Stretch in style

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 December, 2006, 12:00am

THIS IS THE way to commute. I've my feet on the ottoman, and am having a robust shiatsu massage in the back of this Lexus LS460L. Other cars' massage machines shake and heat your booty, but the Lexus 'rear seat relaxation system' hits the spot outside the Luk Kwok Hotel. By the time we reach The Excelsior, this LS460L's back mat and seat vibration assembly has loosened the lats, set the ego aglow and kneaded at my mental knots about Lexus' new executive stretch.

Critics say its predecessors, the 1989 LS400 and the 2001 'Lexusgate' LS430, were quiet rides and looked too much like Mercedes-Benzes. So what? The executive Lexuses have a cult following in Hong Kong because they've proved dependable in our humidity and make their owners look important and feel good in commutes, as I do now.

Indeed, the look and finish of this LS460L stretch (HK$1.23 million) and its standard LS460 version (HK$1.063 million) could quash old sniffs that Lexus is Toyota in Prada.

This LS460L isn't boxy or boring for the Japanese marque has put its new executive ride through the 'L-finesse design' mill for a welcoming, elegant sass that will impress in any Hong Kong car park.

Lexus is proud of the Audi-like 'arrowhead' lines along the bonnet to the front bumper, and critics might debate whether the new LS's rear hints at the BMW 7-Series (HK$1.398 million) and the muscular profile of the bling-bling Chrysler 300C.

Indeed, the LS460L's interior is sufficiently pimped for an r'n'b video, and could tempt rappers from the Maybach 62 (HK$7.29 million). Lexus has declunked the LS460L's doors, softened the carpets and installed an air-conditioning system that adapts to your body heat through 13 sensors and 20 outlets. A DVD screen flips from the ceiling to distract the driver, and pumps sound through 19 speakers, while sunshades and rear pillars ensure privacy.

There's plenty of room for legs and billowing evening gowns in soft-leather rear seats that could convince bosses to trade in their Toyota Alphard or Nissan Elgrand vans. The rear control panel's switches are simple, with plenty of space for your chauffeur's films. There's a five-litre fridge, but if the rear-seat table's fine for drinks, the 7-Series' surfaces seem more laptop friendly. The cabin's airy in ivory, but the ceiling could be low for big hair or a six footer. Dashboard dials are clear.

The LS460L's a quiet drive. A credit card-sized smart key memorises three seat, wheel and mirror positions for when your chauffeur allows you to drive on Saturdays. Press the LS460L's start button, and you have to rev the V8 a bit for brrrm, but you soon sense a hint of its 500Nm of torque. The LS460L speeds with minimum effort along Stubbs Road, so you might watch your chauffeur's clock.

Lexus has upgraded the LS430's smooth 281bhp 4,293cc block to a 381bhp, 4,608cc V8, codenamed the 1UR-FSE: D-4S. It's as sharp as a five-litre ride and as fuel-efficient as a three-litre, six-cylinder engine, the marque says, on account of two innovations: the world's first Variable Valve Timing-intelligent by Electric motor ('VVTi-E), and the 'D-4S' twin injection system, which makes sure the engine burns up the most fossil fuel, leaves less fug and improves torque by 7.5 per cent.

Lexus has gone all out for smoothness, with knock sensors in the engine, vibe-limiting balances on the crankshaft pulley, and four timing chains and tensioners in the valve mechanism that are said to tighten control on the moving parts.

The new AA80E eight-speed automatic gearbox is simpler, with fewer components and better electronics than its similarly sized A761E predecessor. Crown Motors says you'd burn less fuel in eighth gear than you would in sixth in the LS430.

The shift's seamless, with electronics adapting to my driving outside Queen Mary Hospital. Overseas critics say the gears jump a bit. I disagree, but can't say whether this gearbox is any smoother at Hong Kong speeds than the seven speeder in the Mercedes-Benz CLS 500 (HK$1.388 million), or the shift in the BMW750Li (HK$1.348 million) and Jaguar XJ8 LWB (HK$1.188 million).

Lexus has devised some fine boasts for Hong Kong's roads, however. The Lexus' road condition support control senses whether you're driving up or downhill, and regulates the transmission for a smoother drive.

The brake hold function's a godsend in traffic. You no longer need to keep your foot on the brake pedal to stop creep at the lights, and hill starts are less embarrassing on Old Peak Road, thanks to a control that brakes backward movement, and flatters a doddery driver. The six front and four rear sensors and a rear-view monitor on the dashboard ease reversing, but the parking technology does seem wasted on a good driver.

The LS460L's monsoon-ready, however, with windscreen wipers that vary their flick with the downpour and your speed; bi-xenon headlights that 'see round corners', and rear LEDs that the marque says give following cars an extra six metres' reaction time at 100km/h.

The LS460L is a sophisticated car that has literally probed and anticipated the back-seat driving needs of Hong Kong's rich. Dismiss this big Lexus as a cheap S-Class, 7-Series or Audi A8L, and you'll sound very out of date, this Christmas.


What drives it? A 4,608cc, 381 brake-horsepower, V8 engine with an eight-speed automatic box, on multi-link air suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels

How fast is it? Sprints to 100km/h in 5.7 secs. Tops at 250km/h

How safe? 12 airbags, stability control, four-wheel anti-lock braking with electronic brake distribution, brake assist, electronic handbrake

How thirsty? 9km per litre on an 85-litre tank

Hong Kong friendly? Emits 261g of CO2 per km, the fug equivalent of 2.1 Smart Fortwos

Available: LS460, HK$1.063 million; LS460L, HK$1.23 million, from Crown Motors (tel: 2511 9430)