2013 Lexus LS Driving Impressions

If you want your LS to feel like a Lexus luxury car, you need the optional package including the air suspension, variable gear ratio power steering, and five dynamic modes, from Eco to Sport Plus. We drove an LS with coil-spring shock absorbers, simple electric power steering, and three modes, and we discovered the bumpier ride and heavier steering were not Lexus-like.

We also drove an all-wheel-drive model, which gains 418 pounds and loses 26 horsepower to a different exhaust system, and it's way slower. Its all-season tires don't grip like the summer tires on the rear-wheel-drive. The gas pedal felt like it had a long throw, because not much happened when you pressed it. If you must have traction for snow, then get all-wheel drive; but the loss in acceleration is not worth any gain in all-wheel-drive balance during hard cornering on dry pavement.

The rear-wheel-drive F Sport has the most comfort, speed, handling and fun. It's got the air suspension package, six-piston Brembo brakes, more bolstering in the seats, and a black mesh spindle grille. But no more power, using the same 4.6-liter V8 making 386 horsepower, sweet and silky for years.

With five dynamic modes to play with (or to adjust, it depends on how you look at it), there are many cars to describe here. Or maybe just one, the Lexus that worked in every suspension situation it faced that day, although it wasn't challenged with hard cornering or bumpy roads, no opportunity. But it's a great ride for how the car is going to be driven 90 percent of the time, in summer weather. Riding shotgun with us for a day in the hills south of San Francisco, delightfully, was Nobuo Murata, top engineer for ride and handling, describing his team's efforts to get the ride right, especially with the air suspension, which lowers the car. We also drove together in the coil-spring car, and you could tell Murata-san was less excited.

Superb ride and impeccable silence. Now that's Lexus-like. And there are advancements in sound isolation on the all-new LS. To reduce wind noise and improve aero stability, there are small wings on the A pillar, barely noticeable. The mirrors block the slipstream, and that creates an air pocket around a car at speed, allowing it to feel like it's blowing around on the highway.

The Lexus definitely lacks wind noise. If it's this easy to silence wind noise and improve stability on the freeway in the wind and around big rigs, especially given multi-million-dollar wind tunnels, we wonder why no one thought of these little aero wings before. We asked Murata-san, but the conceptual nature of the question was a bit beyond his English.

It also lacks wheel noise, with the second innovation, the optional hollow-core wheels. Further contributing to a quiet cabin, there's yet another innovation, small saw-toothed fins inside the grille that somehow silence the air.

The five dynamic driving modes share programming in the areas of powertrain, suspension and steering. They're not all changed with each mode.

Normal is default. Eco backs off the throttle (and dials back the AC), without changing anything else. Comfort softens the suspension. Sport S adds a sharpened throttle and transmission, and Sport S+ stiffens the suspension and quickens the steering.

We played with the modes a lot. Comfort is the mode for driving aroundy patchy city streets; it soaks up the bumps, and it's not too soft in other places. Since the Sport S mode doesn't stiffen the suspension beyond Normal, it's a good one to stay in, the ride is way comfortable. Sport S just sharpens the throttle and transmission, both of which are good things any time, we think, not just for sport driving.

Even Sport S+ is not uncomfortably firm, and quicker steering is always good, too. Despite the name, Sport S+ is not radical, not a mode to be saved for the track, it's quite functional in daily driving.

At its sharpest, under full throttle at redline and shifted with the paddles, the 8-speed is not a quick-shifter like the German cars. The Lexus is an automatic, not a twin-clutch, and it shifts in .3 seconds. There is blipping downshift control, which takes .2 seconds.

If you don't get the package with the air suspension and five modes, the shift lever is in the console, not paddles. We liked its console location, and enjoyed manually shifting there, driving that LS 460 with coil springs. The paddles are okay too, but you have to grip the steering wheel with your hands at the wide spokes at 9 and 3 o'clock, to reach the paddles. Right paddle is upshift, left is downshift, as it should be.

We didn't get a chance to test the 6-piston Brembo brakes in the F Sport, but really, they need to be tested? If you think your driving demands big beefed-up brakes, go for it. With the 19-inch BBS alloy wheels on the F Sport, you can see the whole calipers between the thick spokes.

As for the hybrid, the LS 600h L is so smooth it's almost surreal. Its 389-horsepower engine, matched with the enormous torque of the electric motor, propels this 5360-pound car from 0-60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. It's EPA-rated at 19 miles per gallon City. According to Lexus, the 600h L produces exhaust emissions nearly 70 percent cleaner than its cleanest competitors.

The hybrid drive system uses two powerful electric motors and a battery system consisting 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 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.

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