 4.3-liter V8 generates 278 horsepower and 312 pound-feet of torque, the latter figure contributing, along with the six-speed transmission, to the LS 430’s impressive acceleration performance. Lexus says the LS 430 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. Yet the LS 430 still earns an EPA-estimated 18/25 mpg City/Highway, a benefit of its transmission’s long-legged fifth and sixth gears. The driver can manually control shifting, though we prefer to put it in Drive and let the machine do its job. It does this very well. Engine and transmission are designed to favor smoothness over performance. The upside is you get silky smooth performance. The downside is do not offer the crispness of a BMW powertrain, the other end of the spectrum. Lexus’ electronic throttle control (drive-by-wire) system helps smooth acceleration from a standing start by very slightly delaying throttle opening when the driver steps on the accelerator pedal. Still, the Lexus V8 and six-speed automatic are a powerful team, delivering strong acceleration performance for quick passing and freeway merging. All in all, it’s a great setup.
The brakes are responsive and easy to modulate for smooth stopping power. Four-channel, four-sensor ABS helps the driver maintain steering control during panic stops. Brake Assist is designed to determine if the driver is attempting emergency braking; if the driver has not stepped hard enough on the brake pedal to activate the anti-lock brake system, Brake Assist applies increase braking pressure until pedal pressure is released. Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) is an excellent active safety feature that helps the driver maintain control under adverse conditions by correcting loss of lateral traction during cornering. VSC integrates traction control to help limit rear wheel spin on slippery road surfaces. All of this advanced technology works as an integrated team, helping the driver control the car in those critical moments that separate a collision from a close call.
The optional dynamic cruise control systems are designed to maintain a set distance from the vehicle traveling in front. Some people like dynamic cruise, others don’t. If you’re not a big cruise control user, you don’t need it.
The Lexus LS 430 excels as a luxury sedan with a cabin that’s quiet, comfortable, and luxurious. It is a meticulously crafted car that offers every luxury amenity imaginable, plus a few we would not have imagined. Its construction quality is the best in the industry. Everything about its operation is smooth. Its powerful V8 and six-speed automatic are a smooth, silent team. Its ride is silky, its steering is smooth and precise, its brakes allow easy modulation for smooth stops. If you want a premium luxury sedan that delivers no-hassle smooth, luxurious sailing, the Lexus LS 430 should be at the top of your list.
New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough filed this report from Laguna Beach, California.
*2006 Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) includes delivery, processing and handling fee. Excludes taxes, title, license and optional equipment. Actual dealer price may vary.
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