2012 Lexus LS Driving Impressions


The Lexus LS is fast, smooth, quiet and efficient. So much so, that there is a low sensation of speed. The car feels under-stressed at normal highway speeds, with a huge reserve of power for passing and highway driving. A BMW 7 Series sedan offers sharper handling, but its larger wheels and lower-profile tires let more road noise through to the cabin and more vibration to the wheel. The Lexus is smoother and quieter. Handling is capable if dull. The car isn't prone to highway float or excessive lean in turns.

The Sport Package makes it easier and more satisfying to drive the car into corners at elevated speed. While the Sport shocks and stabilizer bars are firmer than in the base model, it's the specially tuned air suspension that likely gives the Sport Package its impressive handling finesse. The Porsche Panamera uses a similar system and it is lauded as one of the best-handling big sedans on the market. With the Lexus LS Sport Package, we were able to charge into turns, brake, and kick the tail out with a stab of the throttle. You could probably do that in the base car, too, but you wouldn't want to. The Sport Package makes the LS far more fun to drive.

The engine, transmission and driveline set the standard for quietness and smoothness. We found the LS 460 to be very quiet and nearly vibration-free. The Lexus seems much quieter on the highway than the competition.

The LS 460 has a base curb weight of 4350 pounds, and its engine is smaller than those in some of the German competitors. Yet it can accelerate from 0-60 mph in a mere 5.4 seconds, and it's good for an EPA rating of 24 mpg Highway.

The LS 460 uses a computer-controlled 8-speed automatic transmission, a transmission that offers great acceleration with nearly imperceptible upshifts and downshifts, manual or automatic shift control, and improved highway mileage in eighth-gear overdrive.

The electrically powered steering system is terrific. It doesn't feel any different than hydraulically powered steering, and it has progressive assist that decreases with speed. The steering, brakes and engine are linked together into electronic stability control, which Lexus calls Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management (VDIM) and includes all the functions of anti-lock brakes, traction control and stability control to help keep the vehicle going where the driver intends and thus to reduce the chance of a spin on a slippery surface.

All-wheel drive is available on all models. The operation and driving feel of the Lexus all-wheel drive system is about as transparent as it can be. There is no sense that it is searching between the front and rear wheels, and it has none of the torque steer that accompanies just about all front-drive vehicles and many with all-wheel drive.

Parking and maneuvering are surprisingly easy given the size of the LS 460 L and LS 600h L. Thanks goes to a relatively short turning radius and electronic power steering. The Advanced Parking Guidance System can be used to allow the car to park itself. We tested the system, thinking anyone who knows how to parallel park will consider this an unnecessary, slightly insulting adornment. However, it really works. Actually, it works great. We found ourselves using it over and over. The trick is to scan in the exact size of the parking space, then keep a foot on the brake while the car automatically maneuvers itself into the spot. It takes about 10 seconds, which might be longer than just doing it yourself.

The LS 600h L, if anything, is even smoother. The hybrid system, in which the 5.0-liter V8 and the electric motor work together, can provide performance equivalent to other V10 or V12 powerplants, and smoothness to match. The 389 horsepower of the engine, matched with the enormous torque of the electric motor, means that this car that weighs 5360 pounds can, according to Lexus, accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 5.5 seconds, and it is rated at 19 mpg City, which is more than what you might expect from a midsize sedan with a V6. While hybrid powertrains deliver excellent fuel economy, their strongest forte lies in reduced emissions. According to Lexus engineers, the LS 600h L produces exhaust emissions nearly 70 percent cleaner than the cleanest competitors.

The hybrid drive system uses two powerful electric motors and a battery pack. The system is capable of driving the car on just the gas engine, in electric-only mode, or with a combination of gas engine and electric motor. The battery system consists of a 288-volt DC Nickel Metal Hydride pack located behind the rear seat. In the trunk is a 12-volt auxiliary battery to power the audio system, navigation and lighting. The electric motors, denoted by Lexus as MG1 and MG2, perform specific functions. Each can operate as both a motor and generator. MG2 is the drive motor. MG1 is used as a starter motor and acts as an engine-driven generator to charge the battery pack or provide additional power to the drive motor, MG2, as needed.

The LS 600h can operate in EV Mode, in which the vehicle will stay in electric-only mode at speeds below 25 mph for about a half mile. This feature might be useful to glide into the garage silently if you get home late, or get to a gas station if you ran out of fuel or maybe for use in stop-and-go commuter traffic.

Even though the hybrid is equipped with regenerative brakes, which recharge the battery as the brakes are applied, brake feel is typical of a standard car equipped with strong disc brakes, an impressive engineering achievement.

Note, however, that the hybrid is priced far higher than the base model, making it more of a social and environmental statement than a value. It does include other standard equipment, including all-wheel drive, but the fuel savings will never make up for the extra cost. In all fairness, the base LS 460 is the wiser choice.

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