Life is cut-throat in the luxury car market. When Lexus pulled the wraps off its third-generation LS430 flagship back in 2000, there were no iDriven 745i BMWs, no aluminium-bodied Jag XJs and no new-generation Audi A8s. The LS wooed buyers with its silkiness, its space, and a list of standard gear as long as your arm.
But now the opposition has caught up and moved on. So for its mid-cycle facelift model, which lands in UK showrooms in November, Lexus has been sweating the details and filling in the gaps in an attempt to stay fresh against this new generation of European mega-saloons.
Like the 745i and new XJ, the LS has traded the five speeds in its auto transmission for six; sharpened up its sheetmetal; added even more electronic gizmos and safety features; and tried to shed its dull-driver image with the addition of tighter suspension, a sequential-style gear shifter, and optional 18-inch, low-profile rubberware.
Not that anyone at the golf club is going to recognise the latest LS as a new model; styling changes are subtle at best. Up front there’s a bonnet with sharper creases, a bigger bumper with a re-shaped spoiler, and new headlights with ‘swivelling’ low beams that light the car’s path around corners.
At the rear, the twin exhausts now poke out of the bumper to announce to the world there really is a V8 up front, plus there are new rear lights with LEDs for quicker brake light illumination. As we said, subtle.
But the substance behind the style comes with the new six-speed auto, with self-shif override for the first time. It’s an Aisin-Warner design, as opposed to the ZF ’box that’s used in the Jag and 7-series, and gives a much-needed lower first gear for zippier off-the-line acceleration, with the other five ratios stacked closer for better mid-range response.
Now when you nail the throttle, there’s more urgency in the way this almost-two-tonne luxury barge launches off the line. According to Lexus figures, the 0-60mph sprint is dispatched in 5.9 seconds, as opposed to 6.3 seconds with the previous five-speeder. The new transmission is intuitive and super-responsive to calls for kick-down, and still sets the benchmark when it comes to oily-smooth changes.