The LS 400 is the flagship model of Lexus. It is a four-door sedan, classed as a full-size luxury car or F-segment vehicle, in the same category as BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. It has a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. The most recent models in the LS series now include all-wheel-drive variants.
The Car that Launched the Lexus
The LS 400 is not just any Lexus model – it has the bragging rights of being the first car that changed the game in the automotive industry’s luxury arena long dominated by German and American marques. Its roaring success as the first of the LS series gave Lexus the grand entrance it needed as Toyota’s luxury sub-brand.
LS 400 has made so much impact that, in the market where it first launched, it got ranked number 1 by the US-based Car and Driver (against Audi V8 Quattro, BMW 735i, Infiniti Q45, Jaguar XJ6, and Mercedes-Benz 420SEL). Another US magazine, the Automobile, named it one of the 24 Most Important Vehicles of the Century. Even the British Autocar could not deny LS 400's superiority and went on to say that this car gave the freight to the leading car companies.
At its reveal in 1989 at the North American International Auto Show, it became evident that Lexus spared no expense or resources in developing the LS 400. The project, dubbed Flagship One or F1, involved 60 designers, 1,400 engineers, thousands of technicians and workers, and 450 test mules to bring the LS 400 to its debut. That year, the Lexus debutante won the Car of the Year award in Japan.
After that grand launch, the LS 400 went on sale in the same year, exporting primarily to the US and in a small number to the UK, Australia, and Canada. It had out-performed Mercedes-Benz and BMW in America in 1991, and a decade later, its sales surpassed that of the Cadillac. With this sole model, Lexus shook the status quo and forced other players to overhaul not only their products but also their operation.
Lexus posed such a threat that rival automakers hired people to buy LS 400s (making up 5% of the 1989 sales) so that these companies could disassemble and analyse what made the Lexus car tick! One prominent characteristic of the LS 400 was its precisely-engineered panels, which later became the benchmark used by competitors to test the noise-cancelling qualities and cabin quietness of their cars.
Apart from its superior sound-insulating quality and well-appointed interior, it stands tall for surpassing higher-priced competitors in the areas of engine performance, world-class design, and superb ride and handling.
First Generation, LS Series 1, Mark 1/UCF10 (1989-1994)
The Lexus marque started from several suggested names, one of which was Alexis, which evolved into Lexus. The name alluded to ‘luxury’ and ‘elegance’ and also stood for ‘luxury exports to the US’.
While the F1 project did not use any major Toyota part in constructing the flagship model, it derived inspiration from the 3rd generation Toyota Supra and 6th generation Mark II (aka 4th generation Toyota Cressida). Both the Supra sports car and the Mark II/Cressida sedan are rear-wheel-drive vehicles with a powerful M-family inline-six engine. Like the Cressida, the Lexus flagship enjoyed excellent sound-proofing and nimble rear-wheeler handling.
For the Lexus project, the engineering team developed a new V8 engine. Since its biggest target initially was the US market, the project designers performed an in-depth study on the preferences of the upper-class buyers. Researchers and designers even went to the extent of living in Laguna Beach, California, to understand the tastes and lifestyles of their target demography.
Project F1 ended in 1989 with the launching of the first-generation or Series 1 LS 400. This debut did not only highlight the car but also Toyota's new 4.0-litre 1UZ-FE 32-valve quad-camshaft V8 petrol engine, which was capable of sending up to 190 kW and 360 Nm to the rear wheels through a 4-speed A341E automatic transmission. It had an advertised fuel consumption of 9.8L/100km, a top speed of 250 km/h, and 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 8.5s.
The safety and interior features of LS 400 were industry-leading even for the luxury class at the time. It included an auto tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, SRS airbags, power seatbelts, power seats, electrochromic rearview mirror, leather seats, California walnut trim, electroluminescent instrument cluster, Nakamichi sound system and hands-free cellphone interface.
Mark 1 had the following dimensions in millimetres: 4995 (Length), 1820 (Width), 1400 (Height), and 2815 (Wheelbase).
In Japan, Toyota marketed the LS 400 as Toyota Celsior, and subsequent Lexus models entered Toyota’s home market in this fashion until 2005.
Series 1a, Mark 2/UCF10 II (1992-1994)
Series 1 received at least fifty modifications and came out as the Series 1a or LS 400 Mark 2. The facelift revised the grille, added body mouldings, enlarged the brakes and wheels, and improved the suspension and steering system. It also added new colours to the palette, airbags, and CFC-free feature to the air-conditioning system.
Second Generation, LS Series 2, Mark 3/UCF20 (1994-2000)
Lexus launched the redesigned second generation in 1994. Series 2 received a subtle restyling with an upswept shoulder line that rose toward a raised boot. It grew in width, height, and wheelbase to expand the interior space. Interestingly, it now weighed 70 kg lighter regardless of its enlarged dimensions.
The previous 1UZ-FE V8 engine was enhanced and now could generate up to 204 kW of power and 367 Nm of torque. In Australia, it came with a 4-speed A340E automatic transmission. The enhancements improved the 0-100km/h acceleration time to 7.5s and also resulted in a faster top speed and better fuel economy.
Internal modifications were more significant and included upgrading of the cabin insulation, brakes, suspension, and crumple zone, which now covered a larger area. The interior added dual-zone climate control air-conditioning to the existing features, while the exterior sported a new bevelled grille.
Mark 3 now had these body measurements in millimetres: 4995 (Length), 1830 (Width), 1415 (Height), and 2850 (Wheelbase). A more aerodynamic build reduced drag coefficient (Cd) from the previous 0.29 to 0.28.
Series 2a, Mark 4/UCF20 II (1997-2000)
Series 2 received a facelift in 1997 which tweaked the engine and paired it with a new 5-speed A650E automatic transmission. With a new VVT-I technology included in the revamp, the output increased to 210 kW of power and 400 Nm of torque. The suspension and steering system received further fine-tuning to improve ride experience and handling. Drag coefficient reduced some more to an impressive 0.27.
The exterior change included updates on the fascia, side mirrors, and wheels. The interior, meanwhile, welcomed a trip computer, reading lamps, climate control with improved filtration and sensor system, and Homelink. Safety features added side airbags, vehicle stability control, and brake assist.
End of the Line for LS 400
In that historic launching back in 1989, the LS 400 caused the sales of BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the US to drop as much as 29% and 19%, respectively. And from Lexus’s initial US sales, 35% came from buyers who traded in their Cadillac or Lincoln. Since then, Lexus has continued to build on the loyalty of its customers, whose number increased each year. It sold 277,000 of combined Mk1 and Mk2 for the US market alone.
In 2000, the end for the iconic LS 400 had come with the introduction of LS 430, Series 3 of the LS lineup. It replaced LS 400 as the flagship car of Lexus.
The LS 400 does not only hold the sole distinction of being the car that single-handedly launched the luxury giant that is Lexus; it is also an automobile that was ahead of its time. It was class-leading in performance, refinement, and modern technology, and it remains so by current standards. Finding one on sale today would be a dream but entirely possible. If you're looking to buy used vintage luxury cars in Australia like the LS 400 or would like to sell one, don't hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website for our current listings!
By Jeannette Salanga (JMSL)