Competition in the upper reaches of the luxury sedan segment is boiling over. Brands that aren't fronting advanced technology, improved mileage, enhanced performance, or combinations of all of the above are relegated to the back burner. To avoid that fate, Lexus has introduced a surprise Sport model addition to its range of placid LS sedans. Not a whit of extra power has been added but the exterior, interior, and chassis upgrades in this $6200 package are thoughtfully executed, setting the stage for a full LS-F performance flagship to follow in due course. We hope.
All Lexus LS models - standard, long wheelbase, AWD, and the 600hL hybrid - benefit from a modest facelift in their fourth (third in the case of the hybrid), model year. The alterations list includes bumper fascias, all lamps, the grille, color palette, and wheels.
The Sport model gets its own dark, more aggressively textured grille, nifty 20-spoke 19-inch wheels, and a 360 degree body kit that lowers the car's visual center of gravity. Thankfully designers have resisted the urge to soil the exterior with sport badging and a rear spoiler.
The split-spoke forged aluminum wheels shod with summer 45-series radials are a convincing touch, especially with hairy Brembo brake calipers peeking through the front wheel spokes.
More Interesting Interior
All 460s benefit from new active front seat headrests, updated metal accents for the center stack, redesigned audio controls and display, and cashmere instead of parchment toned leather. In addition, an ECO lamp has been added to the instrument cluster to encourage light-footed driving.
The Sport edition has its own black and dark brown perforated leather upholstery with stitching in a contrasting color. A nice touch is seeing the brown tone through the perforations in the black skin. The steering wheel is leather trimmed and the front buckets are purposely bolstered with substantial side surfaces in support of this car's performance mission. The dark ash burl wood paneling has a tasteful matte finish. Paddle shifters attached to the wheel provide full manual authority over the 8-speed automatic's gear changes. Transplanted directly from the racy Lexus IS-F, this transmission is programmed for frequent heavy throttle use.
A Perpetually Growing Goodie List
In the upper luxury class, engineers strive to stay one step ahead of competitors with new and often useless gadgets. The Lexus LS family has all electronic safety systems gathered under one Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system to allow the car to maneuver through the nooks and crannies of traction and stability. Eight air bags are standard and rear-seat side bags are optional to up the count to ten for the chicken little crowd. The front HID headlamps steer into turns. A parking guidance system automatically handles the exasperating (for some) parallel parking chore.
For 2010 there's a new slide-away driver's seat, a larger LCD center stack display screen, voice command added to the optional navigation system, plus Bluetooth and USB connectivity. There are steering wheel controls to page through iPod entertainment folders and an auxiliary jack in the center console. Other new standard features for the L edition are automatically dimming headlamps, XM satellite reception, climate-controlled front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a power rear sunshade, automatic trunk opening and closing, and power door closers. Most of this gear is optional on the lesser editions. The array of option packages includes: Comfort, Comfort Plus, Luxury, Rear Upgrade, Executive Class (including a right rear seat massage function), and a 19-speaker, 450 watt Mark Levinson surround sound system.
A new Enform telematics system contains typical OnStar capabilities such as online or live routing assistance, stolen vehicle recovery aid, automatic collision notification, emergency assistance, and ordinary roadside assistance. Stepping up to the optional navigation system is a prerequisite. Various XM services, such as weather, traffic, and sports data, are included.
Passably Potent Powertrain
The 380-hp 4.6-liter V-8 engine introduced four years ago for the LS family carries over with no significant changes for this Sport expansion. Notable features are both direct and port fuel injection, intake and exhaust variable valve timing, a towering 11.8:1 compression ratio, and a dual mode air-induction system. In contrast to some German competitors, this engine is efficient enough to avoid the gas guzzler stigma, delivering 16 mpg in EPA city driving and 24 mpg on the highway. (The AWD edition, not available with the Sport package, sacrifices one mpg on the highway.)
The AA80E Sports Direct Shift Control automatic transmission transplanted directly from the Lexus IS-F is the hand the rubs the powertrain genie. Locked and loaded in the lower gears, the previously subdued V-8 howls assertively while hustling to its 6600 rpm redline. The transmission is smart enough to delay gear changes until the driver clicks the right paddle for the next higher ratio. When the left paddle is actuated to drop a gear, the electronic throttle is automatically blipped to astutely coordinate the shift.
Click the shifter and leg the throttle with gusto and the LS 460 Sport hustles to sixty mph in 5.4 seconds on its way to a 130 mph top speed (factory figures).
Without drastically changing the LS multilink underpinnings, Lexus engineers firmed up the air springs, anti-roll bars, and dampers to give the Sport model a more confident step. Roll, pitch, and wallow have left the building. During an abrupt lane change, the nose and tail move together with no out-of-phase whip at the rear. The summer-rated 245-width radials hang on for dear life when the handling action intensifies. The opposed piston Brembo front brakes provide ample stopping power reserve for all the momentum this 4350-pound sedan can muster.
Satisfying Step in the Speed Direction
Even though there is no extra power to indulge, the LS 460 Sport makes the best of what it's got. A previously geriatric sedan is finally alive with youthful vigor and enthusiasm for twisty roads. Those who experience euphoria for extended periods should consult their therapist to make sure that their libidos can handle such stimulation. Common side effects are wider eyes, a burning desire to take the long way home, and recurrent wallet pain related to speeding citations.
Lexus has revealed an inner self we never knew existed. The LS platform has the moxie to handle much more power, speed, and throttle pressure. This toe dipped in sport sedan water needs to be followed by dive into the deep end of the shark infested pool. Our crystal ball clearly shows a LS-F 500 flagship sedan powered by a tuned-up 5.0-liter V-8 borrowed from the 600hL. A six-month massage by the motorsports department would do nicely for this future model. A sub-$100,000 price tag would make this addition to the Lexus family the perfect playmate for the coming LF-A super car.
2010 Lexus LS 460 Sport
Base Price: $65,555
Base 460 Sport: $71,755
As-Tested: $74,000 (estimated)
Engine: 4.6-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8
Horsepower: 380 hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 367 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
LxWxH: 199.2 x 73.8 x 57.5 in.
Legroom F/R: 43.7/35.8 in.
Headroom F/R: 38.0/38.0 in
Cargo capacity: 18.0 cu ft
Curb weight: 4350 lbs
EPA Rating (city/highway): 16/24 mpg