Minority status can take nothing away from Lexus
TEN SECOND REVIEW
The fifth generation Lexus LS looks a strong package and in LS 460 guise, it's a good deal more affordable and wieldy than the giant long-wheelbase LS 600h model.
Big petrol-engined models are never going to be big sellers over here but make no mistake - this is a good 'un.
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Are we really four generations removed from that first Lexus LS that caused such a tectonic shift in the luxury car market back in 1990?
Much has changed since then but in the aggressive shape of the latest Lexus LS 460, we have the car that's the truest lineal descendant of that ground breaking LS 400.
Back then every nut and bolt was new and this MK5 model too, is pretty fundamentally different..
That said, this car does ride on the same chassis as before, leading some, rather churlishly, to think of it as a series four and a half model.
But that's unfair. Lexus have made so many changes, with some 3,000 different parts, that this is anything but half a job.
What's more, this generation Lexus has changed its philosophy.
Whereas once an LS was all about refinement, that is no longer enough. The latest version has attitude and is much more fun to drive.
The LS 460 doesn't instantly grab you as a focused driver's car. Yes, it looks a lot sharper than before and there's even an F Sport model that rides on big alloy wheels and features a more aggressive front end.
Having said that, the steering doesn't have the precision of its rivals and this leads you to the suspicion that all the talk of this car being sharper to drive might amount to little more than just that: talk.
Yet after driving a few miles, you realise that you're pressing the car harder and harder, leaning on it into corners, braking later and later and feeding in the gas earlier and earlier and generally driving it like, yes, a sports saloon.
I'm not going to say it's better in that regard than its key rivals: just that it does indeed fulfil its brief.
The LS 460 is powered by a 4.6-litre 382bhp V8 so it never feels particularly strained.
Drive is directed to the rear wheels via an eight-speed transmission and it's all enough to get you from standstill to 62mph in 5.7 seconds.
The electric power steering has been retuned, the body rigidity improved and a special four-wheel interlock system for the dampers has improved body control.
Go for the F Sport and there's also a Torsen limited slip differential for even better power deployment, Brembo six-piston front brake calipers and wheel-mounted shift paddles. It's not just a spoilers and sports seats job in other words.
Design and Build
Park the fourth and fifth generation cars side by side and while the basics are vaguely similar, all of the detailing looks different.
It's a bit like those advertisements in fitness magazines with a before and after picture. The MK5 looks gym-honed and far better defined. The front end is dominated by the spindle grille which then leads the eye to an aggressive under-bumper air intake.
The interior of the LS 460 is beautifully built but the ergonomics and aesthetics of the minor controls are a long way off the class best.
Some of the attention to detail is just astonishing though. The Shimamoku striped-wood steering wheel that takes 38 days to produce and involves 67 manufacturing steps is a case in point.
Space in both the front and back of the standard wheelbase car is more than acceptable and the boot is a cavernous 560-litres.
Market and Model
The Lexus LS has always been a hard car to objectively assess from a value per money perspective.
There are those who see this as the world's best engineered car and that it represents a significant bargain.
Then there is another school of thought that holds that the LS doesn't have anything like the inherent style of its European rivals and represents a lot of money for an overgrown Camry.
The truth probably lies somewhere between. While Audi aren't going to be frantically cribbing the LS interior aesthetics, I can see a few disgruntled engineers in Germany.
The LS 460 is available in two trims, Luxury and F Sport, the Luxury model getting 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic bi-xenon headlamps, and LED daytime running lights.
Cabin comfort is assured with leather upholstery, four zone climate control, and air conditioned electrically adjustable front seats.
On-board entertainment is provided by a 19-speaker Mark Levinson audio system with DVD player, DAB tuner, Bluetooth and USB/Aux ports. Satellite navigation and on-board entertainment information is presented on the 12.3-inch central display.
The F Sport's interior has a sportier look, with a dark cabin finish, perforated leather seats and steering wheel, Lexus scuff plates, aluminium pedals and an aluminium-effect finish on the dashboard.
Cost of Ownership
It's a measure of how far Lexus has come that even the LS460 doesn't turn in a bad economy figure.
It wasn't too long ago that a 26.4mpg average was about what you'd have expected from a 2.5-litre compact executive saloon. Now that sort of economy is associated with this 382bhp V8 limousine.
You'll need around £72,000 for the Luxury version and around £75,000 for the F Sport, all of which makes one question the likely residual values. Still, quality has its price.
But the days when Lexus shifted more than 1,000 LS models per year in the UK have long gone.
In 2011/12, they sold only 70 cars, all of them LS600h variants.
With the reintroduction of this more affordable LS 460, that number is sure to climb but it's still extremely small beer compared to the 2,000 Jaguar XJs that left dealerships in the same period.
On the face of it, introducing a big petrol-engined saloon car to revive your hopes seems a terrible idea. But Lexus is a company that's nothing if not piercingly self aware.
It knows that in this market, it remains a niche player and that selling maybe 300 cars a year is a decent result when you don't have a diesel engine to bring to bear.
The fifth generation LS 460 is a car that's immensely likeable and if you can get to grips with the complexity of its systems, it's one that's rewarding to use on a daily basis.