Historically, a handful of luxury sleds have owned the upper echelons where gut-wrenching speed and exceptional handling meet luxury comfort, and over-the-top refinements. The storied players here include BMW's 750i, Mercedes' S550, Audi's S8 and Jaguar's XJ-R sedan. These are long-wheelbased, comfortable sedans that launch, stop and handle like sports cars.
For more than two decades now, the Lexus LS has established itself as a breakthrough player in comfort, luxury, value and reliability. But, in all these years, Lexus has never troubled its largest LS sedan with sportiness. Having now earned its stripes as a legitimate luxury carriage builder, Lexus this year tiptoes the LS 460 into the performance competition with its new F-Sport package.
The present LS 460 borrows heavily from the sportier redesign of the GS lineup a few years ago. The exterior is a bold leap forward for the typically conservative luxury division of Toyota--distinguishing the LS more than ever before.
The F-Sport package adds 19-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels with V-Rated tires and an F-Sport badge on the front fenders. The F-Sport squats in a more aggressive stance--about a half-inch lower to the ground than the standard LS, and it breathes through a sportier mesh front grille.
Under the hood lies the same 4.6-liter, 386-horsepower V-8 engine as the standard LS, paired to an 8-speed sequential automatic transmission. Be not misled, unlike high-end German sedans, which offer larger engines (often approaching or breaching the 500 horsepower mark), the LS 460 F-Sport is essentially an upgraded trim and suspension package. No manual transmission, and no extra ponies under the hood (because 386 is more than enough ponies, folks).
Sitting in the driver's seat, the F-Sport interior is noticeably sportier. Gone are the Lexus wood trimmed steering wheel and shifter, replaced with the muted tones of performance. Metallic themed accelerator and brake pedals and F-Sport badges on a sportier steering wheel and seats complete the interior upgrade. Near the shifter lies a Drive Mode Selector with Economy, Normal, Sport, and Sport +. In Sport +, the F-Sport reveals that it has been factory tuned with tighter suspension, race-like steering, and a more eager transmission schedule.
The 12.3-inch infotainment screen is paired with a convenient interface. We found it to be workable and wonderful for dialing in our favorite Pandora stations. In a nice change from some luxury cars, Lexus keeps its volume and temperature selections out of the touchscreen, with manual buttons and dials that can be adjusted no matter what is on the screen.
Some crazy speed junkies may complain that the F-Sport package doesn't offer a unique engine or transmission. Those folks can keep paying their $120,000 and $150,000 for the high-end German sleds. At $86,000, the Lexus LS 460 F-Sport costs tens of thousands of dollars less and offers a nice step towards sporting. (Keep in mind, if shopping this field, that those BMW, Mercedes and Audi variants can lose about half their value within two or three years.)
With its first step into sport-luxury, Lexus' flagship sedan offers a great package for
buyers who want Toyota reliability and Lexus resale value with a bit more personality and performance. Here Lexus has found an untapped niche in the luxury sedan market. We hope buyers take note.
© 2014 John Dickerson and John Kehlenbeck, Horsepower Auto Reviews