Luxury cars don’t come more refined or silky-smoother than the whisper-quiet Lexus flagship LS. If ever there was an automotive equivalent of maple syrup with a whipped cream topping, this is it.
Since the LS’ debut in 1990, it seems Lexus has sat back and left the driving excitement to BMW, Audi and Mercedes. To many, an LS has always been the pair of comfy slippers to the Germans’ Nike Airs, the velour pantsuit to their black leather mini.
But the winds of change are finally swirling around the Lexus headquarters. Tired of being branded creators of four-wheel tofu, they’re fighting back. Welcome to Lexus F Sport.
It must’ve started with the bad-boy Lexus IS-F, a 5-liter V-8-engined blunt instrument packing 416 horses created in 2008 to lock horns with BMW’s M3. Now, it’s the full-bodied, execu-class LS 460’s turn to get some long overdue sportification. Put your hands together for the 2013 LS 460 F Sport.
That “Sport” moniker may be a bit of a stretch. You won’t see this new F Sport on the track at Daytona or Sebring anytime soon. But it’s a terrific package of sports equipment that changes the character of the big LS and increases its already considerable appeal.
For starters, it now looks the part of automotive athlete. It comes with a set of great-looking 19-inch German BBS forged alloy wheels skinned with low-profile, rubber-band-thin tires. And the ride height of the standard air suspension is dropped by around half an inch to help give a more hunkered-down stance.
Lexus changed the look of the entire LS range last year, adding the controversial, in-your-face “spindle” front design. The F Sport builds on that semi-aggressiveness with a glossy black surround and more distinctive mesh pattern for the grille, as well as bigger air-gulping cooling openings and driving lamps.
Yet there’s plenty of substance behind all this style. A limited-slip differential sharpens the car’s handling, while big Italian Brembo brakes with black six-piston calipers clamping pizza-sized rotors stop you with the immediacy of hurling a ship’s anchor out the back.
If there’s a mild disappointment, it’s the standard 4.6-liter V-8 that motivates every LS model. No teeny boost in power or torque, no mild tweaking to lower the zero-to-60 time. No nothing.
Not that 386 horsepower is to be sneezed at. This is still a fabulous engine that’s oh-so-creamy-smooth in its power delivery and wonderfully responsive, especially when coupled with the new ZF 8-speed automatic transmission. But it’s not the 564-horsepower Mercedes AMG twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-8 that lurks in every S63 Benz.
What the F Sport delivers is great day-to-day driving agility and zest. The entire focus is no longer on softness and comfort. Toggle through the Drive Mode Select settings, and take your pick from Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+. Each one progressively dials up the car’s throttle response, steering weight, transmission shift points and suspension firmness.
Opt for Sport, and the steering becomes firmer, weightier and more precise, while the suspension firms up just enough to sharpen the handling without sacrificing ride comfort.
Even without any extra ponies, the F Sport is still a lively performer, scooting from standstill to 60 mph in around 5.4 seconds.
Inside, there’s more black leather than Ozzy Osbourne’s wardrobe, unique seats with beefier side bolstering and a rocking 19-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio. Plus, as with all new LS models, there’s an amazing 12.3-inch nav system display.
Prices for this new LS 460 F Sport start at $81,990 for the rear-drive version, which is just $10,000 more than the standard LS. All-wheel drive is also an option.
Lexus can finally put away those comfy slippers.