By on September 1, 2013

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Most legendary cars achieved their status thanks to unique ideas, original design, character (whatever may that be) or joy they bring to their owners and drivers. So, is it even possible for a pragmatic, coldly efficient and mostly derivative car to become a legend?

When the first Lexus, called LS400, was introduced in 1989, it certainly wasn’t the most original car on the market. In fact, it not only looked a lot like a W126 Mercedes S-class of the time, it was even named similarly (remove the L and the car would fit right into the naming system Mercedes started using a few years later). And it was no coincidence – the LS400 was a result of Toyota brass’ decision to move their business upmarket. The Voluntary Restraint Agreement between the United States and Japan limited the number of Japanese cars that could enter the country, making it a smart idea to charge more for each of them and clear more profit. The LS400 might have been a bit of a loss leader at $35,000 for a base model that nobody ever saw in dealerships, but it paved the way for hugely profitable successors and showroom companions like the ES300 and RX300.

If you think of the Mazda Miata as probably the best classical British roadster ever built, the LS400 may too very well be the ultimate Mercedes-Benz. While the venerable S-class itself got very fat and a little bit vulgar in its W140 iteration, the LS400 closely resembles the W126, probably the most elegant S-class ever – just improved in almost every way. And, while the Mercedes’ reliability record suffered greatly in the 1990s, the Lexus came in with unbelievable levels of quality and workmanship, and of course with fantastic reliability.

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Case in point, the 1990 LS400 you can see on pictures here. I borrowed it from my friend and fellow motoring journalist, who bought it after he drove it in head-to-head comparison test with a new LS600h, and found out the old one is not only more comfortable than the current one, and even feels more solid. For a 23 years old car, bought for equivalent of little over $2,000 and which probably wasn’t exactly pampered, it is almost unbelievable.

For one, the thing feels much more modern than any quarter-a-century-old car has any right to be. From the cool illuminated instrument cluster with recessed idiot lights, creating a strange three-dimensional effect like something from Star Trek, to the well-muffled and very sophisticated sound of the four-cam, four-liter V8 providing 250 horsepower.

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The only decidedly non-modern thing about this car is the suspension tuning. Especially for us Europeans, being force-fed with Germans’ idea of the “good suspension” (which basically means using rocks instead of springs, so your big diesel limo can handle precisely at your standard cruising speed of 155mph) the LS400 is a revelation. The fact that the car was designed mostly for American market resulted in a suspension that combines the Mercedes’ sophistication with Town Car’s plushness.

Which means that the big Lexus is able to corner quite competently, if you want it to, but it also means that you don’t want it to. Instead of provoking you into a hurry, like many big German sedans do, the LS relaxes you and makes you completely satisfied with going 55 mph – so you arrived to your destination about five minutes later, but also well-rested, not dripping with adrenaline like when you drive BMW or Audi.

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It really does feel like someone took a big Benz and a Panther (or B-body), which count among my most favorite long distance cruisers ever, and combined the best things of both. So, it is only logical that I should totally fall in love with the LS, want to take it home, marry it and have little IS’s with it. And, in fact, I have been looking at those for quite some time, and I even watched this exact car in classifieds, with only lack of cash stopping me from buying it. Based on everything I read about it, I thought I will be stunned by it, and I was nearly sure this car was exactly what I need and want.

But it isn’t. And after a full day spent with it, I suddenly realized I don’t want to own it, and probably never will. But why?

It’s easy to answer and hard to explain. The car just has no soul. And while the absence of soul in Toyota Corolla sedan is pretty hard to explain to anyone who’s not a car guy, explaining the absence of soul in a rear-wheel drive, V8 sedan which is amazing in nearly everything it ever does is downright nightmarish proposal.

The LS400 mixes everything that’s good about a Town Car and S-class Mercedes, and makes it better. It drives right, it sounds right (when you can hear anything at all), it’s comfortable, it’s supremely relaxing to drive and never tiring, it is executed flawlessly and works well even after a quarter of a century. But driving it brings no joy.

Maybe someone of a different nature from mine might find joy and pleasure in the way the Lexus does exactly what it was designed to do. If it’s sophistication and comfort that rocks your boat, and if you like cars not to bother you with lowly chores of driving and even thinking about it, you will love it. And if you have to drive so much it gets tiring, you will love it even more, as driving this thing is hardly ever tiring to drive. I can imagine doing two or three hundred miles a day in this thing, and getting out more relaxed than when I got in each time.

But I love driving. And since I work from home, I don’t have to drive very far or very often. So I want every drive to be an event for me. I want to enjoy it and savour each minute behind the wheel and each mile driven. And LS400 doesn’t do this for me. It gets the job done, and it gets my admiration for its abilities. But it’s so good at isolating you from the experience, it ultimately becomes dull and boring.

