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2014 Lexus LS Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

LS 460 F Sport front quarter
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Introduction

Back in 1989, Toyota and Nissan ambitiously challenged BMW and Mercedes-Benz (Audi wasn't yet a large luxury player) with new upscale lines. Some of us thought that the more distinctive and sportier Infiniti Q45 would crush the Lexus LS. We were wrong. Apparently the market wanted quietness, smoothness, refinement, and reliability far more than it wanted unique styling and athletic handling.

But Lexus's original strengths have been less and less sufficient to maintain its top sales position. Recently the brand has been striving to extend its appeal to performance-oriented buyers with "F Sport" variants of its cars, including its LS flagship. So far, this initiative hasn't been terribly successful. But is the fault with the cars, or with lagging perceptions?

Put another way, why buy a Lexus LS 460 F Sport instead of a European competitor? The Jaguar XJ is the sportiest large luxury sedan I've driven recently.

LS Reviews: LS 460 F Sport front quarter

The F Sport package includes a more aggressive front fascia, side skirts, and forged 19-inch wheels. more LS photos

LS Reviews: LS 460 F Sport interior

F Sport interior also available with brown leather.

Tested: 2014 Lexus LS

4dr Sedan 360-horsepower 4.6L V8 8-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Compared: 2013 Jaguar XJ

4dr Sedan supercharged 340hp 3.0L V6 8-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Why the 2014 Lexus LS?

  Compared to the XJ
Reliability & durability
Reliability & durability: Much better Better Worse

The Lexus LS 460 could be the only large luxury sedan people don't fear to own well out of warranty. My father has owned two, a 1991 for most of the 1990s and a 2009 in recent years. His experience has been typical, with no problems worth mentioning.

Back in the 1980s, my father badly wanted a Jaguar XJ, and came close to buying one. But the horror stories scared him. TrueDelta has some data on Jaguars, mostly a few years of the smaller XF. These data suggest that, while the company's cars have gotten better (even since the first year of the XF, the 2009), they have a way to go before they're worry-free.

The reliability of these car causes them to depreciate much more slowly than the average large luxury sedan, reducing the total cost of ownership. (See the discussion of pricing below.)


Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: Better Better Worse

Some reviewers have felt that the F Sport tweaks seriously harm the LS's ride. Personally, I didn't notice a big difference (which, as we'll see, cuts both ways). The large Lexus remains among the cushiest cars you can buy.

The classic Jaguar XJ was arguably the best-riding large luxury sedan of its day. The current one doesn't absorb small bumps as well as the Lexus. Its suspension doesn't quite seem up to the task of managing the weight of the 19-inch wheels.

The XJ also shimmies a bit at low speeds, likely due to its standard rear air springs. Jaguar employs steel coils in the front suspension for the sake of crisper handling. Perhaps they should have done the same with the rear. Air springs tend to make any car feel squirmy at low speeds, including the Lexus, which has them at all four corners. These springs, though part of the F Sport package, are optional on the non-F'd LS 460. My father's car has the standard steel coils, yet still rides very smoothly. I'd drive the LS with both suspensions to see if the ride quality benefits of the air springs justify their additional cost and complexity. For me, they don't.


LS Reviews: LS 460 F Sport rear quarter

Probably the LS's most elegant angle, high from the rear quarter. Lexus "L's" in the tail lamp.

LS Reviews: LS 460 F Sport instrument panel

Mouse-like infotainment controller easier than a touchscreen, but not a knob.

Quietness
Quietness: Better Better Worse

My father's original Lexus LS was shockingly quiet. Car buyers weren't the only ones shocked. Across the entire auto industry noise suppression become a top priority even at much lower price levels. Thanks to this focus, the advantage of the large Lexus isn't what it was. But the LS remains among the quietest cars you can buy. Both the XJ and the Audi A8 seem noisier inside, and more like regular cars as a result. For an ultra-quiet European luxury sedan, you'll want the BMW or Mercedes.

