Akio Toyoda is on a mission. Ever since the family scion took the top post at the world’s largest carmaker, he’s resolutely pushed for a change in direction for the company’s brands, especially Lexus.
Toyoda, who knows his way around a racetrack, has been intent on infusing some much-needed excitement into the luxury brand’s line-up. First, there was the million-dirham limited-edition halo car, the LF-A. Then came the LF-LC concept, which is ostensibly aimed at the likes of the Porsche 911 Turbo and Aston Martin Vantage.
Last year, Lexus rolled out its styling and suspension tweak arm F Sport and pleasantly surprised us with the first model to get the treatment — the new GS 350 F Sport — and followed it up with one for the flagship LS 460 model.
The LS, like most of the other cars in the Lexus range, has been the archetype of rock-solid construction, offering absolutely serene ride quality and indulgently luxurious cabins. But that was just about it. There was nothing exciting or emotionally compelling about the car’s styling, inside or out. The F Sport variant attempts to change all this.
So, what’s different with the F Sport package? Essentially, it is a combination of styling tweaks and a fettled suspension without any performance enhancement. In addition to the blacked out spindle grille, the F Sport model gets a sportier front bumper with larger air dams, a rear diffuser, six-calliper Brembos and revised suspension tuning.
These, together with the exclusive 19in alloys and the 10mm lowered ride height, give the LS F Sport an aggressive, hunkered down stance. Inside, it’s the usual fare of perfectly stitched upholstery, high-quality materials, and extreme attention to detail.
Additionally, the F Sport model gets aluminium pedals, a black Alcantara headliner and textured aluminium trim that replaces polished wood on the dashboard and doors. The 16-way power adjustable driver’s seat seems to have improved bolstering, while the F Sport steering offers far more grip than the wood-trimmed wheel in the regular saloon.
Drivetrain remains unchanged with the naturally aspirated V8 introduced in 2006 still doing duty in the F Sport, and the 4.6-litre engine’s output is also unaltered at 382bhp. Although it evidently lacks the gut-wrenching punch of the turbo mills in the Audi S8 or the BMW 740i, it packs enough grunt at the low end for a swift yet smooth start with torque building up in a linear manner towards the upper limit.
Although the V8 is unbelievably quiet and refined when you cruise in Comfort mode, flicking it to one of the two available Sport modes lets a faint growl seep into the cabin, while making the suspension a bit firmer too. Better still, the eight-speed automatic has been tweaked to rev-match downshifts for, er, some throttle blipping.
So are the F Sport trappings enough to change long-held perceptions of the Lexus LS being a bland, boring barge that would excite no one but wealthy pensioners? Well, the LS is still not the most engaging of the premium luxury saloons. Although the air suspension has been revised in this model, the ride remains a bit floaty.
Despite being the best looking LS and without doubt the most dynamic one ever, the LS 460 F Sport is still not as emotionally appealing as its German rivals. However, all that could change if Toyoda-San decides to give his suspension wizard Haruhiko Tanahashi a free hand and plonk the 5.0-litre V8 Yamaha from the IS-F under the LS’s bonnet.