Big Bang for Big Bucks

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Michael Toscano

2013 Lexus LS 460 Sedan

I’m not generally a big fan of large, heavy luxury cars. If the bubble of opulent cushioning doesn’t dull the sensation of driving, the bulk and mushy handling performance will often negate any thrill the powerful engines can provide. So why spend the extra money, when less expensive cars can be perfectly comfortable and usually more fun to drive?

Somebody at Lexus must have been pondering that very question, because the company has re-designed the LS line for the 2013 model year. And they created a winner. A large, heavy luxury car finally won me over. I was skeptical at first, but after a week driving a “matador red mica” 4-door LS 460 sedan (price tag 90K), I must admit I was sorry to see it go. I still prefer lighter, nimbler and sportier cars, but this luxury sedan, stylish in appearance and with enhanced driver control, got to me.

The new Lexus cuts a swaggering figure, with a sporty roofline curving down to the rear deck, trimming the silhouette. The lines and dual pipes in the rear assert power, complemented in the front with Lexus’ bold grille. Chrome touches add flair, just enough to hint at exuberance without being flashy. The overall aspect is contemporary and streamlined, outside and in.

Under the hood, there’s less understatement, and here’s where the LS 460 starts to earn its $90,000 paycheck. Lexus has continued using its familiar powertrain, the aluminum 32-valve, 4.6-liter V8 that’s joined with the 8-speed sequential automatic transmission to produce 386 HP. Other top-of-the-line cars may churn out more power, but Lexus has upgraded the suspension system and the steering to allow the driver greater control, so you can feel each of the 386 horses. They’ve added adjustable drive settings to put even more of that power right at your fingertips, an experience that’s more brains than brawn.

The model I drove came with the F Sport package, meaning I was driving with lowered Adaptive Variable Air Suspension, and sport-tuned stabilizer bars and shock absorbers. That package comes with five driving modes (Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+), allowing for more direct control of the throttle and sharper steering for a more finely-tuned ride. With its sophisticated sound isolation and smooth ride, this Lexus makes cruising at 100 mph feel like 60.

Oh, it’s still a big and heavy car. And you have to remember that it’s lower to the ground than it might seem. Go over a neighborhood street speed bump at the suggested low speed limit, or run up over even a slight incline into a driveway, say, and you may scrape bottom. (I imagine this is a peculiar quirk of the car I drove, but almost every time I rode over a bump, the passenger side glove compartment sprang open in a very non-Lexus way.)

The roomy interior whispers (never shouts) luxury and comfort, with supple leather and understated wood trim, plush seats, adjustable ambient lighting, and beautifully designed climate, communications and entertainment controls. A remote touch interface, sort of like a stationary computer mouse, works intuitively and increases your ability to keep eyes on the road ahead. The display screen is large and positioned closer to eye level than usual, and it is bright and easy to read, especially for navigation.

The MSRP for this model is actually only $75,000, and includes a long list of safety, luxury and “convenience” features. The addition of sport packages is what pushed up the price tag to $90,000. But it’s that performance-oriented focus that sets this big and heavy luxury car apart from many of its counterparts, it seems.

So maybe you’ll have to put off retirement for another couple of years to afford this car, but think of how much fun and comfort you’ll have getting to and from work every day.