In 1996, long before the last of the LS 400 rolled out of Toyota’s Tahara plant in Aichi, Japan, the development team for UCF30 had already started planning about a major redesign. The planning team headed by Chief Engineer Yasushi Tanaka was geared towards breaking away from the restrained approach of the first two eras. Looking back, the LS 400 did project that stance that blended in with its rivals. In retrospect, that strategy of blending in and being not too radical was a well-thought-out move and achieved the initial goals of the then-neophyte Lexus.
LS 430: XF30 (2000-2006)
Ten years and several revisions later, Lexus thought it was time for the LS 430 (chassis code UCF30) to step up. The plan was not a simple redesign but a massive overhaul of the interior, exterior, and technology aspects of the LS. Lexus announced that this was going to be a 90% all-new model with minor components from the previous generation.
The new flagship vehicle, like its predecessor to the series, is an F-segment, full-size four-door luxury sedan. It holds the distinction of being the first luxury flagship vehicle and among the first V8-engined cars to be ULEV-certified.
The development team chose from sixteen concept designs and decided on Akihiro Nagaya’s concept as the blueprint for the LS 430. Its wheelbase and height increase, the exterior featured more rounded elements including a more aerodynamic body, smooth-edged grille and soft-angled trapezoidal headlamps. Both the rear doors gained quarter windows.
The sleeker body resulted in an impressive drag coefficient of 0.26 on standard suspension and a class-leading 0.25 with air suspension. The expansion in dimensions increased the interior space, including the trunk, which further benefitted from the relocation of the fuel tank.
LS 430 had its debut in 2000 at the North American International Auto Show and went on sale late in the year. Amusingly, the designers lifted inspiration from a luxury guest room of three hotels for its interior and the first-class seats of British Airways and Japan Airlines.
For the first time, the LS series featured more than the single model available with the first two generations. However, these variants were mostly available in the US since it was Lexus’s biggest market. Models generally had the same body style but differed in equipment and chassis configuration. A Touring version, which had a sport-tuned suspension and high-speed brakes, was available in the US. Another variant was the Ultra Luxury edition which offered an option for height-adjustable air suspension for a more responsive handling capability.
Lexus offered the LS 430 with a 4.3-litre 3UZ-FE V8 32-valve quad-camshaft petrol engine from the same Toyota UZ family of engines that powered the first two generations. It came with two automatic transmission options (5-speed and 6-speed). Meanwhile, in Australia, the powertrain made use of the 5-speed A650E automatic transmission to push up to 207 kW of power and 417 Nm of torque generated by the V8.
This engine earned the LS 430 its ULEV badge, which was among the first certifications issued to a petrol V8 automobile. It improved on the previous generation's sprint time and now could do a quick 0-100km/h in 6.7s. As in the past, this generation entered Japan as the Toyota Celsior, which would be the last generation to do so. In 2005, they would enter the home market as Lexuses for the first time.
Like the LS flagship that it is, the LS 430 maintained its exceptional cabin silence, unfailing handling, and unbelievable build quality. Detractors compare them to the S-Class and call them soulless, which is a shot at its advanced technology. The truth is, detractors couldn’t fault its technology, thus call it soulless for lack of a better word.
Aside from its powerful engine with VVT-i added to good effect and a sprint time that shies by half a sec behind Lexus's sports coupe (the SC 430), this version is a lot sportier than previous. Even without the air suspension option, this sportiness does not sacrifice any of its passenger-pampering qualities. With the air suspension, however, it's a whole new game. It levels out the ride under different loads and, yes, improves the drag coefficient to a sports-class level of 0.25.
Other notable features of this generation's pre-facelift version include laser-guided cruise control, intuitive park assist, rear-seat heater and massager, and a Mark Levinson audio system.
The 2004 model year sported the 6-speed A761E automatic transmission. Tanaka’s team succeeded in its goal of recreating the LS series into an imposing flagship that gets noticed, not because it looked like the leading luxury cars, but because it is exceptional in its own right.
Its restyled exterior received new front and rear fascias, LED taillights, and new wheels. The interior now has knee airbags and new trim options. Lexus equipped the updated model with a radar sensor (the first Lexus to have it) for the pre-collision system and the cruise control to work in any weather condition.
LS 460: XF40 (2006–2017)
Plans for the fourth generation had started brewing as early as 2001, a year after the first SL 430 went on sale. Designer Yo Hiruta handled this program, which had the code 250L (the second generation was 250T). Lexus wanted to differentiate itself some more. This generation would pioneer several firsts in Lexus’s history and some in the automotive industry as a whole.
This model would use an all-new platform called N-platform and follow a new design language called the L-finesse. This new design language would later find tangible interpretation in Lexus’s first-ever concept car and future production cars.
For the first time, the LS series had a concept car, the LF-Sh which stood for Lexus Future – sedan hybrid. It previewed the next flagship in 2005 at the Tokyo Motor Show. The concept had a futuristic outline, arrow-shaped trim, low-set grille, and crystal-like headlamps. It did not only reveal the next flagship, but also the directions that Lexus planned to take in the future.
There would be two fourth-generation flagships – one, petrol-fueled and the other, a hybrid. This article will focus on the LS 460, the non-hybrid, while another piece will pick up on the LS 600h, the hybrid version.