The Jaguar's engine idles surprisingly loudly. Rev the Lexus to the redline, and you'll also hear its engine, but you'll want to hear it. This V8 has always been among the sweetest-sounding. A review back in the 1990s likened the sound its ancestor made at high rpm to "ripping silk."


Front seat room
Front seat room: Much better Better Worse

The Jaguar's sports car-like interior design lends it a sporty character, but at the cost of front seat room, perceived even more than actual. The Lexus feels much roomier.

The cushy, well-shaped front seats in the Lexus are among the most comfortable in the class. The Jaguar's are nearly as comfortable, though, and I like the BMW's most of all. Despite a plethora of adjustments, the Audi A8's are firmer and less form-fitting than the others.

Move to the back seat, and even in the regular wheelbase cars there's plenty of room and comfort for most adults. The long wheelbase only makes sense if the back seat will often carry tall adults, or people who want limo-like legroom even if they don't have the legs of an NBA center.


Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: Better Better Worse

You'll also find more room for your stuff inside the Lexus. The LS 460's 18 cubic-foot trunk is about as spacious as you'll find in a large luxury sedan. The XJ's can hold a mere 15.2 cubic feet. And the Audi A8? A compact-like 13.2.

The BMW 7-Series's trunk comes close, with 17.7 cubic feet, but only by ditching the spare tire. The Lexus manages to offer both a full-size spare and a vast trunk.


Why Not the 2014 Lexus LS?

  Compared to the XJ
Handling
Handling: Worse Better Worse

The Lexus GS midsize sedan and IS compact sedan both clearly benefited from the F Sport treatment. Both are much more fun to drive than people expect a Lexus to be, while retaining the brand's strengths. On the other hand, the F Sport calibration destroys the ride quality of the RX without doing much for the crossover's handling. The payoff with the LS is unfortunately closer to the RX than to the GS and IS. While I didn't find the car's ride quality objectionable (some other reviewers have), neither did I find its handling to be enjoyable or engaging.

Lexus bundles the air springs with adaptive dampers and variable gear ratio steering, but doesn't appear to have taken much advantage of the capabilities of these systems. Turning the mode selector knob a couple clicks to Sport+ tightens up the steering and firms up the suspension a little, but the differences aren't night and day. The steering remains numb and body motions still aren't controlled as tightly or as precisely as in European competitors. Push the car, and it'll hold your intended line through curves fairly well. But it doesn't ask to be pushed.

Unlike in the Jaguar, Audi, or BMW, the modes of the drivetrain and suspension cannot be varied independently. So if you want to tighten up the suspension, fuel economy will take a hit unless you use the paddles to request upshifts while cruising (and the transmission still might refuse these requests). Lexus should make the systems independently adjustable.

The tested LS 460 F Sport was all-wheel-drive, which probably inclined the chassis a bit more towards understeer (where the car resists turning). The rear-wheel-drive F Sport, which has a limited-slip rear differential, should feel at least a little more dynamic and balanced.

And the Jaguar? Even with all-wheel-drive, overly light steering, and its own body control shortcomings it feels much more dynamic and nimble. An AWD system with a strong rearward bias contributes, as does a significantly lower curb weight (4,125 vs. 4,650 lbs.). The XJ's aluminum body pays dividends here.


Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Much worse Better Worse

Through the 2012 model year the Lexus LS strongly resembled the previous generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Handsome (with the arguable exception of the blocky 2000-2006), but lacking any identity of its own.

Lexus has decided it needs an identity. So for 2013 the LS gets the makes "spindle" grille (inspired by Toyota's heritage as a loom maker). I don't mind the spindle grills on the GS and IS (but am in a fairly small minority). Where the grille has been grafted onto a pre-existing design, though, it doesn't work as well, or at all. While the latest LS's face is alien fierce, the rest of its exterior remains as generic as ever. It could be worse. The spindle grille looks awful on the GX and LX SUVs.


