Now, don’t get carried away. I’ve thought cars were amazing before, but sometimes, a car arrives on the fleet at just the right moment, and I get a buzz that I certainly do not always get.
The XM created that buzz, until the heavy clutch, horrible gearchange and the fact it had four bloody pedals got too much for me (the Lexus has the same stupid foot-operated parking brake, but at least has the decency to dispense with a clutch pedal). My Land Rover Discovery also created that buzz, though it rather spoilt it by frequently going wrong. The Rover P6B definitely had a strong buzz about it, tempered only by the battering my wallet took to keep it on the road, and my inability to put fuel into it (odd filler neck, once had a petrol pump time out on me).
But the Lexus is, so far, ticking boxes aplenty. There’s the whole wiper thing, which I may have mentioned once or twice, but it’s not just the beautiful engineering of the driver’s dual wiper arm, there’s also the way the wipers sweep a vast amount of windscreen, leaving few blind spots (the Honda is good at this too). There’s a mist function on the wiper stalk too and, joy of joys, a variable intermittent setting. Bloomin’ handy when you live in Wales.
Plus, and this is my final wiper point, I promise, I love the way they park. The wipers park out of sight, resting in a slightly-raised position when in use. This is nothing new, such wiper behaviour can be seen on everything from a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud through the Rover P4 and 5 right up to the Austin Montego and Alfa Romeo 164 (when that bit actually works, it often didn’t on mine). But, what sets the Lexus apart from all these is that if the wipers are resting, and you turn the wipers off, they just quietly park away. On every other one of the cars mentioned, the wipers will do a final sweep (a part sweep on some) before thunking away to the park position. If you didn’t actually WANT a final sweep, this is annoying.
Moving swiftly on, the interior of the Lexus is a bloody lovely place to be too. It’s surprisingly modern, with lots of curving plastic that feels nice to the touch. It’s amazingly uncluttered too. There aren’t actually that many toys to play with. Look at the interior of a Toyota Century, in production by the same company at the same time as the Lexus, and you can marvel at how different hings are. The Toyota has buttons on top of buttons.
The seats are also beautifully comfortable, in a way the seats in the Vauxhall Omega just aren’t. The leather is soft and caressing, and inviting. Even if the seat heaters do not work. (in the front at least, not tested the rears yet).
Sure, it’s not all good. The ride isn’t perfect, though it is pretty good. The handling is pretty woeful though. Like a CX, it pays to be incredibly smooth with your steering inputs. Make hasty corrections and it all feels as wobbly as a tango on a bouncy castle.
It’s very peaceful, which is always nice on a long journey, though a leaky sunroof seal means there is noise that shouldn’t be there. It’s actually quieter to open the sunroof, though only in the tilt position. Have the ‘moon roof’ right back and it’s louder than the Bluebird was – though the Bluebird was utterly remarkable in that fact. You could drive along at motorway speeds with sunroof and windows open and it didn’t hurt.
It is effortless. Not quite electric motor effortless, but good nonetheless. At 1000rpm, the 4-litre, quad-cam V8 is producing over 150Nm of torque! That’s 110lb.ft, or about 20 more than a Bluebird 1.6 produces as maximum. It isn’t power I’ve been craving, but torque! Incidentally, a 2CV has 29lb.ft of torque, which really is not very much. The maximum the Lexus produces is 365Nm/269lb.ft at 4600rpm.
It’s allied to one of the smoothest automatic transmissions I’ve ever encountered. It isn’t often I drive even an automatic where I don’t know what gear it is in, but this is one of them. The rev counter is necessary for some indication. Often, it’s the only clue that a change has occurred. Even when you hoof it, or double-kickdown, it doesn’t take long to sort itself out.
Oh, some for fun facts – the owners’ manual recommends not exceeding 50mph in first, or 83mph in second. The lever has a nice action too, pulling down through PRN to D, then across to 3, and down to 2 and L (or 1) if needs be. I like that. Approaching roundabouts or sharp bends, I still like to knock it down to third, which it does beautifully smoothly. It gives the brakes a slightly easier time. There’s a lot of weight to haul down! The discs are also warped judging by the judder I get at times.
On top of everything, I’ve always loved the looks of the LS400, even if I prefer the first-generation for its slightly edgier front end. Those smooth looks aren’t just to look good either – this car has a drag coefficient of just 0.29cd – that’s slightly better than a Honda NSX or the remarkable 1983 Audi 100. A Jaguar X300 is 0.37 by comparison, which is a lot. This, more than anything, helps explain why the Lexus can nudge 30mpg, which, even though I’ve really tried, seems impossible with the Jag (27mpg the best I managed, by driving like a saint).
So, it’s a complete package then, that allows me to overlook some of the problems it has – like not fitting in parking spaces. Whether it can maintain this high level of joy remains to be seen, but I’m about to fork out for a timing belt change, so I really do hope it stays in the good books for some time to come!