Driving an LS400 is about as fun and memorable as sleeping. But also as refreshing…

Myth or Legend?
Legend. A new brand that took on the biggest names in the business, and got it right for the first time. And, even after quarter of a century, one of the most comfortable cars, ever.

Do I need to drive it?
Definitely. You will get out relaxed, and with totally new outlook on what “comfort” means.

Should I buy it?
If you need to drive much, and don’t fear 20+ years old automobile, definitely. If you want a toy, something you will enjoy each day, then look somewhere else.

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155 Comments on “Myths and Legends: Lexus LS400...”


  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I’m gonna say Legend. If you consider that it drives the way it does because it was designed that way, then goal achieved. THe legend part comes in the build and materials quality. When I drive my Lexus GS400, I am amazed at how my 14-year-old car can be put together so well (Yes, I know the GS is as much ‘Yota as Lex). And equally amazed at how there can be such a huge difference in the quality of plastic between my car and others. Somebody had to sweat these details and I see bucket-loads of it. Speaking of character and cars, I also have a 90 Cressida, that, I am sure when new, was considered soul-less. Yet, when I let friends drive it they all get excited by how much fun it is to drive compared to their new cars.

  • avatar
    LeadHead

    I think the problem with the lack of “soul” is just how isolated the cabin is. But the 1UZ itself is certainly a very lively engine, with an incredible exhaust note being hidden by pounds of muffler.

    Just look at all the people that do the VIP treatment on these things. A little suspension and exhaust work goes a long way in turning a car from boring to fun.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “I think the problem with the lack of “soul” is just how isolated the cabin is.”

      It’s probably the suspension tuning. It lacks that connection that only the Germans seem capable of delivering, while also (thankfully) lacking the floatiness of the American sedans, which can be entertaining (for some people — not for me) in its own way.

      Lexus chose a middle path between the two. Enthusiasts being enthusiastic, they tend not to favor the middle.

      • 0 avatar
        Vojta Dobeš

        I don’t think it’s just the isolation – the strange thing is that big American barges, or big Benzes, DO have soul in my eyes…

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          My point was that the Lexus takes a middle-ground approach in comparison to the Germans or Americans. As a result, it isn’t distinctive in obvious ways.

          Most enthusiasts prefer extremes. The Lexus isn’t extreme enough for those people.

        • 0 avatar
          rdeiriar

          I’ve driven one of these, and yes, they lack soul in the same way that a perfectly proportioned face, no matter how beautiful, is forgettable. This in no way diminishes the enormous accomplishment of the engineers that designed it, nor the discipline of the workers that built it; it’s simply that our psyche does not cope well with perfection. Now, if i only could afford the upkeep of that low mileage Quattroporte i was offered last week ….

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      A little exhaust work goes a long way for a lot of cars.

      Apparently the VQ series engines can sound BMW-esque with a proper exhaust…

      And a proper exhaust turns a banal pushrod V6 into a wonderfully raspy thing.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    “completely satisfied with going 55 mph”

    Heh…

  • avatar

    I’m a little tired of the “oh, it’s an appliance which has no soul” school of automotive criticism. The most soulful car I ever owned was a ’54 Jag XK120 which an old friend had converted from a race car to (semi) streetable – at least it carried license plates. It sounded great when the twin die-hards in the trunk could just barely turn over the 13.5:1 3.8 liter Jag six. It was great fun to drive, making lots of good noises and handling like the race car it was. It was also a total PITA, overheating in traffic, using fuel at a prodigious rate, leaving oil on the garage floor (once all 12 quarts as the oil cooler opened up) and being just a generally fast British car brimming over with soul.

    The next six-cylinder sporty car I owned was a Mark II Supra, with a fuel-injected twin-cam engine, some of the best seats ever installed in a modern automobile and so appliance-like that it dared to start every time I inserted the key and did not in seven years leak a single drop of oil in the garage. It was not “soulful” like the Jag, but was equally fun to drive and with the right exhaust system made all the right six-cylinder noises.

    I owned a 1st Gen LS400 and eventually sold it to buy a Miata, as I realized I didn’t do all that much driving and wanted something more motorcycle-like. But the LS was a superb car, with all of the great character that makes a great car.

    I’m gonna vote “Legend”.

    • 0 avatar
      afflo

      I’ve always thought that the whole “soul” think is psychological connotations of the brand. When one drives a Mercedes Benz, and sees the three-pointed star, there’s a feeling, even a subconscious one, of being linked to a luxurious heritage. When one drives a Mustang, sees the horse on the hood, there’s a feeling of connection to the generations of pony cars. The same for Harley Davidson motorcycles – people imagine themselves as Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper.

      I believe it’s far more about a psychological link to a legacy than anything else. If BMWs were being rebadged and sold as Kias, people would complain that they don’t have the soul of a German car.

