Autos: Inside Scoop

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Push a particular button on the Lexus LS430’s navigation system, and miniature flags of Japan, China, and France appear on a map on the car’s 7-inch touchscreen. The icons, situated among equally small images of steaming coffee cups and fish heads, represent the Japanese, Chinese, and French restaurants—along with cafés and seafood eateries—located within a 5-mile radius of the car’s location. (There are no fusion establishments in the vicinity to confuse the apparatus.)

When cross-shopping among today’s increasingly exceptional executive sedans, one assumes each vehicle will meet certain expectations: a high-powered engine, a quiet cabin, and a plush ride. The LS430, along with its competitors, does not disappoint. So in this fierce market, where disparities in performance are often negligible, interior details such as a gourmand-geared navigation system might be enough to land the Lexus in your garage and leave the primary alternatives—the Audi A8L, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and Volkswagen Phaeton—in the showroom.

On the road, the Lexus performs flawlessly. While the 290 hp, 4.3-liter V-8 engine does not provide neck-snapping acceleration (zero to 60 in 5.9 seconds), the sedan has no trouble merging from the on-ramp to the passing lane. The 6-speed transmission can be shifted manually and adjusted to a sport setting, but the car excels in automatic.

However, its performance does not distinguish the Lexus from other contenders. The BMW’s handling feels sharper, the Audi’s stiff suspension makes it a tighter driver, and the Jaguar’s aluminum body gives it a lighter feeling in corners. Aesthetically, the LS430’s restrained, Toyota Avalonlike exterior would not inspire doodling during math class. Instead, Lexus has defined the LS430 with high-tech amenities and an unparalleled interior.

The keyless entry system enables one to unlock the car and start the engine without ever extracting the key from a pocket or purse, and a camera mounted above the license plate beams a rearview picture onto the navigation screen when the car is in reverse. The LS430’s cabin is comfortable and roomy enough to serve as a second home. Creamy leather is complemented by sparkling walnut trim. The climate, audio, and navigation systems can be adjusted intuitively, especially when compared with the complex Audi MMI and BMW iDrive mechanisms. The 240-watt, 11-speaker Mark Levinson audio system can be customized to provide optimal sound for the driver’s seat, the front compartment, or the entire cabin.

Denny Clements, Lexus general manager, has long clamored for a more expensive sedan—preferably powered by a larger engine—to discourage badge snobs from migrating to European brands. “We need to have a V-12 in a premium sedan,” Clements says. Even so, drivers should consider that the LS430’s relatively bargain-basement price of $55,000 is not indicative of its quality.


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