The automaker's a household word in the luxury car business, in the top three by sales in the United States year in adn year out. Still it faced a test with the latest generation of the LS 500, attempting to keep upgrading a model introduced nearly three decades ago.
Lexus managed to pull off the manufacturing version of football's "hail mary," not as a last-second victory snatched from the jaws of defeat but as a well-thought-out quiet, newly styled sedan showcasing fine wood accents and top-end leather, a roomy five-seater with high-tech perks while boasting a slick six-cylinder 460 horsepower turbocharged engine to glide along highways and rural roads. In other words, topping an already special edition.
"This is our flagship sedan," said David Yarborough, general manager of Hendrick Lexus Charleston. The LS came out in 1989.
Priced from $75,000 to $100,000, the four-door sports-minded luxury hit the ground running. "We've got eight coming in," said Linda Barry, sales and leasing consultant and Lexus technology specialist at the Lexus dealership on Savannah Highway. "We've sold six of the eight so far," she noted earlier this month.
Barry, who had a chance to test drive the new LS 500 (which also has a sister 500h hybrid model) at Charlotte Motor Speedway reaching triple-figure speeds, predicts buyers will include "young professionals who like the edgy look (as well as) loyal Lexus customers."
Lexus didn't crimp on advancements to keep the the car out of harm's way. The new LS 500 includes all of the its "safety plus"system, including adaptive cruise control, intelligent high beams offering wider visibility and pedestrian warning signals, Barry said.
Other notable perks include:
Shades in the back seats that can be drawn down for privacy.
28-way power seats, which offer a massage feature.
Spacious rear seats with center cup holders and and climate control vents. "Car companies sometimes make the driver and front passenger comfortable but forget the rear (seating)," Barry said.
Sophisticated center console that provides split screen views of audio, navigation and communications functions, voice command and 360 degree images from the reamr camera and other viewers peeking from the exterior.
Adaptive variable suspension, which with a button push makes the ride firmer or softer depending on road conditions.
12-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.
"They do the knobs like a rac car," Barry said. The driver can make adjustments "on the fly."
In a day drive of the Lexus 500 priced around $85,000, the sedan showed off a stellar ride that felt smooth even on bumpy cobblestone streets in downtown Charleston. The four-door offered ample space behind the wheel and in the passenger chairs in front and back and the contrast of wood accents and leather interior was impeccable.
Negotiating traffic and on open roads, the model steered fine and brakes were responsive. Visibility from rear view and side mirrors, which showcased blind spot monitors, was very good.
Lexus upped the performance in the new 500 combining a 10 speed transmission and 56 additional horsepower from the previous generation to showcase a forceful machine that accelerates in an instant and sustains a silky smooth ride at interstate speeds.
From the handling standpoint, the LS500 didn't offer the tight feel familiar with sport-like models. It also dragged a little in the eco and comfort modes, showing off its strengths in one-touch sport mode. The gear shift, which requires a extra button press to leave park, takes awhile to become familiarized.
Yet the sheer ambiance, no outside noise, super-comfortable ride and seemingly floating like drive outweigh any drawbacks. With vehicles like the revamped LS 500, Lexus should keep its sport at or near the top of luxury car sales for the years to come.
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