ANN M. JOBWith a starting retail price of $68,505, the 2012 Lexus LS sedan is bargain-priced compared to European competitors. The flagship sedan of the luxury Lexus line, the roomy, comfortable, V-8-powered LS also is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, where this four-door auto is rated above average in reliability. And the luxury-swathed, five-passenger LS is notable for its many large, well-labeled and well-arranged buttons and controls that allow a driver to operate the sound system and heater/air conditioner directly, without having to go through a menu of selections on a display screen. Yet, the LS isn't old school. It's just one of the best in the luxury sedan class at providing both old and new, easy-to-understand interfaces for drivers to adjust things they tune frequently. There is no frustrating BMW-like i-Drive system here, nor a confusing Audi-like scrolling half circle of selections for car settings. Still, while the LS is a fine highway cruiser, it lags V-8 competitors in engine power. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $68,505 for a 2012 LS 460 with rear-wheel drive, 380-horsepower V-8 and "regular" length of 16.6 feet. With all-wheel drive, the 2012 LS 460 has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $70,810. A 2012 LS 460 L, which stretches to 17 feet in length, has a starting retail price of $74,050. With all-wheel drive, the 460 L starts at $76,355. In comparison, the starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2012 Mercedes-Benz S550 with 429-horsepower V-8 and standard all-wheel drive is $95,375, or some $24,500 more than a base, all-wheel drive LS 460. The 2012 BMW 750i with 400-horsepower V-8 starts at $86,195, or some $17,600 more than an LS. The major price competitor to the LS is Hyundai's rear-wheel drive 2012 Equus, which has a 429-horsepower V-8 and a starting retail price of $59,900. Note that while the Equus comes with standard luxury features, it does not carry a luxury badge.
Lexus, whose parent company is Toyota, struggled last year with car supplies because of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. As a result, after 11 years as best-selling luxury brand in the United States, Lexus last year fell behind BMW. And LS sales so far in calendar 2012 are down some 30 percent from a year ago.The car didn't receive major changes for the 2012 model year. But the LS is back to its roots as a value-based competitor to the European luxury cars. The test LS 460 showed how it can make buyers feel at home who enjoy an environment free from intimidating, overwhelming technology. The interior of the LS test car included wide front seats that were stylized and shaped as sport seats. They were fatigue-reducing resting spots that provided good support without being hard, and the range of power adjustments made them adaptable to both short and tall passengers. Gauges were easy to understand and well illuminated, even in daylight. There was nothing gimmicky or distracting about them. Controls on the center of the dashboard on down to the center console were a pleasant mix of large buttons and good-sized displays and were arranged in a coherent way. For example, driver and front passenger could readily find the respective temperature controls and tune the radio without fuss. Having listened to the Mark Levinson audio system available on the LS before, though, I would have preferred to have it in the test car. Instead, sounds came through a premium, 10-speaker system that worked fine but didn't quite have the crispness and amazing clarity of the Levinson system. All seams on the seats and gaps on the metal car body as well as between interior trim pieces were perfectly aligned for exceptional fit and finish on the test car. The ride was compliant in normal suspension mode, so riders didn't feel much of the road and bumps came through as only mild vibrations.
There was a mild amount of road feel from the optional summer tires that were 19-inchers on attractive, 10-spoke alloy wheels.But the sensations dialed up when the suspension setting was moved to sport mode, and passengers readily could notice the ride was stiffer and bumps more pronounced. This was part of an optional sport package that added paddle shifters inside for quick shifting, sans clutch pedal, of the eight-speed automatic transmission. The more than 4,200-pound LS also stiffened a bit in corners and turns while in sport mode, but it still felt like a good-sized, weighty auto in emergency maneuvers. The 4.6-liter, four-cam V-8 delivers strong, but not unnerving, power, and it comes through smoothly. It was normal for the car to glide forward, rather than roar forward, in serene and refined fashion. The V-8 tops out at 367 foot-pounds at 4,100 rpm, so 0-to-60 miles an hour takes 6.4 seconds, which is about a second slower than higher-powered V-8 cars like the S550. Premium gasoline is required in the LS's 22.2-gallon tank, so a fillup at today's prices is above $90. In the test drive, which was half city driving and half on highways, the LS managed 18.9 mpg. The official U.S. government fuel economy rating for the LS 460 is 16 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on highways. This compares with 15/25 mpg for the more powerful 2012 Mercedes S550 and 15/22 mpg for the more powerful 2012 BMW 750i. There is a higher mileage version of LS. It's a gasoline-electric hybrid LS rated at 19/23 mpg. Starting retail price for this model is $113,625.