      Likewise, there’s a tendency to accept flaws that have a history with a brand as idiosyncratic trademarks. If anyone else built a brand new performance car with a solid rear axle, they’d be laughed out of the market, but Ford gets a pass for the Mustang. Ditto for the paint-mixer engines in Harleys, the obnoxious gold bow-tie on the Impala, and basically every weird thing Citroen has ever incorporated into a car.

      Put Marilyn Monroe’s mole on anyone else, it’s a flaw, or at least a tacky imitation.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      As I mentioned in comment above – I don’t think that the “soul” is necessarily connected to the sportiness. A Town Car, Fleetwood or 500SEL, or big Citroëns (and many other luxury cars) do have soul.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        Yeah, the reason why a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord lacks “soul” is because they’ve never HAD ANY. The Camry and Accord have always been competent but unexciting cars, entirely divorced from Toyota and Honda’s sporting models.

        However, they also have never really had presence, another thing that adds “soul” to a car.

        • 0 avatar
          afflo

          So how could Soul be defined?

          In following up to an earlier post, I’d posit that there are three components:

          1. Unique experience – even if it’s something that is anachronistic. The Panthers were about as boring as cars could be, but their construction was so unique as the rest of the world modernized that it made them stand out.

          2. Flaws. Flaws that are preserved to the point that they grow into trademarks.

          3. The aforementioned psychological legacy.

          A VW Bug was not only anachronistic, but had (perhaps nothing BUT) flaws, and has a cultural legacy that spans generations. Could any car have more soul? The Jeep Wrangler drives like an old truck with a short wheelbase, but that experience has become very linked to driving a Jeep, its flaws are accepted as part of its personality, and it also has a strong cultural legacy; Can you drive a Jeep without momentarily imagining that you are General Patton rolling across Europe?

          The Accord and Camry became the template for mass market cars, have their flaws engineered out, and don’t really have any cultural legacy. I’d wager that if cars all switched back to RWD body on frame construction, with bench seats and recirculating ball steering, with just the Camry and Accord soldiering on with the formula they perfected, they’d have just as many Panther-esque fans singing their virtues.

          • 0 avatar
            Vojta Dobeš

            Yeah, this sounds about right. But on the other hand, there are many other ways a car can gain the “soul”. For example, I think the diesel Mondeo a reviewed some time ago has soul, although it’s basically a sensible family hauler – but it’s fun to drive. And Range Rover Evoque has a soul, while Audi Q3 doesn’t (or has very little of it)…

            I haven’t yet found out what is it that gives a car its soul…

          • 0 avatar
            stuntmonkey

            >So how could Soul be defined?

            I think what you have defined is what we used to call “character”… when that word was used in the non-ironic sense.

            I take a more quasi-religious approach to “what is soul?” in that it’s sort of like the concept of idolatry, imbuing an unliving object with the personification of a living being. However, if you look at it through a historical context,I’m not sure that ancient peoples ascribed to their gods and idols complete devotion as if they were really divine… it’s almost like the creation of a deity was something to for people to rally around and to project their desires on to. In that sense,there is some similarity to the modern concept of branding… again, imbuing an unliving object or concept with the personification of a living being.

            In that sense, I don’t think cars have souls any more than rocks have souls…. ‘soulfulness’ (as oppose to ‘character’)is something that we project onto the cars out of our imaginations, which really are appliances after all.

            Thought experiment: Take a Lotus Elise. You say it has ‘soul’ because it’s the essence of handling. Hand the keys to your significant other and she says that it it’s loud rides like a coal cart. Where did the ‘soulfulness’ go? I would argue that if it were truly an innate quality of the car, it wouldn’t disappear if you switched drivers. Which is why see it as ‘soul’ is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.

        • 0 avatar
          gearhead77

          The Camry has no soul to it, but I think the Accord does. It’s hard to define soul in a car or any inanimate object. But to me, the Accord we owned, an 06 LX-SE, had soul. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t “sporty”. But when you drove it hard, even just a little bit, it had an edge to it. Way more than the Camry during our brief test drive.

          The Accord was more engaging to drive and that’s one thing that gives a car(or machine) soul to me. My Altima is a good car, but it has little soul. Our Mazda 5 has a lot of soul to it. As soon as I drove one, I knew that the Mazda “Zoom-Zoom” tagline wasn’t total marketing BS.

      • 0 avatar
        84Cressida

        “A Town Car, Fleetwood or 500SEL, or big Citroëns (and many other luxury cars) do have soul”

        Sorry, but I fail to see the “soul” in big, geriatric, uncomfortable land barges that handle worse than a piece of paper thrown in the air or unreliable crap boxes. I’ll take an LS400 and Camry over any of them.

