Pros: Wonderfully refined standard V8, smooth and quiet ride, two different wheelbase lengths, choice of regular and hybrid models, available all-wheel drive.
Cons: Aging interior, can't compete with high-performance European luxury sedans, hugely expensive hybrid disappoints.
The 2012 Lexus LS marks the sixth year of production for Japan's sole full-size luxury sedan, and it hasn't been easy going as of late. Hyundai has taken a page out of the LS's own playbook, claiming to offer more for less with the bargain-priced Equus. The LS's old nemeses from Europe have updated their arsenals, as redesigned models from Audi, BMW, and Jaguar now roam the streets. Porsche's in on the action now with the executive-class Panamera. That's a lot of body blows, even for a big bruiser like the Lexus. Only the Mercedes-Benz S-Class hasn't been redone since the current LS debuted.
You might be thinking that the best-selling S-Class is pretty good company for the LS to keep, but here's the catch: the S-Class has received ongoing updates, including a number of powertrain improvements, while the LS is more or less the same as it ever was. Nothing has changed under the hood, and the cabin features the same 2007-vintage design, albeit with some technological upgrades that arrived a couple years ago. This puts the LS at a disadvantage in such a rapidly evolving segment.
We don't like coming down so hard on this Lexus, because it's really a lovely car to drive. Also, if the past is any indication, a new LS should be good for hundreds of thousands of trouble-free miles. Buyers of the 2012 Lexus LS are bound to be highly satisfied with their new wheels; it's just that, six years into its current lifespan, the LS is a considerably tougher sell than it used to be.
Comfort & Utility
The 2012 Lexus LS 460 comes with either a standard or an extended ("L") wheelbase. We'll get to the hybrid-powered, extended-wheelbase-only LS 600h L in a minute.
Standard features on the regular LS 460 include 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive xenon headlights, a sunroof, keyless entry with push-button ignition, a power tilt-telescopic steering wheel, power front seats (16-way driver, 12-way passenger), leather upholstery, woodgrain interior trim, driver memory functions, electroluminescent gauges, a touch-screen infotainment display, dual-zone automatic climate control with a smog sensor, Bluetooth, and a 10-speaker audio system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio, an auxiliary input, and iPod/USB connectivity.
Among the more notable LS 460 options are 19-inch wheels, an exterior appearance package, semi-aniline leather upholstery, power rear seats with massage functions, a self-parking system, an adjustable air suspension with variable-ratio steering (AWD model only), a hard-drive-based navigation system (see "Technology," below), a 19-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, and a Sport package with unique 19-inch alloys, sport-themed styling cues, a sport-tuned suspension, paddle shifters, sport front seats, and Brembo brakes.
The LS 460 L adds "intelligent" headlights with automatic high-beam/low-beam switching, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a power rear sunshade, a power trunk, power-closing doors, parking sensors, and headlight washers. While all of the L's standard features can be added to the regular LS 460, the L is eligible for a number of exclusive upgrades, such as an air suspension with RWD or AWD, quad-zone climate control, rear audio controls, and a rear refrigerator. Also offered on L models is an Executive Seating package that includes two-passenger rear seating, a retractable wood table, a reclining passenger-side rear seat with a footrest, and a rear DVD entertainment system with a power-retracting 9-inch screen.
The hybrid-powered, extended-wheelbase LS 600h L basically includes most of the other models' standard and optional equipment, the main exception being the L's fancy rear seating options, which cost extra on the hybrid as well.
Although the LS's cabin is chock-full of rich materials, it just doesn't give us that special feeling anymore when we settle down behind the woodgrain-accented steering wheel. Maybe it's the fact that the car is six years old, or maybe we've just been spending too much time in the European competition. Still, the controls and electroluminescent gauges retain Lexus's trademark ergonomic simplicity, while the standard power tilt-telescopic steering wheel ensures that drivers of just about every size and shape can get comfortable.
