In the past, the automotive segment known as the full size luxury car was dominated by the gargantuan German sedan. The likes of the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class took almost each and every rolling couch sale for decades; especially in the late 1980s. These full size four doors were so controlling that no one in their right mind imagined another manufacture or country posting a serious threat to the Germans. Even still, more than 20 years ago one manufacture and one country changed the minds of industry skeptics around the globe by releasing a single sedan that morphed the entire segment. That sedan came from Japan’s Toyota and today, it lives as a rolling legend that is every bit as capable of taking down the German greats. While an all-new version of the big cruiser is on its way for the 2013 model year, the current Lexus LS460 is still everything that a full size luxury love seat should be.

Like the other full size luxury ocean liners, the Lexus comes in a variety of different forms. Two wheelbase models are offered – one long and one longer – while two powertrains can be fitted underneath. For the mileage and carbon emissions conscious, the LS600h L hybrid is available as the ultimate, triple digit flagship but for most, the base 460 is plenty necessary. Riding on Toyota’s exclusive XF40 platform, the current generation LS debuted in 2006 as the fourth iteration of the Lexus flagship. In 2010, the sedan received its final and present refresh that included subtle changes to the body, interior and drivetrain. A newly available Sport Package with tuned air suspension and Brembo brakes was also created to push the LS even closer the likes of the BMW 7-Series and Jaguar XJ. More than likely, this add-on was conceived due to a few grips regarding the car’s somewhat dispassionate tendencies.

To find out just what a set of forged wheels can do, we got behind the wheel of a regular wheelbase 2011 LS460. Carrying a base price of $65,380, the sedan undercuts its competitors by a substantial amount which it has been doing since its birth in 1990. Included in that amount are standard features such as rain sensing wipers, adaptive headlamps, leather seating, automatic climate control with quality filter, bluetooth device pairing, satellite radio and real wood trim. To make our Mercury Metallic test car complete, the $2,035 Comfort with Sport package was added to bring heated and cooled font seats, heated rear seats, a rear sunshade, headlamp washers and automatic door closers. For $3,045, navigation and a Mark Levinson 19 speaker stereo was included and for $6,185, the aforementioned Sport Package fitted our Lexus with 19 inch wheels, summer tires, Brembo brakes, a sharper tuned air suspension and a lower body kit. Add in some cargo nets, a trunk mat and destination charge and our test LS rolled off the factory floor with a final MSRP of $77,679.

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To make any full size luxury car great, a basic recipe must first be followed. Born sometime in the 1980s, the formula uses rear wheel drive and a high-output engine usually containing eight cylinders and that is exactly what the Lexus holds. The 460 moniker means the sedan’s dual overhead cam V8 displaces 4.6 liters and utilizes direct injection to produce 380 horsepower and 367 lb-ft of torque. With figures right on par with the Jag’s h0t-rod 5.0 liter, the Lexus does happen to fall behind to other worldly offerings that come equipped with forced induction. Even still, the LS makes due at the drag strip with 0-60 times in the mid six second range. While it may lose to a BMW 750i at a stop light, the Lexus does bring to the table surprising fuel economy. Thanks in part to its Toyota-made eight speed automatic, the heavy limo should average 24 mpg on the highway: better than the BMW and Jaguar eight cylinders. Shifts from the slushbox are glass smooth and even though it may not be the most aggressive drivetrain, it is easily the most inoffensive in its segment.

Most complaints regarding all LS variants have been centered around the sedan’s feedback and dynamics. More associated with slow and quiet cruising than controlled oversteer, the Lexus has always brought refinement to the table instead of hooliganistic attributes. For years, buyers and the entire automotive industry have been completely aware and okay with the car’s disposition so it came as an honest surprise when Lexus announced our test car’s Sport Package. Adding items such as actual forged wheels, Brembo supplied big brakes and a “tuned” suspension seem to go against the LS460’s attitude but it just might not hurt to try something a little different. The wonderful ride quality usually associated with the LS is by no means negatively affected by the sharper tuning especially considering the clever air dampers have two settings: comfort and sport. When set to soft, the sedan soaks up pretty much any imperfection on the road and feels so smooth that there is no doubt to its overall strength. Flipping the switch does tighten things up a bit to reduce pitch and roll when pushed hard but even still, the LS is no match for the Jaguar XJ on a curvy road. When closing in on 10/10ths, the sedan starts to feel uncomfortable, as if it wants to go back to a time when speed didn’t really matter. The Lexus is so perfect at uninterrupted floating that adding hot-rod grade items seems almost like a waste. Afterall, why mess with a good thing?

Don’t get us wrong, the Sport Package does not by any means “ruin” the LS as it is still every bit as accurate as before. The cabin is whisper quiet and the car is a model of what proper ergonomics should be. The seats are supple and would sell very well inside a Lazy-Boy outlet while 117 cubic feet of interior volume means that all-around comfort is outstanding even for the regular wheelbase model. As an extension of one’s living room, the Lexus is a benchmark as no other offering is as easy to be with and use.

In 1990, the automotive world was taken aback by a single sedan from a Japanese automaker. Charging straight ahead at the Germans was the Lexus LS and ever since then, it has been cracking out sales and repeat customers left and right. With the current car being right on the cusp of a generation change, there is no doubt that the future will hold some fantastic things but that isn’t to say that our tester is at all “old-news”. With the added Sport Package, the once bland looking sedan is rightfully handsome and right on par with the increasingly popular “V.I.P” movement. Given the car’s subtle but tough front bumper, its squared off rear end and the multi-spoke wheels, all that is needed is a four-inch drop and the Lexus would be ready for a magazine cover shot. Cruising in classic style is the name of the game with the LS but unlike some of its overly engineered rivals, the Lexus will go about its business without fault for years on end. Just like its forefathers, the 2011 Lexus LS460 is a luxury benchmark.

Photos: © Copyright 2012 Ossamah Shabbir