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Driving the Lexus LS460 express

2006-11-10 10:53
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Lexus
Model LS 460
Engine 4.6-litre V8
Power 289 kW at 6 400 r/min
Torque 493 Nm at 4 100 r/min
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 250 km/h limited
Fuel Consumption 10.5 litres/100 km at 120
ABS Yes, plus EBD, BAS
Airbags Eight
Warranty 3 years/100 000 km
Price R780 000

John Oxley

Lexus has come storming back into South Africa, and now there's a V8 flagship with sports car acceleration, the LS460. We drive it.

Where were you when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup in 1995? Do you remember what car you were driving?

For me it's vividly fixed in my mind. I watched the final at an Italian restaurant in Hyde Park, Johannesburg, and, yes, you guessed it, I missed that decisive drop kick by Joel Stransky - I just HAD to go to the loo - though, of course, it was repeated many times after.

And then to the roads. I was driving a beautiful silver Lexus LS400 at the time. It was a balmy night, and everyone seemed to have taken to the roads, windows open, lights on, horns blaring.

My companion was so excited she opened the sunroof and stood on the seat, and we drove slowly along the William Nichol Highway, she with her long blonde hair streaming behind, me with my hand permanently on the hooter.

Everybody waved.

We turned back and went along Jan Smuts Avenue, and as the traffic slowed to a halt, everyone was laughing and joking, and crying and shouting, waving and hooting. Just one year after "independence" the country was totally united. Black, white, coloured, Asian - it didn't matter.


It's a memory etched deeply in my mind, one I'll never forget.

It was over dinner in Cape Town last night with Brian Hastie, general manager of the Lexus team in South Africa, that I recalled this memory as we discussed Lexus models I had driven, times I'd had.

Each one seems to have been a good memory, and that, according to the famed J.D Power quality and ownership surveys, is how customers fare when they buy these top Japanese luxury cars. Coming first year after year after year has to mean something.

So the arrival of a new top-level Lexus is great news for those South Africans who want to own the best of the best, and the Lexus LS 460 has the credentials to qualify for that title - although it doesn't have the German badge so coveted by those with sometimes more money than sense.

One of the reasons why Lexus hasn't perhaps done as well in this country as it could is that styling has been old-fashioned, while sales and service has been inextricably linked to parent company Toyota.

Now, though, there's a whole chain of new Lexus dealerships, totally dedicated to the product, and with the IS250 and GS300 already on the market and making waves, the door is open for Lexus expansion.

New format

Hastie and his team chose a novel format for the launch, kicking off with a comprehensive business session and vehicle hand-over at a luxurious boutique hotel in Rosebank, Cape Town, , then gave us the keys and said "you go off and drive it, where you want to".

Novel, 'cos sometimes launch routes become a bit "same same", and often you end up driving in a slow convoy with guys who seem to prefer looking at the scenery to exploring the car.

The one thing that strikes you about the new LS460 is that it's imposing. A wide shovel nose with strong chrome ringed grille and large teardrop-shaped light clusters each side sets the scene.

You KNOW it's expensive, you KNOW it's powerful. The looks say it all, even standing still.

It's long and flowing along the sides, with the rear three quarter "Hofmeister kick" treatment reminiscent of those big Beemers we all liked so much - you know, pre-Bangle.

Then a smoothed off boot, and big taillights with LEDs, and hidden cameras (for reversing) and deep bumpers highlighted by massive inset trapezoidal tailpipes each side.

The next piece of good news is that what you see is what you get.

This Lexus is LOADED, with everything from rear reverse cameras to satnav to seat cooling to reclining rear seats to built-in cooler box in the back, to electric sunblinds to soft-close doors and boot, to keyless entry - and that sunroof my friend loved so much back in 1995 - to big alloy wheels that fill the wheelarches.

Whew, I'm getting breathless just writing about it!

But the best is yet to come.

Lexus is renowned for its bulletproof engines, and the latest one is no exception.

Lusty V8 engine

Undoubtedly the best yet, this 4.6-litre V8 jewel pumps out no less than 280 kW, with 493 Nm of torque.

And it's mated to the best luxury gearbox on the market, the only 8-speed, and smooth and fast-shifting enough to make the 7-speeder from rivals Mercedes seem pedestrian by comparison.

The result is a road rocket that silently whooshes the car from standing menacingly to 100 km/h in just 5.4 seconds (yes, that's almost as quick as an M3) then relentlessly on to a speed limited 250 km/h.

And there's no fuss.

At the same time the well thought-out ratios give fair fuel economy for this type of car - after a day of exploring its limits the computer said 16.5 litres/100 km - not bad for a powerful car which weighs in at 2 ½ tons.

More circumspect driving would bring that down to around 12, with Lexus claiming 10.5 litres/100 km at a steady 120 km/h.

Although it's a big car, the one thing I noticed when I hustled it along some tight and twisty back roads I use often during testing (and the location of which I'll keep to myself, thank you) is that the steering is crisp, body roll kept to a minimum, and the brakes awesome in their ability to haul the big car down for a slow-moving tractor.

Traction control

Not once did I have a moment, although the traction control flickered lights and beeped warnings as I explored the limits.

Yet ride quality remains superb, and the car is at all times quiet inside - almost stately Roll-Royce quiet, even when pressing on, even when the roads are potholed and scarred.

It's one of those cars which have to be sampled to be fully appreciated, and I for one applaud a newcomer to take away the same sameness and some of the arrogance that inherits the top echelons of the motoring world.

As far as South Africa is concerned Hastie is looking at about 10 cars a month.

I think that's more than do-able at an all-in price of R780 000.

South Africa will be the first country outside Japan to get the car when it arrives in dealer showrooms from November 23. Best you go have a look.

Click here to find out what else the car's got as standard.

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