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New Car Test - Lexus LS430

Total comfort and extra value in the top-line 2003 Lexus LS430.

By Michael Knowling

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Conventional family cars - such as Commodores, Falcons and Magnas- have recently enjoyed massive NVH improvements. But drive out of a Lexus dealership in a new LS430 and things are clearly put into perspective. The LS430 is supremely quiet and eerily void of vibration; you can't help wonder of you're only dreaming you're behind the wheel...

At AUD$175,900 (plus ORCs) the 2003 LS430 is pitched squarely at the Mercedes S-class, BMW 7-series, Audi A8 and Jaguar XJ. These are the finest prestige saloons in the world, so there should be no surprises that the LS430 offers extraordinary comfort, quality and a bewildering number of features. Expect only the best.

For 2003/2004 the new LS430 doesn't offer any dramatic changes over the superseded 2001-series, but you will find everything that opens and shuts has been thrown in as standard fitment.

The features list of the LS430 is incredible.

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Rear passengers are pampered with an electric sliding seat base (which alters the inclination of the backrest), seat warmers, separate AC controls, a refrigerated cool box, retractable blinds, illuminated vanity mirrors and audio controls. Oh, and we mustn't forget the rear seat massage function - an electric motor vibrates the backrest for total relaxation over long trips. It's an extravagance, but some people seem to like it...

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Up front there's a vast array of switchgear. The driver can keep busy using the central LCD touch screen (which gives control over HVAC, audio and satellite navigation), seat warmer/coolers, 3-position memory (for the seat, steering wheel and mirrors), trip computer and power glass sunroof. Lexus also trumpets the laser cruise control (which can maintain a specific distance behind other cars when the cruise control is set) and wide-angle reversing camera with proximity alarm. We also like the extensive courtesy lighting, the automatic soft-close doors, electric rear sunshade and the Smart Entry/Exit (which allows you to get in and start the car without needing to take the key out of your pocket). Features like power windows and mirrors (which can be folded to aid parking) rate hardly a mention...

A Mark Levinson 6-CD sound system is standard fitment and - driving through 11 speakers - it is very clear and performs well at high listening levels. However, it's not the best factory sound system we've ever encountered.

Don't think for a moment that the new LS430 survives by its features list.

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Front and rear passengers rest in soft leather seats (which cause some lower back ache) and you feel snug in the surroundings. Interestingly, Lexus has opted to give the LS430 a cosy in-cabin feel rather than miles of space - a similarly sized Holden Caprice offers a greater interior volume.

As mentioned, the LS430 is also remarkably quiet. And it's not thanks to just sound deadening - the generated noise from the engine, exhaust, suspension and aerodynamics is extremely low. The suspension employs plenty of aluminium components to help provide a ride that's in keeping with the best cars in the word - it's soft but not unnecessarily so.

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Look beyond the considerable body roll and fore-aft pitching of this luxury saloon and you will find a rear-wheel-drive chassis that is extremely safe and well sorted. The double wishbone front-end turns in nicely and the double wishbone rear gets the power down very, very well. It's a pity that the switchable traction control system is so heavy-handed - whenever wheelspin is detected, the throttle opening is reduced and there's a long pause before power is returned. Fortunately, the traction control system is rarely needed except during tight manoeuvres - the 245/45 18 Bridgestone Turanzas offer decent grip. Note that a stability control system works in unison with the traction control system to maintain excellent composure.

Unfortunately, the power assisted rack and pinion steering lacks the weighting around centre and finesse to make the LS430 a truly enjoyable drive - it's fine for normal driving, but that's about it.

The 315 and 310mm brakes - which look small behind the 18-inch wheels - proved very capable during our test. The 4-sensor, 4-channels ABS system couldn't be flustered though we did find the emergency brake assist system encroached during hard driving. As Lexus says, "the LS430 makes no claims to be sportscar based."

And now onto the driveline that can be only described as brilliant.

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The LS430 packs an all-alloy 4.3-litre 1UZ-FE V8 that's hard to beat. The 2003-spec 3UZ-FE boasts DOHC, 32-valves, variable inlet cam timing, variable induction system, 10.5:1 compression, twin knock sensors and electronic throttle control. Lexus claims outputs of 207kW at 5600 rpm and 417Nm at 3500 rpm. It's a pearler of an engine with fantastic revy nature and an excellent spread of torque. However, throttle response is always soft thanks to the strategies of the electronic throttle control system.

Backing the engine is a to-die-for sequential 6-speed auto (designated A761E). The new transmission is very smooth and - depending on the mode you've selected - it can be very responsive. In Power mode, the transmission kicks down willingly and the car feels very alive. If you tootle around in Normal mode, though, the trans is much more reluctant to kick down and it all feels soggy.

A luxury saloon like the LS430 can be forgiven for weighing "1840 - 1900kg" but it does take its toll on acceleration and on fuel consumption.

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Lexus claims 6.3-second 0 - 100 km/h but the best we could manage was eight seconds flat - and we couldn't get any faster, no matter what we tried. Lexus also claim a governed top-speed of 250 km/h and we're inclined to believe that one - top-end performance is oh-so sweet.

Fuel consumption during our test was nothing to write home about. The official ADR 81/01 combined cycle figure is 12.2-litres per 100km but we averaged 15.2-litres per 100km with fairly hard driving. At this rate, the 80-litre tank allows only a 530 kilometre range...

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If you do a lot of open-road driving we expect the LS430 would achieve substantially better fuel economy thanks to its excellent aerodynamics. The considerable 5-metre overall length has enabled engineers to sculpt a smooth profile that contributes to an impressive 0.26 Cd. And this comes with very low levels of wind noise.

From an aesthetic point of view, the LS-series has never been inspirational - and the 2003 LS430 is no different. A bolder nose and taillight revamp have helped but this is a car with very little cosmetic flair.

The LS430 body is extremely rigid and features extensive crash test design and impact absorbing materials. Safety is further enhanced with low tyre pressure warnings, seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters and no less than 8 airbags - including knee airbags for the driver and front passenger. The low beam headlights are also swivelled up to 15 degrees left or right in relation to the steering - this aids visibility through unlit corners, but we found it imperceptible in all other instances.

From the front to rear the Lexus is exceptionally well built. Panel margins are tight, trim fit is neat and there are absolutely no rough edges. There were only two criticisms on our test car - a surprising amount of orange peel in the paint, and brake pad squeal. The engine also doesn't fire into life as readily as it should.

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There is no question the 2003 LS430 has all the ingredients to challenge the top-line Euro brands - just like the original LS400 did when it debuted in 1989. When you look at the cost, though, the LS430 has gradually lost the massive advantage it once had and it competes dollar-for-dollar with the more established marques. The only thing the LS430 lacks is mystique - and Lexus owners must cringe when asked if their vehicle is a grey market import... If you buy cars on a less emotional basis, though, the LS430 offers all the comfort and quality and comes standard with a host of features that are usually offered as extra cost.

You want options? Pick a colour....

Why You Would

  • Brilliant NVH
  • Excellent comfort and quality
  • Smooth V8 motor and 6-speed auto
  • Stable chassis
  • All the features you could ever want - and a couple you probably don't
  • Cheaper than previous model and with all the fruit as standard

Why You Wouldn't

  • Anonymous styling
  • Lack of steering weight and feel
  • Traction control system too heavy-handed
  • Doesn't have the massive price advantage the LS-series once had

Test vehicle supplied by Lexus Australia.

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