Car Test   R0332
May 2003
  Lexus LS430
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Churning out small cars by the million is all very well, but for maximum prestige and profit, the top end of the large executive car market is the place to be.
   Traditionally, companies like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar have dominated this area, but Toyota decided that it, too, wanted a slice of the lucrative action. Twelve years ago it introduced the Lexus LS400 as its rival for top honours. If the establishment were hiding sardonic smiles, these soon faded as the newcomer quickly proved that it could, indeed, equal and even exceed all they had to offer in terms of overall quality and refinement. Today, Lexus continues to rival Europe’s finest with this evolutionary LS430 – its current contender for excellence.
   The Lexus experience begins as you slide into the car past the keyless, silently self-closing doors. Press one of the three memory buttons and the wheel, seat and mirrors automatically adjust to your pre-selected settings. It’s certainly a big car, but the combination of good vision (with the ability to see at least some of the bonnet and boot lid), a remarkably tight turning circle, and front and rear parking sensors, mean that it doesn’t feel unduly cumbersome.
   Mastering the controls is another matter, though – you’ll be no stranger to the handbook. The familiar stalks and wheel-mounted buttons are all easily manageable, of course, but operating the superb stereo system, climate control and the DVD satnav via a central 7in touch screen takes a lot of familiarisation. More worryingly, it’s likely to take your eyes off the road for too long.
   But it’s perhaps the engine and transmission that make the LS430 such a joy to drive. The big V8 is whisper-quiet on light throttle and remarkably rapid when you floor the accelerator, yet it always revs with uncanny smoothness and no other automatic 'box we know can match this one for the silkiness of its shifts. It’s a pity that it lacks a full sequential manual override control, though; but then we guess that many would never bother to use it – why buy a guard dog etc?
   You ride on air in the LS430 – literally, with the result that progress, even on broken B-roads, is superbly composed and cosseting. There’s a little more lean and final understeer through the bends than with the car’s German rivals, which offer cornering roll control and sharper steering. In terms of ultimate handling, therefore, they prove a little more entertaining as drivers’ cars. That said, there are two facia rocker switches on the Lexus to make the suspension firmer and the gearshifts feistier, but since the car performs so well in standard mode, why bother?
   Five metres of motor translates into a lot of room inside. Rear passengers enjoy their fair share of this from the comfort of sumptuous individual seats that not only slide and recline (electrically, of course), but also heat and vibro-massage you when required. They’re divided by a centre armrest/console containing controls that work the audio system, air-con and electric sunblind. It really is the height of wood, carpet and leather luxury back there.
  considering size, price and rivals
Overtaking Ability
Fuel Economy
Security, theft of
theft from
  • brightly backlit main dials - superb
  • mirrors tilt when reversing, fold when parking
  • wide-opening doors mean easy entry and egress
  • doors and boot lid soft-close quietly
  • front door windows repel rain
  • trip computer readout illegible in bright light
  • poor rear vision when rear headrests in place
  • rear foot space cramped
  • parked wipers can't be lifted to clean screen
  • metallic/pearlescent paint costs £375 extra!
The LS430 may prove a little less inspiring to drive and arguably lack some of the visual grace of its rivals, but if supreme comfort and quietness, exceptional mechanical refinement and a luxury specification head your desirability list, look no further.

engine 4293cc, V8-cylinder, petrol; 282bhp at 5600rpm, 308 lb ft at 3500rpm; belt-driven twin overhead camshafts, 32 valves   transmission 5-speed stepped automatic, rear-wheel drive; 31.5mph/1000rpm in 5th, 23.7 in 4th
suspension (front and rear) double wishbones with adaptive air suspension system, switchable Normal and Sport modes and height adjustable   steering hydraulic power assistance; 3.5 turns lock-to-lock; 10.6m diameter turning circle between kerbs (18.2m for one turn of the wheel)
brakes ventilated discs front and rear, with brake-assist/ABS and EBD   wheels/tyres 7.5in alloy with 225/55R17 tyres (Dunlop SP Sport 270 on test car); full-size alloy spare

size and type premium-priced large/luxury saloon   trim levels one only
engines petrol: V8 cylinder/4.3 litre/282bhp
diesel: none
  drive 5-speed stepped automatic with selectable Sport and Snow modes; rear-wheel drive