In January 2006, the non-hybrid LS 460 for MY 2007 launched at the North American International Auto Show, not in one model, but two. For the first time, Lexus built a model in two wheelbase versions – standard (chassis code USF40) and long (chassis code USF41). Just a note on the hybrid version, LS 600h (chassis code UVF45/46) – it debuted at the NY International Auto Show in 2006. For the second time in the history of LS, its flagship (the LS 600h) won the Car of the Year Japan (the first was won by LS 400 in 1989).
The non-hybrids have the designations LS 460 (standard wheelbase) and LS 460L (long wheelbase). They both come with a 4.6L 32-valve V8 petrol engine with dual VVT-iE and D4-S direct injection. An all-wheel drivetrain option was also made available, but in Australia, only the RWD standard-wheelbase version was released.
The Australia-spec’d LS 430 was powered with a 4.6-litre 1UR-FSE V8 petrol engine, with 280kW and 493 Nm peak power and torque and fuel consumption of 11.1 litres for every 100km. It teamed up with an 8-speed AA80E automatic transmission, the world’s first 8-speed to use an advance continuous-control adaptive variable suspension. Its wheelbase is at the standard length of 2,969 mm.
The new version added more up-to-the-minute technology firsts, including the IR temperature-sensors first used in a car, shiatsu-massaging ottoman, automated parallel parking assist, and continuous control AVS, to name a few.
2012: The Spindle Grille
The 2012 LS release brought to life the new corporate spindle grille, which would receive mixed reactions because of its brave and deviant style. Adopting it required a major redesign of the car’s exterior, which included the restyling of the hood, front fenders and headlights. The introduction of the grille was not a purely visual statement – although it was that, primarily. The large engines (V8s and V6s) need a massive grille for air-cooling, and with the new design, they could now breathe easier. And with Lexus trying to get out of the me-too phase, the big, bold mouth on its flagship’s façade gave it an unmistakable identity.
We've already mentioned several Lexus-first and world-first features, but none would have as much impact as the first petrol-electric hybrid flagship luxury sedan. We reserve that, however, to our next article on the LS.
LS 500: XF50 (2017-Present)
Both the fourth-generation LS 460 and LS 600h ended in 2017, replaced by the fifth-generation LS series (XF50). The latest non-hybrid model is the LS 500, while the current hybrid model is LS 500h.
The development of this generation took place under a program called 200B. All models utilise a V6 engine instead of the previous V8s.
The LF-FC concept previewed the fifth generation in 2015 at the Tokyo Motor Show.
The LS 500 (chassis code VXFA50/55) premiered in 2017 at the North American International Auto Show. Under its bonnet is an engine, smaller than anything that the previous versions have ever used. The 3.4-litre twin-turbo V35A-FTS V6 produces up to 310 kW and 600 Nm of torque, transmitting via a 10-speed Aisin AWR10L65 Direct Shift-10A automatic.
Overall, the flagship sedan grew slightly longer (22 mm) but lower and with a shorter bonnet. As another first, the LS 500/500h version features a 6-sided window design. Once again, its technology and luxury features have stepped up, now integrating Lexus Enform, 24-inch colour HUD (optional), 3D-surround Mark Levinson sound system, and Lexus Safety System + 2.0.
In Australia, the previous V8 models are still on sale, while the LS 500 with all its bells and whistles slowly enters the market with its high price tag. Two trim levels are currently available for the flagship sedan, both equipped with the 3.4L V6 which now has a better fuel economy at 9.5L/100km.
- F Sport – features adaptive air suspension, airbag package (front, knee, curtain, side), ABS, auto climate control with dual-temp zones, active high beam control, adaptive headlights with auto-levelling and cornering, active heated/ventilated front and rear seats, alarm with interior movement sensor, active noise cancelling, alloy sports pedals, 20-inch alloy wheels, BA, blind-spot monitoring, intelligent/active CC, electric parking brake, ESC, hands-free smart boot lid, hill holder, heated steering wheel, HUD, engine immobiliser, kerb view function, lane departure warning, leather gear knob, leather steering wheel and upholstery, multi-function control screen and display, parking distance control front and rear, pedestrian recognition, power front seats 28-way, performance brakes, power mirrors (heated and auto-folding), power steering column with memory, power sunshade, 1-touch power windows, rear cross-traffic alert, run-flat safety tyres, rain-sensing wipers, rearview mirror auto-dimming, surround camera system, panoramic sunroof, sound system with 23 speakers, TCS, TPMS, VSC
- Sports Luxury – all the F Sport features plus: 4-zone climate control, massage seats for front and rear, power rear seats 22-way, rear seat entertainment system, semi-Aniline trim, and wood/leather steering wheel.
More luxurious trims followed in 2019, bringing in loads of sophisticated features and safety and driver-assistive technology to differentiate them from the F Sport and Sports Luxury models.
- Special Edition (Inspiration) – adds: active steering, active curve system, advanced lane trace assist, black alloy wheels, door courtesy lights, front cross-traffic alert, power sunblind – rear side window, rear cooler box, wood grain trim
- Sports Lux (of different trim variations) – similar to the Inspiration trim but added base/glass/premium ornament, depending on variation, whether Black, Crimson, or Camel
We dedicate another article to cover its hybrid counterpart, LS 500h (chassis code GVF50/55) together with the LS 600h, which both boasts of super ULEV rating in the US.
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