IT HARDLY LOOKS different from its predecessor, but then the familiarity and relative anonymity of the new LS430 are probably intentional. Walk around the car and you might just notice that the front end is a mite less brutish, thanks to sleek new headlight clusters and a grille that's been stretched and curved to create a friendlier - or, as the Lexus people might say, 'sporty' - look. Otherwise, it remains pretty much the same barge-like beast as last year's model, its heftiness partially explained by the fact that, from the A-pillars back, the LS430 is a dead-ringer for the previous S-Class Mercedes-Benz, itself no svelte beauty. So ignore the bland and derivative exterior styling if you can and instead admire the beauty that lies under the skin, for it's there that the big new Lexus truly shines. For there can be few cars on the road as complete as the LS430. The standard specification is awesomely comprehensive. There is one engine only: a superb, 4.3-litre V8 that produces in excess of 280bhp and a thumping 417 Newtons-per-metre of torque, yet does it all so silently and so unobtrusively that I doubt there's a smoother motor this side of Rolls-Royce. It's hooked up to a six-speed electronic automatic box, which shifts so imperceptibly that you only notice when glancing at the rev-counter. Mercifully, Lexus has resisted the urge to require us to re-learn how to drive, as the BMW 7-Series has, so the gear selector is, as it should be, a lever located on the console. This permits tiptronic-style semi-manual changes in Drive, achieved via a nudge either forward or back. The suspension's a beautifully sorted arrangement of double wishbones, coil springs and gas-filled shocks, which allow the Lexus to hug the road like a sports saloon yet waft serenely like a boulevardier. There's also the usual list of active electronic safety acronyms, and four whopping ventilated disc brakes that can really haul this 1.85-tonne machine to a halt. A smart key that lets you not only get into the car but start it without having to use a slot is a neat, hi-tech touch, although not one that adds greatly to the driving pleasure. For that, there's the interior, gleaming with polished walnut and heady with the rich aroma of expensive leather, and the ergonomic instrument layout. Seats, front and back, are adjustable every which way, and have a three-position memory, as well as cooling and heating, while those at the rear have a massage function, which I found disconcerting in a car with such a smooth ride. The split air-conditioning can be controlled from the rear passenger's console, as can the glorious 11-speaker, 350-watt Mark Levinson audio system. Miles Davis's Kind Of Blue sounded sublime. But comfortable though it is, sitting in the back seat of the LS430 really misses the point, for this big, luxurious saloon is not only surprisingly easy to drive, it's also both involving and satisfying. Thanks to the combination of superb handling, quick steering and an amazingly responsive powertrain, the car rarely feels its size, so you quickly acquire the confidence to punt it along like a much smaller machine. Spot a gap in the traffic, jab the throttle and the big Lexus gathers up her skirts and surges gracefully forward, those massive disc brakes shaving off the speed again when it's time to slot back into the flow. Admittedly the handsome, wood-rimmed steering wheel is slightly unwieldy when slicing through traffic, but something smaller would hardly suit the opulent surrounds of the Lexus's cabin. Lexus claims the 0-100km/h sprint in a little more than six seconds and its top speed is about two and a half times higher. More to the point, in crowded Hong Kong, is that, when cruising at the legal limit on the North Lantau Expressway and with the V8 near to idling, the only audible noises were of Miles's incomparable Flamenco Sketches, sounding better than it ever did on my home stereo, and a whisper of wind around the edges of the screen. Mark that down to a slippery 0.26 drag coefficient that belies the LS430's girth, plus very efficient insulation. Around town it's no handful, either. The excellent all-round visibility is aided by the steering's super-light power-assistance at low speeds. To aid parking, there's the expected battery of proximity sensors front and rear. And to prove those sharp, new front headlight surrounds aren't merely fancy, they house lights that thoughtfully spread their beams while cornering. In fact, thoughtful is the word that comes to mind time and again when summing up the LS430, whether it's the swing-away steering wheel that eases entry and exit; the electronic anti-glare rear-view mirror; the neat retractable rear side-window shades; the cool box tucked behind the rear armrest or the tool box housed in a neat recess in the boot. And although it may not quite deliver the driving pleasure of, say, a Jaguar XJ, or be as formidably fettled as an Audi A8, the Lexus LS430 is by far the easier car to live with. Even more to the point, it's a clear $230,000 cheaper than an S-class - one with a mere 3.7-litre V6 under the bonnet, too. Were I in the position of being able to blow almost a million bucks on a new luxury saloon, I'd peruse those JD Power consumer surveys that have placed Lexus in the lead year after year (and shown Mercedes-Benz slipping inexorably behind), say hang the uninspiring first impressions and put my money on an LS430. I'd then spend the difference on a Cooper S - and smile smugly whenever I spied one of those three-pointed stars.