The Lexus LS is, if common belief is to be accepted, one of the Japanese cars that changed the automotive landscape. Likewise, its biggest and brightest has to keep up with technology, tastes and style, and so the new LS must follow suit—with a 2013 model being unveiled on July 30th.
The current LS may have been good enough for royalty, but it’s been around since 2006. And the high-end luxury market has never been more crowded. The word “flagship” gets bandied about more than at a 18th-century naval warfare symposium, but Acura is launching its RLX flagship in November, BMW is considering an M version of its 7 Series (to keep the marketers happy), and Cadillac isn’t satisfied with its XTS, no matter how good it is. Lexus aims to keep up with the Joneses with three distinct versions of the LS, including a new one: the LS 460, its long-wheelbase L model, the LS600h hybrid drivetrain, and the all-new LS 460 F-Sport, for those who want to hustle a two-ton sedan in a physics-defying manner that would make Richard Feynman cringe.
Is the Lexus LS still relevant? When the original LS came out, it was a milestone—a clear cut across the bow of every pompous, overhyped marketing maven’s idyllic world of paying through the nose for a German luxury car; Cadillac wasn’t even considered a competitor at the time. But $40,000 for a Japanese car? But the perfect analogy of Toyota building the original Lexus LS in the early 90s is akin to Zimbabwe launching a space program and landing on Mars just in time for the Winter Olympics. It’s the stuff of legend, today: a car that’s so smooth you couldn’t tell it was on, one that was quieter than a Rolls-Royce’s clock, faster than a BMW, more solid than a Mercedes-Benz, less embarrassing than anything with the words “Deville Brougham Concours D’Elegance” glued to the side, and more reliable than Keith Richards’ circulation system. It could probably even do your taxes and whip up a bundt cake.
Today’s examples of the first LS400 aren’t so sterling. But that’s the reputation Lexus has these days, and the reputation that the LS carved out after 30 years—the fact that many of these LSs are still running around, reliably, for cheap, is testimony to the longevity of this bold new experiment called Lexus; and why this next LS will be just as important. Just like the last one, and just like the last one, and just like the last one before that, which was the first one. Who says you can’t build a reputation in less than a generation? Now Lexus just has to keep it.