We can't imagine wanting more rear passenger space than the regular LS 460 provides, but if you're going to be driven places rather than drive yourself, that reclining/massaging passenger-side rear seat with the footrest seems like a good investment. As for cargo capacity, the 460-spec trunk measures a healthy 18 cubic feet by default, though it shrinks to 15.5 cubic feet when quad-zone climate control is specified. The LS 600h's trunk suffers, measuring just 10.1 cubic feet due to hybrid hardware.
Lexus has done what it can with the aging LS to keep its technology current, but interior design limitations have left some of Lexus's latest technology out in the cold. Check out the brilliant 12.3-inch display screen in the new GS sedan, for example; there's not room for a widescreen in the LS, so it has to make do with a square display. Moreover, while newer Lexus models get the Remote Touch mouse-like controller for their screens, the LS doesn't have room for a mouse on its console, so it sticks with an older touch-screen. If you judge the LS simply by its feature set, it's got most of the boxes ticked, including an available hard-drive-based navigation system with voice commands and standard Bluetooth and iPod/USB connectivity. But once you see the LS's technology in the flesh, you can tell it's a little behind the times.
Speaking of that navigation system, it includes the Enform telematics suite, which lets you either plan trips from home using a Lexus-exclusive online search called eDestination, or leverage your smartphone for this purpose with the downloadable Enform mobile app. Destination Assist provides live navigation assistance from Lexus's 24-hour response center. Both features are facilitated by direct communication with the LS's navigation system.
Note that Toyota's Entune system, which uses smartphone data connections to integrate mobile apps like Pandora into the driving experience, isn't available in any Lexus for the 2012 model year.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The 2012 LS 460 and LS 460 L come with rear- or all-wheel drive and a 4.6-liter V8 rated at 380 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque (357 hp and 344 pound-feet of torque on AWD). An unobtrusive eight-speed automatic transmission handles shifting duties. This engine is down on power relative to most rivals, but it's still a jewel, serving up strong acceleration and an exceptionally velvety soundtrack. Lexus could use a high-powered LS for the sake of competition, but most drivers will be more than satisfied by this V8. Fuel economy is less satisfying at 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway with RWD and 16/23 mpg with AWD.
And then there's the AWD-only LS 600h L, which boasts a 5.0-liter V8 that's teamed with two electric motors and a battery pack. Total system output is a none-too-shabby 438 horsepower, but the LS hybrid weighs roughly 500 more pounds than the regular LS, so it's really not any faster. It's also barely more efficient despite all that hybrid hardware: the EPA predicts 19/23 mpg. By the way, the LS 600h L carries a nearly $40,000 premium over a base LS 460 L.
The 2012 Lexus LS comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and eight airbags (front, front side, front knee, and full-length side-curtain). Rear side airbags are optional. All models include Safety Connect, which uses the same 24-hour response center as the Enform system to get you the help you need if the unexpected occurs.
Current government crash-test results for the LS are not available, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the LS its top rating of "Good" in both frontal-offset and rear impact scenarios.
The LS is more engaging to drive than the typical online review leads you to believe. Being less enormous than some of the land yachts in this class has its advantages, as there's actually a trace of nimbleness in the LS's chassis. Of course, that trace is difficult to tease out, even in the ostensibly edgier Sport model, because it's buried under thick layers of ride-softening rubber and sound-deadening material. The available air suspension only heightens the sense of isolation from the road. The LS is a seriously cushy and quiet car in normal driving, and that's the main reason for this car's existence.
Other Cars to Consider
Audi A8 - The A8 lacks the LS's inherent rear-drive balance, but it compensates with outstanding all-wheel-drive handling and surprisingly strong acceleration from its diminutive 4.2-liter V8. We also much prefer the Audi's interior.
BMW 7 Series - The 7 has a stellar range of turbocharged engines to choose from, and its cabin is right up there with the Audi's in terms of both quality and technology.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class - Still the one to beast after all these years, the S-Class has stayed fresh thanks in part to a couple new twin-turbocharged V8s and a robust turbodiesel V6. There's even an S400 Hybrid version to compete with the LS 600h L.
Keep it simple. The LS is at its best when it's undercutting the competition's prices by a healthy margin, so we'd take the keys to an entry-level LS 460 and congratulate ourselves on getting an executive sedan for the price of a well-optioned 5 Series.