LS Reviews: LS 460 F Sport front view

The new face of Lexus.

LS Reviews: LS 460 F Sport rear seat

Comfy cushion, and even in the regular wheelbase car there's a healthy amount of rear legroom.

Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: About the same Better Worse

Like the Jaguar XJ AWD, the Lexus LS 460 F Sport AWD can get from a dead stop to 60 mph in about six seconds. Not too shabby. But the AWD Jaguar has only six cylinders (albeit supercharged ones), while the Lexus has a V8. If you want a breathtakingly quick large sedan, Jaguar also offers the XJ with a boosted V8, as do all of the Germans. So far, none of the F Sport tweaks have included engine modifications. The LS is offered only with the 360-horsepower V8 (380 with rear-wheel-drive), take it or leave it. (Okay, there's the slightly more powerful, slightly more efficient, far more expensive hybrid variant, but it also isn't nearly as quick as the V8-powered Europeans.)

This won't change until Lexus follows the Europeans in offering engines boosted by superchargers or turbochargers. Perhaps out of concerns for long-term durability, Toyota has resisted this industry-wide trend.

Don't need more thrust than the LS 460 offers? In other aspects, its powertrain is as good as any and better than most. I've already noted the sweet sounds of the engine. The eight-speed automatic partnered with this engine is about as smooth and responsive as a conventional automatic gets. In typical driving, most shifts are undetectable unless you're watching the tach.


Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Much worse Better Worse

Nearly everyone except Toyota has been transitioning to boosted engines for fuel efficiency at least as much as for performance. While boosted engines swill gas at least as well as their unboosted equivalents when hustled, in typical driving they are more efficient. With EPA ratings of 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, the LS 460 nearly matches the Jaguar XJ AWD (16/24), but falls well short of the Audi A8 3.0T (18/28) and BMW 740Li xDrive (19/28).

In the real world, the Lexus's fuel economy lags the others, including the Jaguar, to an even greater degree. In our suburban driving the LS 460's trip computer often reported averages between 15 and 16, vs. low 20s in the Jaguar. A light foot could nudge the LS's average to 18, but the XJ's to 25. On the highway the LS 460's trip computer reported averages of 24.7 and 23.3. The XJ's reported just over 30.


Audio & nav systems
Audio & nav systems: Worse Better Worse

Much praise has been showered upon the Mark Levinson audio system optional in the LS 460. To my ear, though, the Meridian system optional in the Jaguar produces clearer, more immersive sound. Set to the factory defaults, the ML system heavily favors the center front speaker. Most likely this is by design, but it's not a design I personally care for.


Other features of the 2014 Lexus LS

  Compared to the XJ
Interior styling
Interior styling: Worse Better Worse

The interior of the LS 460 F Sport is a pleasant enough place to spend time. Though there's a bit much silver plastic (or real aluminum that resembles silver plastic), the materials are generally worthy of the car's high price.

This said, the Jaguar's interior is much more stylish, and both looks and feels more special. Especially in blue.


Controls and instruments
Controls and instruments: Better Better Worse

The Jaguar's touchscreen-based infotainment system controls are the most difficult to use in the bunch. After years of refinements, the knob-based systems in the Audi and BMW are the best. The Lexus's unique system, based around a mouse-like controller, is much easier to use than the Jaguar's, but a little more fiddly than the Audi's and BMW's. Bumps in the road can cause inadvertent cursor movements and clicks.



Safety & braking
Safety & braking: Better Better Worse

The F Sport upgrades include massive six-piston Brembo front brake calipers. While these brakes do an excellent job scrubbing speed, in casual driving they can be overly touchy. This was most noticeable the first few days I drove the car, after which my brain adjusted.


Price or payments
Price or payments: About the same Better Worse

Brilliantly, Lexus launched the LS with a $35,000 base price that severely undercut the large European sedans at the time. Once the car was a hit, they raised the price aggressively. With a few years the base price was $50,000.

