Back in 1983, Eiji Toyoda, then chairman of Toyota Motor Co., established a plan to create what Mark Templin, group vice president, Lexus Div., describes as “the finest luxury car in the world.” And Templin admits, “It was not thought to be possible.” After all, back in 1983 the Toyota Camry wasn’t even really established. Toyota was known for the Corolla, which is a far cry from “the finest luxury car in the world.”
Be that as it may, the F1 project—no, that’s not as in a racing program, but as in “flagship” and number “1”—was undertaken with literally thousands of designers, engineers, and development personnel involved. It culminated in September 1989 when the Lexus LS 400 went on sale in the U.S.
It was a car that—like was the case with the Toyota Prius, which went on sale in the U.S. in 2000—many executives at global car companies thought was impossible, arguing that Toyota couldn’t possibly profitably make such a car. Of course, the company did spend six years and about $1-billion in the development of the LS, so it isn’t like this is something that it took lightly.
And the car that was once deemed impossible is now five generations on. (OK. There may be some dispute as to whether the 2013 LS represents a new generation. The fundamental platform is what it has been for the 4th generation, with the wheelbase, height and width being exactly the same at 116.9 in., 58.1 in. and 73.8 in., respectively, although the length has been nudged up 0.8 in., to 200.0 in. on the 2013 model, arguably as a result of the new exterior design, with the spindle grille that is the new look of Lexus undoubtedly contributing to the minor extension. What’s more, both the 2013 and the 2012 LS 460 have the same 1UR-FSE 4.6-liter V8 engine, although the 2013 version, at 386 hp, is six more than its predecessor. And both have the AA80E (rear-wheel-drive) or AA80F (all-wheel-drive) eight-speed sequential shift automatic transmission. But as Satoru Ohsake, assistant chief engineer for the LS, points out, “There are more than 3,000 new parts out of 6,000 total, not counting nuts and bolts.” So if you make that many changes, isn’t it a new generation?) Impossible? Or just not expected?
The front end of the 2013 Lexus LS features the spindle grille design also used on other models including the ES and GS. Here, as it is the flagship vehicle, there is a chrome surround. The bottom of the radiator grille and bumper are located low so as to emphasize a low center of gravity, which translates into stability and power. The standard lighting is two-lamp projector-beam HID headlamps. On the hybrid version of the car, LED lighting—a three-lamp configuration, with two low-beam and one high-beam LED lamps per headlamp—is standard; it is optional on the gasoline versions of the car. There are LED front turn signals (14 LEDs per signal; 12 if there are LED headlamps); there are also LED signals on the side mirrors. LEDs are used for the fog lamps. Around back, LEDs are used for the taillamp, stop lamp, rear turn signal lamp, and backup lamp—which means full LED lighting in the rear. One interesting front-light-related option is “auto high beam”: included with the LED headlamps, this system uses a camera such that the LS can have high-beam illumination until the camera detects the headlamps of an on-coming vehicle or the taillamps of a vehicle in front; when this occurs, the high-beams are shut down.
Making It Slippery
Although flagship sedans are sometimes synonymous with words like “bulky,” that is not the case with the LS. It has a coefficient of drag of just 0.26. (What does that mean? Consider this: the Chevrolet Volt, which was optimized for efficiency, has a coefficient of drag of 0.28—and lower is better.) Accomplishing this requires a multitude of things. For example, the front bumper is designed so that the air (1) flows smoothly beneath the car and (2) air along the sides, in the wheel arch area, is diverted around the vehicle. There is a groove in the front fender liner to smooth airflow over the tires. Not only are there underbody covers, increased in area, but there are fins added to the engine and trunk undercovers as well as on the undercover behind the front wheel housings. Aero stabilizing fins are locked on the bottom of the sideview mirrors as well as on the taillamps. There is a Venturi design used for the engine under cover to direct air under the body.
Invisible Rays for Comfort
The most remarkable part of what’s going on here is what you can’t see. Yes, this right rear seat is a recliner with a leg rest. What’s not visible is that there is shiatsu massage functionality. But that’s not the remarkable part. That’s the available “Climate Concierge.” This means that there is four-zone independent temperature control. Which is not all that remarkable, but how that’s done is. A neural network is used to calculate temperature based on various sensor inputs (interior air, solar load, etc.). There is an infrared sensor located in the center of the ceiling that is used to detect (1) the occupants’ body temperature, (2) the seat temperature, and (3) the temperature of interior surfaces; this information is sent to the air conditioner’s ECU, which adjusts the blower temperature, mode and airflow volume, accordingly.
While plenty of vehicle manufacturers concentrate on various material-based countermeasures to noise, such as various foams, felts, and laminates, one of the ways that noise and weight reduction are achieved for the LS 460 is through the development of wheels that are not only light, but which address tire-noise. That is, when a tire rides over various surfaces, it deforms and the pressure within changes. The change in air pressure results in a vibration. These vibrations take the form of sound waves. So they’ve developed wheels that have hollow sections and resonator holes. So when the vibrations are created, they are directed toward the resonator hole so that the sound pressure is reduced. (Yes, the LS is full of sound-deadening or attenuating materials, as well, such as a large polyurethane dash inner and felt in the roof and under the carpet, just to name two.)
A Multitudinous Selection
There is a certain amount of multiplicity associated with the 2013. For example, there are the following models: LS460, LS 460 AWD, LS 460 L (long wheel base, meaning that it is 205 in. long rather than 200, and its wheelbase is 121.7 in. rather than 116.9), LS 460 L AWD, LS 460 F Sport (primarily a trim package, although it is lower than the standard vehicle: 57.3 in. high rather than 58.1 in.), LS 460 F Sport AWD, and LS 600h L (which is a hybrid with a 5.0-liter V8 engine combined with the world’s first all-wheel-drive electronically controlled continuously variable transmission). There are 10 exterior colors, of which five are new; four are not available on F Sport; and one is exclusively available on F Sport. There are five interior colors (although F Sport is only available in Black Leather). There are two types of leather seat trim (smooth and semi-aniline). And there are five interior trim finishes: walnut, matte finish ash burl, bamboo, aluminum (exclusive to F Sport), and Shimamoku. And this last named seriously underlines the Lexus marketing phrase “The Pursuit of Perfection.” To make a steering wheel for the Shimamoku interior it takes three suppliers who process the agathis wood which is laminated and finished; one supplier (Hoxan Inc.) performs seven processes over seven days; the second supplier (Panasonic Eco Solutions Interior Building Products) spends 17 days performing 9 processes; and the final supplier (Tendo Inc.) performs 51 processes over 14 days. All for a steering wheel.
Digital. And Analog
Nowadays, there is something of a competition as regards the size of the display screen in the instrument panel. That on the LS 460 is a sizable 12.3 in. Given the size of the screen, there are a light-control film and a smoked acrylic film with antireflection and antiglare finishes applied to minimize the glare. One interesting aspect of the IP: the analog clock. Of course, this is no ordinary clock, as time adjustments are automatically made via the vehicle’s GPS system. Also, just to the right of the gear selector is a second-generation haptic joystick mechanism that allows various infotainment related selections to be made on the 12.3-in. screen.