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Click to view picture galleryLexus’s new luxury
  flagship — the LS 460
  SE-L
comes out of
  the box fully equipped
  and packed with hi-
  tech kit. Unarguably an
  ‘executive smoothie
,
  but is it a better buy
  than an S-Class?”


THE BRAND OF CAR you drive is still vitally important to most UK new car buyers despite the constraints of ever-increasing 'green' and personal taxes and the chronic traffic congestion that blights nearly every road journey.

At the premium end of the executive car market the German big three — BMW, Mercedes and Audi — still dominate sales, with Jaguar strongly in contention. But the fast emerging brand is the premium marque from Toyota — namely Lexus.

Lexus UK sales are climbing rapidly. 2006 was another record year
with close to 15,000 cars and SUVs sold; an increase of 40 per cent over 2005. Already this year, UK sales are up again by nearly 2 per cent. Since 1991 Lexus has been the best-selling luxury brand in the USA and in more recent years it has produced a significant number
of converts in Europe as well.

The Lexus 'appeal' has just got better thanks to the brand's new luxury flagship — the LS 460. This fourth generation of this model, it went on sale earlier this year in January.

But for the first time the LS is being offered as a range, rather than a single model. Currently there are three versions: the LS 460, costing 57,000; the LS 460 SE at 65,000; and the LS 460 SE-L at 71,000.

All share the same all-new 4.6-litre, V8 petrol engine and the world's first eight-speed automatic transmission. And these models will shortly be joined by the LS 600h — the world's first petrol-electric hybrid power car in the segment. A long-wheelbase version of this model will also be introduced, taking it into the limousine sector.

Lexus GB is confident it will sell 500 LS 460 models this year, along with another 250 of the forthcoming petrol-hybrid variants.

Lexus sees the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class as the main opposition. When 'price adjusted' for specification, Lexus
says the LS 460 works out cheaper because its standard specification is higher. You virtually don't need an options list for the LS 460
range: every model has it all, although there are a few luxury and safety technology packs owners' might specify for their bespoke car
of choice.

The sensational Mercedes S-Class is still 'top dog' in the luxury sector — although with all the added extras it does work out very expensive. Viewed like-for-like, Lexus says the S-Class costs 19,000 more than their top LS model. A not inconsiderable sum, but for well-off custom-ers it will always come down to brand exclusivity. And Mercedes still has the edge — just.

Technology, quality of construction, comprehensive levels of equipment and driving refinement at a competitive price are the current hallmarks of Lexus, to which we can now — or almost — add brand desirability.

The new LS is 15mm longer overall, 45mm wider and has a 45mm
longer wheelbase. The sleek design features prominent wheelarches and a deep front air dam, giving the car a stronger, more muscular appearance.

The LS 460's intelligent technology extends to the ergonomics, the feel and function of the switchgear and the enhanced visibility of the Opti-tron instrumentation. The attention to detail is extremely thorough: for example, it even extends to the surface of each button being shaped to alternate between concave and convex to ensure individual controls are easy to find; and to each lid in the cabin that opens in the same direction and at the same speed.

Lexus says the new LS 460 has a higher content of sophisticated safety technology than any other car. These elements are contained
in a new advanced Pre-Crash Safety system, a package that is provided as standard on the LS 460 SE-L and which is available as an option on other versions. This includes four 'world firsts' in preventive safety: an Advanced Obstacle Detection System; Driver Monitoring System; Emergency Steering Assist; and Rear Pre-Crash Safety.

A 'big brother is watching you' feature is present in the form of the Driver Monitoring System. This constantly monitors side-to-side move-ment of the driver's head, using an infrared camera mounted on the steering column. Should it detect the driver has his (or her) head turned away from the road ahead when the car is travelling forward and an obstacle is detected in its path, the system activates the Pre-Crash warning function. If the driver still fails to respond, the brakes are briefly applied. If both actions fail to gain a response, all the other Pre-Crash functions are engaged.

Other features include front and side laminated windows, four-zone air conditioning with the world's first Roof Climate Diffusers (SE and SE-L models), a high-speed satellite navigation system with traffic avoid-ance function and Electronic Multi-Vision touch-screen display and voice command recognition for control of audio, ventilation, navigation and Bluetooth hands-free phone functions. The LS 460 is the first car in its class to provide a rear parking assist monitor as standard.

The standard ten-speaker sound system has a single-slot six-disc in-dash CD autochanger and additional audio controls mounted on the steering wheel. For the ultimate in on-board entertainment, the SE
and SE-L models are equipped with the latest 19-speaker, 450W Mark Levinson Reference Surround System (optional on LS 460). Using the Electronic Multi-Vision display screen, it delivers a complete, discrete 5.1 home theatre entertainment experience for music, music videos
and DVD movies.

Rear seat passengers can enjoy the system using a retractable, ceil-ing-mounted nine-inch widescreen LCD while the car is moving. The front screen can, for obvious reasons, only be used when the vehicle
is stationary.

The LS 460 is powered by a new normally-aspirated 4,608cc V8 petrol engine which, says Lexus, is the most technologically advanced unit they have built. As you would expect, it features 4-valves per cylinder with variable valve timing. Maximum output is 375bhp at 6,400rpm and maximum torque 364lb ft at 4,100rpm.

Matched to a new eight-speed automatic transmission, the V8 will accelerate the LS 460 from standstill to 62mph in 5.7 seconds. Top speed is limited electronically to 155mph.

In spite of these performance figures, the engine is also one of the most economical among V8s, returning an official 25.4mpg in combined cycle driving — 22.9mpg during my road test. CO2 emissions of 261 g/km put it in Band G for a 210 vehicle excise duty rating.

It's no exaggeration to say that the LS460 is refinement personified.
It is whisper quiet, smooth as silk and the engine hushed. Thanks to the eight-speed automatic transmission, gear shifts are seamless.
The ride comfort is sophisticated, although the steering could do with more feel and feedback. Most users will not even notice that. Virtually everything about the car is high quality, from the luxurious interior to the technical wizardry under its skin.

While it is not imposing or stunning to look at, some would agree it
has understated class, even if it does lack 'soul' when being driven. The lifeless steering doesn't help. The best way to describe this Lexus flagship model is to say that it's 'clinically perfect'. Packed with functional leading-edge technology, it's reasonably luxurious, roomy and looks well made. In addition, it comes out of the box fully equipped.

It does, however, lack the finesse and 'must-have' status of a Mercedes S-Class. Perhaps for some an acquired taste, but Lexus should have little difficulty in finding homes for every 460 it can
deliver. — David Miles

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Lexus LS 460 SE-L | 71,000
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Overall test MPG: 22.9mpg | Power: 375bhp | Torque: 364lb ft

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