Fast forward to the 2014, and the base price of the LS 460 is about $72,000. Still less than an equivalent European car, but not to nearly the same degree as in the past. Add AWD ($2,945), the F Sport package ($7,860), the Comfort Package ($2,090), Mark Levinson audio ($1,580), and a few minor options, and the bottom line rises to $88,000.

A similarly equipped Jaguar XJ lists for about $4,000 less. Adjusting for the extra features of the LS 460 F Sport (including active steering and a four-corner air suspension, neither of which provides a clear benefit) narrows this to $3,000.

Upon a closer look, the F Sport package isn't a very good value unless you'll be taking your LS to a race track. Spec a car with nearly all of its features save appearance items and the Brembo front brakes (whose additional capability will rarely if ever been needed on public roads), and the price drops to within a few hundred dollars of the Jaguar's.

An Audi A8 3.0T also costs about the same, while the BMW (where AWD is only available with the long wheelbase) is a few thousand more than the others.

This is looking at the initial purchase price. Because of the big Lexus's reputation for reliability, it depreciates much less quickly than other large luxury cars. So the total cost of ownership can be much lower.


Conclusion

Even in F Sport form the LS 460 is very much a Lexus. It's smooth, quiet, and comfortable, and should remain reliable well past 100,000 miles. But it's also still not much fun to drive. The Jaguar XJ, though not without its own flaws, is more stylish and more enjoyable.

Lexus can do better. Even with all-wheel-drive, the lighter, steel-sprung GS F Sport is much more engaging and entertaining. The GS also does a better job of wearing the brand's new face and costs over $20,000 less. Unless you absolutely must have the additional power of the LS's V8 (the GS is only offered with a 306-horsepower V6) or the somewhat more luxurious interior of the larger car, the midsize sedan--which is nearly as roomy--seems a much better bet.

LS Reviews: LS 460 F Sport engine

One industry-wide trend started by the original LS: a cover that totally hides the engine.

LS Reviews: LS 460 F Sport trunk

Largest trunk in its class, despite a full-size spare beneath the floor.

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2014 Lexus LS pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2014 Lexus LS. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from jrice930

12:57 pm September 1, 2016

I don't feel it is entirely appropriate for me to comment here, but I see no better place. After a decade of owning an older LS and putting vastly more miles on it than I have ever done in a regular transportation car, my wife and I agreed it was time to buy a newer one. Why?

The primarly reason to replace our old one is that my wife detests the spindle grille and I want her to be happy with whatever we are going to be looking at for quite a few years. This limited me to a pre-2013 LS. If I was going to get a later LS I either had to wait and hope that Lexus restyles them to a point my wife finds them acceptableor buy one soon while it is easier to find a nice lower mile example. As I researched I was unhappy to realize that Lexus had downgraded the brakes on the regular LS. One of the things I loved on our old one was those massive binders that scrubbed off speed incredibly well. I might add that I am an ex-racer and own several higher performance Porsches as well as an older Infinity FX. Buying quality performance vehicles and taking care of them instead of swapping cars ever 2-3 years has dramatically enhanced my ability to afford this indulgence. It also gives me a perspective and flexibility that would be impossible if the LS were my only car. The point of telling you this is so you may understand that I have plenty of experience with high performance driving and understand how cars work. BTW, I question if I will ever again own another big BMW, Mercedes, Audi. I could care less how they hold up for 3 years. How reliable are they over time? [We know the answer and it's not pretty.]

