Is a Bigger Lexus a Better Lexus?
What trumps an executive jet that seats six? Well, how about one that takes 10 passengers? For some people, bigger is always better. Houses, boats, wristwatches, cheeseburgers, cup sizes, computers . . . a few extra feet, millimeters, layers, letters or gigabytes make all the difference. This is what I ponder when driving a Lexus LS460, especially so soon after falling a little bit in love with the company’s exquisite—but smaller—GS450h sedan. (Even if it is a hybrid.)
The status-y LS four-doors sit atop the Lexus range; they’re 10 inches longer and an inch and a half wider than the GS models; there’s also a stretch version of the LS that’s five inches longer yet. So an LS is seriously bigger than a GS—on the outside. Inside, however, front and rear passenger spaces are almost the same on both cars, including the stretch model, to within an inch or so in all dimensions. Curious. Fit, finish and materials are equal also. Aha, the LS driver’s seat adjusts 16 ways while the GS driver has to live with just 10 adjustments! But wait—the standard GS stereo has 12 speakers while the LS’s has only 10! And this LS has an 8-speed automatic transmission—but the GS450h comes with a continuously variable transmission that has an infinite number of “gears.”
Rather than go cross-eyed sifting through the specs, let me call out a few more-telling numbers instead: First, every variant of each car will sprint to 60 MPH in six seconds or less and cruise at speeds that will get us jailed without parole. Second, this hulking LS460 AWD—with its 4.6-liter V-8 tuned for 360 horsepower (386 in the rear-wheel-drive model)—averages about 18 MPG while the GS hybrid goes fully 10 miles farther on a gallon. Finally, the big car costs $72,000 to start, and the smaller one $48,000. (Comparing hybrid to hybrid, the LS600h gets 20 MPG and costs $120,000; the hybrid GS starts at just $59,000.)
So is bigger still better? Not in my world, at least when it comes to Lexus sedans.
This is true from behind the steering wheel as well. I’ve been in cathedrals that weren’t as hushed and serene as this LS460, but driving it amounts to aiming between the white lines. The car doesn’t misbehave in any way—it doesn’t float or bounce, sway in corners or nose-dive under braking—it’s just that there are layers of gauze between the driver and the road. If driving is your time to review voicemail while sipping coffee and touching up your lip gloss, this may be a good thing; you won’t be distracted. After all, thanks to the active and passive safety gear that Lexus packs into these cars, we hardly need to pay attention any more anyway. (Right?)
So the LS460 isn’t a full-on autobahn-stormer; but it is a fine place to be. Our example was modestly outfitted with just $10,000 worth of options (backup camera, power rear sunshade, blind-spot and cross-traffic monitors, upgraded wheels, leather and stereo, and assorted cold-weather goodies to go with the AWD), so it lacked the self-adjusting air suspension, but it was still a technological tour de force. And the more I use Lexus’s unique Remote Touch computer mouse-type controller, the more I like it—and the more I appreciate the two large display screens, too.
Back to actual driving: Even this “stripper” LS offers a choice between Snow, Eco, Normal and Sport settings, which mostly alter how quickly the throttle and transmission respond to the driver’s foot. The differences from one mode to the next are subtle, but I adopted Sport because it seemed to strip away one of those layers of gauze, at no cost in passenger comfort.
An $82,000 stripper? Yes, and a few carefree moments with the order form—as you consider the Ultra Luxury Package ($4,800), the Executive Class Seating Package ($7,555), the Advanced Pre-Collision safety system ($6,500) and the F Sport handling upgrade ($8,350)—can easily drive the price into six figures.
Which boxes you tick will depend on whether you’re the driver or you have a driver. But if you’re one of those bigger-is-better people, it hardly matters. The LS is simply 10 or 15 inches more better than the next sedan in the Lexus family, end of discussion.