By Mark Elias
Wednesday, Jan 6th, 2010 @ 1:15 pm
 
Akio Toyoda is working in double-time. In an effort to counter what he calls his company's standing on the brink of "irrelevance or death," the grandson of company founder Kiichiro Toyoda is pedaling as fast as he can to right the listing that this ship has taken of late.

Which is why the Lexus division has introduced a revised Lexus LS 460 flagship sedan. Mildly refreshed for the 2010 model year, it is nonetheless a vehicle that needed to have some passionate "ummph" injected into it. Toyoda-san is a self described "car nut" who happens to hold a full-blown competition license in his wallet and wants to see inspired driving return to the entire corporation and parent company. It's to this end that Lexus introduced the LS 460 Sport to the motoring media.

Updated style
At best, the changes for 2010 throughout the LS line could be described as a mild nip and tuck. At the same time, European rivals like Mercedes-Benz's S550 and Audi's A8 have continued to revitalize their lines, too, so competition remains thick. The exterior updates are mostly cosmetic in nature and offer a new 18-inch wheel option, a new grille with larger under-bumper intake, new headlamps with LED clearance lamps, turn signals, tail lamps, and finally, four new color choices.

Sounding quite cosmetic in nature, the reality is that the LS is selling well enough to not have to undergo a major redo before a new model is introduced. So minor touches, which keep the outside - as well as the inside - fresh are the order of the day. Step inside and if you look closely, you'll find additional bling on the center instrument panel, a more refined appearance of the audio unit, cigarette lighters replaced with 12-volt power ports and advance active headrests in the front seats.

New touches such as the ECO indicator on the dashboard now help drivers monitor their behavior while behind the steering wheel. Other items include the addition of a lane-change flash function on the indicator stalk, USB port for iPod charging and control and updated Bluetooth operation. Nothing is ground-breaking, but it does show that Lexus - and parent company Toyota - is paying attention to owner requests.

Sporty Spice
The 2010 LS 460 Sport is a dressed up version of the short wheelbase LS 460 thanks to a unique blacked-out mesh-style grille to differentiate between the chrome found on the regular model. A special ground effects package with front and rear spoilers, side rocker panels, and a new rear diffuser impart the look of speed and performance as best they can on this big luxo-sedan.

The sportiness carries over to the interior as well. The addition of black and saddle interior leather trim with matte brown ash veneer trim around the dash and center console give a much more aggressive appearance than what is seen in the lighter-colored LS leathers. The sport front seats, which are ventilated and heated, feature 16-way controls for the driver and a 12-way setup for the front seat passenger. The overall look is dramatic for traditionally conservative Lexus - and we like the style a lot.

Lexus is nothing if not technology-driven, and in that case the LS Sport does not disappoint. The optional HDD hard drive-based navigation system includes a backup monitor, and controls for the 450-watt Mark Levinson audio system with its 19 speakers. The Bluetooth hands-free phone with phonebook download and streaming audio capabilities also features a one-year complimentary subscription to Lexus Enform with SafetyConnect now a standard item.

Familiar power
The Sport uses the same 380 horsepower, 367 lb-ft. of torque, 4.6-liter V8 that is a carry over from last year's model. It is also used in the L-version with its longer wheelbase. A strong performer, it features Lexus's variable valve timing with intelligence. Fuel is delivered through the LS's direct sequential fuel injection system, which utilizes both port and direct injection. The power is transmitted to the macadam by way of the slick AA80E eight-speed automatic transmission with Sports Direct Shift Control that also happens to be found in the LS's hotter younger brother, the IS-F.

Oh yeah, it rev-matches too, for quick-on-the-uptake moves after coming through turns - a feature we never would have expected in a Lexus LS. Acceleration for the 4,730-pound sled clicks in at 0-60 mph at 5.4 seconds. The EPA says to look for 16 city/24 hwy miles per gallon, although we didn't have the opportunity to measure during our preview drives.

A pair of front brakes by Brembo with 14.8-inch rotors help to clamp down on the LS 460 Sport's forward motion. At this price point, though, it would seem to be a no-brainer to put them at all four corners. Regardless, you would never know of their existence through the piano black paint covering the calipers, but at least they're there.

The LS 460 Sport rides on a sport-tuned version of the air suspension system found in the other LS models. Fine-tuning is capable from a control on the center console that allows you to shift from comfort to sport mode, for crisper handling. The multi-linked and double-jointed kit with custom stabilizer bar is the order of the day at both ends. Steering input is through an electric rack and pinion setup and is transmitted to the tires with 19-inch forged aluminum 10-spoke alloy wheels.

Silent night" and day
The LS was""and still is one of the quietest rides in the business. But that's not to say that you won't hear the growl of the 4.6-liter engine when putting the full force of your size twelve on the loud pedal. Either thru the Acoustic Control Induction System (ACIS) or just sheer audio cacophony from underhood, the LS produces a throaty roar that is quite lyrical considering it comes from a car whose marque champions the concept of quietness and serenity in the cabin. Maybe there is something to this LS Sport after all.

Under power through the hills of San Diego and Del Mar, we managed to try roads ranging from grooved highways to expansion-jointed secondary roads. Cruising on the interstate smoothed out the grooves to the point where it felt as though we were on a Sunbelt concrete slab free of any imperfections. Hitting the secondary roads saw soft cushy rides with considerable vagueness in the comfort mode. Switching the console-mounted rocker switch to sport mode showed a system that firmed up like the Governator himself, not to mention the rivals that the Lexus LS 460 goes head to head with on a daily basis. The sport suspension left us quite impressed, and commenting that this LS 460 Sport, while not IS-F stiff, was a great improvement over the standard LS.

Leftlane's bottom line
Now in its fourth model year, Lexus continues to refine the flagship of its line. The LS 460 Sport is, plain and simple, the vehicle that we wish was initially introduced four years ago. But as the saying goes, it's better late than never - and it shows a little spark from this intentionally sedate division.


2010 Lexus LS 460 base price, $65,380.
Sport Package, $6,185.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.