Conventional family cars - such as Commodores,
Falcons and Magnas- have recently enjoyed massive NVH improvements. But drive
out of a Lexus dealership in a new LS430 and things are clearly put into
perspective. The LS430 is supremely quiet and eerily void of vibration; you
can't help wonder of you're only dreaming you're behind the wheel...
At AUD$175,900 (plus ORCs) the 2003 LS430 is
pitched squarely at the Mercedes S-class, BMW 7-series, Audi A8 and Jaguar XJ.
These are the finest prestige saloons in the world, so there should be no
surprises that the LS430 offers extraordinary comfort, quality and a bewildering
number of features. Expect only the best.
For 2003/2004 the new LS430 doesn't offer any
dramatic changes over the superseded 2001-series, but you will find everything
that opens and shuts has been thrown in as standard fitment.
The features list of the LS430 is incredible.
Rear passengers are pampered with an electric
sliding seat base (which alters the inclination of the backrest), seat warmers,
separate AC controls, a refrigerated cool box, retractable blinds, illuminated
vanity mirrors and audio controls. Oh, and we mustn't forget the rear seat
massage function - an electric motor vibrates the backrest for total relaxation
over long trips. It's an extravagance, but some people seem to like it...
Up front there's a vast array of switchgear. The
driver can keep busy using the central LCD touch screen (which gives control
over HVAC, audio and satellite navigation), seat warmer/coolers, 3-position
memory (for the seat, steering wheel and mirrors), trip computer and power glass
sunroof. Lexus also trumpets the laser cruise control (which can maintain a
specific distance behind other cars when the cruise control is set) and
wide-angle reversing camera with proximity alarm. We also like the extensive
courtesy lighting, the automatic soft-close doors, electric rear sunshade and
the Smart Entry/Exit (which allows you to get in and start the car without
needing to take the key out of your pocket). Features like power windows and
mirrors (which can be folded to aid parking) rate hardly a mention...
A Mark Levinson 6-CD sound system is standard
fitment and - driving through 11 speakers - it is very clear and performs well
at high listening levels. However, it's not the best factory sound system we've
Don't think for a moment that the new LS430
survives by its features list.
rear passengers rest in soft leather seats (which cause some lower back ache) and you feel snug in the surroundings.
Interestingly, Lexus has opted to give the LS430 a cosy in-cabin feel rather
than miles of space - a similarly sized Holden Caprice offers a greater interior
As mentioned, the LS430 is also remarkably quiet.
And it's not thanks to just sound deadening - the generated noise from
the engine, exhaust, suspension and aerodynamics is extremely low. The
suspension employs plenty of aluminium components to help provide a ride that's
in keeping with the best cars in the word - it's soft but not unnecessarily
Look beyond the considerable body roll and
fore-aft pitching of this luxury saloon and you will find a rear-wheel-drive
chassis that is extremely safe and well sorted. The double wishbone front-end
turns in nicely and the double wishbone rear gets the power down very, very
well. It's a pity that the switchable traction control system is so heavy-handed
- whenever wheelspin is detected, the throttle opening is reduced and there's a
long pause before power is returned. Fortunately, the traction control system is
rarely needed except during tight manoeuvres - the 245/45 18 Bridgestone
Turanzas offer decent grip. Note that a stability control system works in unison
with the traction control system to maintain excellent composure.
Unfortunately, the power assisted rack and pinion
steering lacks the weighting around centre and finesse to make the LS430 a truly
enjoyable drive - it's fine for normal driving, but that's about it.
The 315 and 310mm brakes - which look small behind
the 18-inch wheels - proved very capable during our test. The 4-sensor,
4-channels ABS system couldn't be flustered though we did find the emergency
brake assist system encroached during hard driving. As Lexus says, "the LS430
makes no claims to be sportscar based."
And now onto the driveline that can be only
described as brilliant.
The LS430 packs an all-alloy 4.3-litre 1UZ-FE V8
that's hard to beat. The 2003-spec 3UZ-FE boasts DOHC, 32-valves, variable inlet
cam timing, variable induction system, 10.5:1 compression, twin knock sensors
and electronic throttle control. Lexus claims outputs of 207kW at 5600 rpm and
417Nm at 3500 rpm. It's a pearler of an engine with fantastic revy nature and an
excellent spread of torque. However, throttle response is always soft thanks to the
strategies of the electronic throttle control system.
Backing the engine is a to-die-for sequential
6-speed auto (designated A761E). The new transmission is very smooth and -
depending on the mode you've selected - it can be very responsive. In Power
mode, the transmission kicks down willingly and the car feels very alive. If you
tootle around in Normal mode, though, the trans is much more reluctant to kick
down and it all feels soggy.
A luxury saloon like the LS430 can be forgiven for
weighing "1840 - 1900kg" but it does take its toll on acceleration and on fuel
Lexus claims 6.3-second 0 - 100 km/h but the best we could manage was eight seconds flat - and we couldn't
get any faster, no matter what we tried. Lexus also claim a governed top-speed
of 250 km/h and we're inclined to believe that one - top-end performance is
Fuel consumption during our test was nothing to
write home about. The official ADR 81/01 combined cycle figure is 12.2-litres
per 100km but we averaged 15.2-litres per 100km with fairly hard driving. At
this rate, the 80-litre tank allows only a 530 kilometre range...
If you do a lot of open-road driving we expect the
LS430 would achieve substantially better fuel economy thanks to its excellent
aerodynamics. The considerable 5-metre overall length has enabled engineers to
sculpt a smooth profile that contributes to an impressive 0.26 Cd. And this
comes with very low levels of wind noise.
From an aesthetic point of view, the LS-series has
never been inspirational - and the 2003 LS430 is no different. A bolder nose and
taillight revamp have helped but this is a car with very little cosmetic flair.
The LS430 body is extremely rigid and features
extensive crash test design and impact absorbing materials. Safety is further
enhanced with low tyre pressure warnings, seatbelt pre-tensioners and force
limiters and no less than 8 airbags - including knee airbags for the driver and
front passenger. The low beam headlights are also swivelled up to 15 degrees
left or right in relation to the steering - this aids visibility through unlit
corners, but we found it imperceptible in all other instances.
From the front to rear the Lexus is exceptionally
well built. Panel margins are tight, trim fit is neat and there are absolutely
no rough edges. There were only two criticisms on our test car - a surprising
amount of orange peel in the paint, and brake pad squeal. The engine also doesn't
fire into life as readily as it should.
There is no question the 2003 LS430 has all the
ingredients to challenge the top-line Euro brands - just like the original LS400
did when it debuted in 1989. When you look at the cost, though, the LS430 has
gradually lost the massive advantage it once had and it competes
dollar-for-dollar with the more established marques. The only thing the LS430
lacks is mystique - and Lexus owners must cringe when asked if their vehicle is
a grey market import... If you buy cars on a less emotional basis, though, the
LS430 offers all the comfort and quality and comes standard with a host of features
that are usually offered as extra cost.
You want options? Pick a colour....
Why You Would
comfort and quality
V8 motor and 6-speed auto
the features you could ever want - and a couple you probably don't
than previous model and with all the fruit as standard
Why You Wouldn't
of steering weight and feel
control system too heavy-handed
have the massive price advantage the LS-series once had