HOW THE LS430 COMPARES engine (cyl/cc/bhp) revs at 70mph (rpm) 30-70 through gears (sec) 30-70mph in 4th/5th gears (sec) fuel (mpg/CO2) brakes from 50mph (kg/m) maximum legroom - front (cm) typical leg/kneeroom - rear (cm) steering turns/circle (m) overall length (cm)
Lexus LS430 V8/4293/282 2220 6.7 n/a 23/289 16/26 113 107/83 3.5/10.6 501
BMW 735i V8/3600/272 2200 7.4 11.7/15.8 25/259 18.5/23 114 108/81 3.0/12.1 503
Mercedes-Benz S350 V6/3724/245 2320 7.6m n/a 25.4m/266 n/a 124 101/77 3.0/11.7m 504
  m maker's figure

Excellent heated/cooled seat with three 'memories' that work wheel and mirrors, too. Main dials exemplary and stalks and wheel switches fine, but touch-screen (hi-fi/climate/satnav) can distract.
Feels built for comfort not cornering; very safe but not as nimble as BMW/Merc rivals. Low-geared steering but superb turning circle. This plus parking sensors and good vision make manoeuvring relatively easy.
This is as good as it gets. Whispers along on a whiff of throttle; uncannily quiet and restful. Road faults calmly dealt with - just a remote thump. Reclining back seats with massager, air-conditioning, hi-fi and coolbox.

Remarkably swift performance from this two-ton titan and Sport mode makes it peppier still. Silky auto-shifts, but no Tiptronic-style override. Still, most drivers will simply select D and watch the world go by.
  acceleration in seconds In D using kickdown
  20-40mph 2.3
  30-50mph 2.8
  40-60mph 3.3
  50-70mph 3.9
  30-70mph 6.7
  max speed in each gear (* using kickdown/6100rpm for best acceleration)
     gear      1st*      2nd*      3rd*      4th*      5th
     speed (mph)      43      66      102      145      155 (4920rpm)

It's a fair 23mpg overall, if you really want to know, but with the LS430 as a company car, real costs are in tax liability and depreciation - say £7000pa before road tax, insurance - and actually driving the thing!
  type of use (air conditioning off) AA test (mpg) 
    urban (heavy traffic) 15.0
    motorway (70mph cruising) 30.0
    rural (gentle driving) 29.0
    overall mpg 23.0
    realistic tank capacity/range 75/380
    official mpg (urban/extra urban/combined) 16.1/31.7/23.5
    CO2 emissions 289g/km
    car tax band E

Traction and stability controls perform well, but car understeers safety on the limit, anyway. Reassuring brakes, yet best stop unimpressive; foot-operated parking brake strong. Reasonable tally of airbags.
  from 50mph (with brake assist/ABS)
This model has not yet been
tested by EURO NCAP
pedal load     stopping distance
unhurried 10kg     33m
sudden 16kg     26m best stop
+ 4kg ie 20kg     27m
fade resistance/consistency    
Euro NCAP = European New Car Assessment Programme: independent crash safety tests evaluating protection for occupants and pedestrians in an offset frontal collision, side impacts and pedestrian strike conditions
click here for more NCAP details/test results etc.

Generous knee and legroom mirror 735i's, and both better Benz. Not a genuine five-seater, though, rear centre seat perch-like. Big, deep boot, but no folding back seat facility, even as an option. Lots of storage areas.
  in centimetres (4-door saloon)
  length 501
  width - including mirrors 207
    - mirrors folded 186
  height 147 - 149
  load sill height (inside/outside) 18/65
  turns lock-to-lock 3.5
  turning circle (metres) 10.6
  easy to park/garage?
  front - legroom 87-113
    - headroom 90-98§
  rear - typical legroom 107
    - typical kneeroom 83
    - headroom 94
    - hiproom 137
  load area(all seats in use)
  load space
(litres/cu ft)
  load length 80-94#
  load length to facia No
  load width 80-166
  load height 50
# rear fixed seat  § with sunroof

Villains' downfall. Top five-star NCSR ratings mean that the Lexus is as hard to burgle as it is to steal. A keyless entry and start-up system is standard, as are laminated side windows and vehicle parts marking.
central locking  
remote control  
remote window closing  
alarm (perimeter + interior)  
self-locking (static)   
two-stage unlocking   
attack-resistant glass   
keyless entry   
AA load area security rating
=standard    =option    =not available
NCSR - "theft of"
NCSR - "theft from"
NCSR = New Car Security Ratings: a 1 to 5 star system which rates anti-theft protection, both of the car itself and the theft of valuables from within the car
Visit for more details
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