My research let me to the 2010-2011 LS Sport. This was the latest LS I could buy without that awful grille and the Sport option was the only way I could have great brakes. I found and drove a few examples. My research via the Lexus Drivers Club surprised me. The Sport model had vastly more changes and upgrades than people realize- far too many to detail them here. For all of this, in normal test driving the regular LS was great and a bit more comfortable. However I knew the brakes were going to be inadequate for this heavy beast out on the quieter highways I prefer but sometimes encountering animals or bikers pedalling blissfully away with earbuds on and no concept that cars are using the same roads. The cost to independently upgrade the brakes was $$$$. I didn't find the Sport model to be significantly differnt in any of the settings as I had hoped, but all of my test driving was in urban areas and in traffic. I finally found "the" car at the Lexus dealership in Reno. People are so spoiled by awd that it is difficult to sell a rwd luxury car in that area because of winter driving. Thus a surprisingly attractive price compared to California prices. I was quite pleased with the car and we closed the deal. We stopped for a good dinner and started back down the mountains just as it became pitch black. This is where my education began. Driving around in traffic and the differences between Comfort/Normal/Sport weren't particularly notable. Driving down that empty, dark highway with very little traffic at night was a different proposition. On Normal, as I went into a fast, blind, and unlit sweeper the combination of body roll and steering was impercise and required constant readjusting to maintain a proper, smooth line. I remember thinking it was going to be a real pain to make good time on this rather long drive, full of fast sweepers. I tried the Sport setting and was shocked that it felt so different than when I had been testing the car. Suddenly the body roll was nicely controlled and the steering was percise and consistent! I spent the next half hour or so switching between the 3 settings to see how the car reacted and realized that they are quite distinct from one another. If you are reading this you know that I am biased towards performance, and in Sport setting the car was not only good, it was an absolute joy to push hard. This was totally unexpected and delightful. As i gained confidence in the car I pushed much harder. It's not often I have an opportunity to "use" a decent high performance large sedan without concerns for our friends in blue or having to deal with the regular Text-While-Driving and other brainless road hazards. My wife appreciates that I have a degree of driving skill and indulges me to a point. She does not generally enjoy high speed travel unless it is in a Porsche Turbo. This time she was silent but seemed quite relaxed. I was in the middle of a high speed sweeper and felt very comfortable but realized we were on the edge of triple digits. I had to ask her if she indeed felt comfortable or if she wanted me to perhaps slow down and put it in the Normal mode for a more relaxing experience for her tastes. It was music to my ears when she responded "No, dear. I am quite comortable as we are." This last sentence sums the car up. It is not obviously a high performance sports sedan and I know that a good AMG, etc is faster and quicker through the sweepers with a decent driver. However the combination of comfort and performance..and fully expecting exceptional reliablity makes the LS Sport a stand out in my book. Two Final comments: It's so quiet inside that I sometimes am irritated by the tiniest noises. Then I roll down a window and realize how noisy it actually is outside! :-> [Also, we have rough pavement near my home. I always switch it to Comfort when we turn off the main highway. I am so indulged by this car that I find myself wishing they would connect the GPS and the setting so that it will automatically switch in and out of Comfort mode! It's less a matter of being too lazy to hit the swithch. It's that it COULD be done ( ;-> ) and that the switch makes a... I kid you not.. rather loud CLICK in that otherwise silent beast. Spoiled? Indeed.] My old LS was extremely sedate looking except for the addion of the latest 18" wheels with high performance tires. I also subtley upgraded the suspension and loved the car all around. I also discovered early on that the Old Man image of the LS [combined with my gray hair] allowed me to get away with certain "indulgences" in traffic that our aggressive Bay Area drivers simply don't allow. it was a hoot pretending to be one of the old guys who can barely still drive when it enabled me to catch a break in traffic. The only downside was that I had to play the role consistently in those circumstances. So, getting this much newer LS and one of the first things that surprised me once I was back in the Bay Area was..how RUDE everyone was. You would think I was in one of the Porsches! My wife kindly reminded me that this wasn't the old sedate looking LS and people viewed this as far more aggressive and my days of the Old Man Game were over. This car is good enough that I can live with this.

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Response from mkaresh

12:22 am September 27, 2016

Thanks for posting this comment. If you want to, you can also post your own review on the site.

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