Fleet News

Lexus LS430

Lexus

Review

Since Toyota unleashed the first iterations of its prestige wing on an entirely suspecting world in 1989, the marque has sold 250,000 cars in the USA and just 20,000 in Europe. In the UK, the flagship LS model accounts for a mere 350-400 sales, of which some 50% are in the fleet sector.

It's surprising, in the context of such a slim statistic, that Lexus can't be more precise.

Given their dealer network's annual propensity for cleaning up in matters JD Power and an astonishing level of customer loyalty to the LS, I feel sure they actually know not only the precise number of cars sold, but also the inside leg measurement of each and every customer.

The LS has always been targeted squarely at the American market. And Lexus' protestations that the car's low UK volumes are geared to a rarity that promotes high re-sale value – the CAP Monitor increasing its residual valuation of this new LS430 by 2% to 32% – must, in truth, be seen as nothing more than the pleasant side effect of an otherwise uncomfortable state of affairs. To wit, no-one buys what they don't know exists.

The extent to which the third-generation LS430, on sale in the UK on November 17, will rectify the situation is hard to assess. A USA-friendly facelift that assaults the senses with all the subtlety of a robber's cosh will certainly raise awareness of the model. But all the really good stuff only makes its presence felt once you're on board and, judging by colleague response at launch, the new look will deter as many as it attracts from ever getting that far.

With a diesel still two years away for Lexus, the LS430's sole 270g/km CO2 engine choice – a 4.3-litre V8 already compliant with 2005's Euro IV-emissions standards – lodges it firmly within the 35% tax bracket.

So Lexus has re-armoured the LS430 for battle with the powerplant-choice prosperous Teutons via a thoroughly comprehensive array of standard equipment, pointing out that options increase delivery times while depreciating more quickly than the car itself.

Thus, fitted as standard, the new car boasts Bluetooth connectivity, a touch-screen satnav with Electronic Traffic Avoidance, voice-command recognition, a sublime Mark Levinson stereo with a six-CD changer in the centre console, a smart-key entry system, automatic door and boot lid closing, adaptive front headlamps that peer round corners, rear view camera, front and rear parking sensors, air conditioned front seats and 10 airbags, including both driver and passenger knee airbags.

And this is all over and above the usual raft of electronic aids you'd expect to find in a car of this class.

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Moreover, in deference to the LS430's burgeoning popularity among chauffeurs, an option billed as a 'President Pack' elsewhere will be fitted as standard astern in the UK, giving rear occupants electrically-adjustable, vibro-massaging seats, independent air-conditioning and stereo controls, side and rear window blinds and refrigerated storage.

Not surprisingly, then, Lexus is quick to point out that an analysis of specification-adjusted pricing for the £56,850 LS430's rivals sees even the £51,000 Jaguar XJ 4.2 coming in at 6.5% more expensive than its flagship, the Audi A8 4.2 quattro at 9.5%, the BMW 745i at 13.1% and the Mercedes-Benz S430 at a wholesome 19.9%.

Furthermore, even having plundered the options list, none of the LS430's rivals can comprehensively match its standard specification. Ultimately, Lexus appears to have done absolutely everything it can to improve the appeal of a car that lacks for nothing save the prestige of pedigree and buyer awareness. Sadly, you can't engineer either into a marque. Lexus might, however, care to try advertising to promote the latter. Or do captains of industry not watch TV?

Behind the wheel

Hike in equipment levels aside, you'd be hard pushed to differentiate the new LS430's interior from that of its predecessor. Which is no bad thing.

Fit and finish tolerances have been even more ruthlessly bullied into submission and, if you hear so much as an untoward squeak while on the move, it's a cast-iron certainty that one of your passengers has smuggled a rodent aboard.

Seat comfort is first-class, with the bonus of comprehensive adjustment, superior legroom and dedicated climate and stereo controls assuaging all suspicions of second-class citizenship in those astern.

Tasteless, ever-popular wooden steering wheel rim aside, the driving position cannot be faulted, while switchgear ergonomics and tactility maintain the standards we have come to expect from Lexus.

In light of ever more complex and counter intuitive in-car control systems in the prestige market, the Lexus' centre console-mounted, touch-screen system should win a medal for clarity and ease of use – press a button labelled with the desired function at the screen's edge, then prod the screen itself to make any required adjustments.

That having been said, the satnav system still fell at the last hurdle (don't they always?), at which point it's far too difficult to access the voice guidance 'off' switch.

On the move, comprehensive wind-tunnel work on the underbody and panel gaps tight enough to pull the wings from flies gang up to promote exceptionally quiet progress. Wind noise, even at 100mph, is negligible. And, though its 278bhp is good for a 0-62mph sprint in just 6.3 seconds and a top speed of 155mph, the only noise you'll hear from under the bonnet is a suitably muted, reassuring snarl heralding full throttle.

Perhaps, then, it's precisely the ruthless efficiency with which Lexus has stamped out wind and engine bay noises off that makes tyre roar all the more audible and intrusive.

By normal standards, the noise emanating from the wheel arches might be deemed minimal but in a car this quiet, its presence is felt.

And I'm convinced this, allied to light and somewhat inert (though perfectly accurate) steering, contributes to an entirely unwarranted feeling of 'thinness' about the LS430 driving experience in the context of German rivals, which is a pity.

The car's handling remains thoroughly composed in even the most revolting weather conditions and, via a new six-speed automatic gearbox smoother than a freshly-buttered banister, it may happily be hustled along far too quickly to suit those in resplendent recline astern.

So, if consummate luxury allied to lavish specification is to be the Lexus hallmark in a marketplace already awash with jostling superlatives, surely the weight penalty of a little extra road noise insulation is a small price to pay for the accolade of ultimate prestige hush?

Driving verdict

Not quite as involving a drive as its German rivals, but staggeringly well-engineered, comfortable, fast, quiet and lavishly equipped. Surely badge snobbery alone must account for the LS430's humble sales figures. That, and its odd looks.

Make: Lexus
Model: LS430
Engine (cc): 4,293
Max power (bhp/rpm): 278/5,600
Max torque (lb-ft): 308/3,500
Max speed (mph): 155 (limited)
0-62mph (sec): 6.3
Fuel consumption (mpg): 24.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 270
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 84/18.5
Transmission: 6-sp auto
Service intervals (miles): 10,000
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £56,850

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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