        • 0 avatar
          jz78817

          Internet commenter doesn’t like what other internet commenter does; Story at 11.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          For me it’s about styling (which is subjective)

          The Brougham looks like a Cadillac, the Town Car looks like a Lincoln, the XJ6 looks like a Jaguar.

          The LS, while attractive, was trying to hard to be a Mercedes. If Toyota had cribbed a bit from the Century, or created an entire new design language, I think it would be easier to love.

  • avatar

    Vojta, great piece.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    A couple of yrs ago, I got the opportunity to drive an relative’s 1992 LS 400 which already had well over 100k miles and I was astonished at how well it drove, smooth, quiet, not rattles, no noises from anywhere, you couldn’t even tell the engine was on, unless you accelerated briskly, interior was flawless. I almost bought it, but there was the mpg issue and expensive Lexus maintenance fees.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      I thought I’d chime in here since I know several people who own this mythical and legendary LS400 from the original new, basic version. And those cars just refuse to die!

      This doesn’t mean however that the owners of these LS400 cars have not bought new cars over the years and decades.

      What it does mean is that their LS400 just keeps on keeping on, being passed down to their children and then passed even further down to their grand children.

      It may seem unrealistic to see a 16-year old grand child drive an old LS400, or even take their road test for their drivers license in one, yet it has happened on several occasions in my area.

      That’s a testament to the rugged reliability that Toyota engineered into their Japanese-made products of the late eighties and very early nineties.

      And it also underscores why so many avid Toyota fans who swore by their Japan-built Toyota products of old, have now sworn off buying anything that Toyota builds in North America.

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        It’s probably purely psychological ,but I feel there is a difference in quality between a car made in the home country versus the ones abroad. but I feel that a Japanese made Japanese car is probably better than one at a domestic plant. Same with a German made VW versus one made in Mexico etc. Our 06 Ohio assembled Accord was largely trouble-free, so was my 04 German made Jetta Turbo wagon.

        Of course, then there’s this:
        http://www.autonews.com/assets/PDF/CA89262619.PDF‎

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          Gearhead77, this is what I got when going to the link you gave us.

          “Oops! This isn’t what you expected!
          The page you were looking for has moved
          We’re sorry, but the page you requested is no longer available or not found on our server.

          We apologize for any inconvenience.”

          We have had several instances in my extended family where someone bought a Japanese car made in North America that proved to have problems and recalls.

          My wife’s three sisters were so impressed with my wife’s 2008 Highlander that they each bought a Highlander in successive model years, a 2009, a 2010, and a 2011.

          These were made on this side of the pond and they all had nit-noy problems like trim falling off, stumbling or stuttering when accelerating, ill-fitting interior trim pieces and/or electric side-windows that would get stuck halfway up. Not to mention the official factory recalls.

          I thought we were beyond all that when GM died, but this affliction must be contagious because it is still around the industry. It’s disheartening.

          And when someone lays out upwards of $40K for a vehicle, you’d hope that you won’t have to take it back to the dealer for a warranty visit anytime soon.

          Sure, warranty visits are free (most of the time) but you still lose both time and transportation, and if you use the vehicle for work, you can’t make money when it is in the shop if you’re self-employed.

          In all fairness, Toyota is not the only automaker that has had to come to the realization that their products took a dive in quality when they started making them in North America.

          Mr. Toyoda acknowledged the quality-failings of the Toyota products in North America and vowed to make improvements, when he testified before Congress for the unsubstantiated SUA debacle brought by Ray LaHood and the USDOT.

          • 0 avatar
            jz78817

            Toyota’s been building cars in North America since the 1980s, apparently they were fine back then. Maybe the problems with the Highlanders you mention had more to do with all of the cost cutting Toyota did in the latter half of the last decade. The outgoing Corolla had one of the worst interiors on the market with flimsy, creaky plastic throughout. I don’t see how that can be blamed on the folks in Fremont or Blue Springs.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Anything is possible. I am receptive to any suggestion for blame since Mr Toyoda already acknowledged that their products had nosedived in quality.

            No one in assembly ever thinks that anything is their fault. It’s always someone else’s fault.

            In Japan, if a fault is uncovered, the guy responsible gets to see it and fix it, at which time there is a lot of bowing and apologizing.

            I can’t even begin to imagine anyone in North America saying, “Aw sh!t. I screwed up. Let me fix it.” when confronted with an assembly error.

            Regardless, Mr Toyoda assumed all the blame even though he didn’t assemble anything.

            Given a choice, one most of us no longer have, I’d rather buy a foreign vehicle assembled in the home country, like the 1972 Mercedes-Benz 220D I bought in Europe or the 2008 Japan-built Highlander which was our first-ever new foreign vehicle.

          • 0 avatar
            jimmyy

            09 Highlanders were made in Japan. I owned one for about 18 months. My wife has a 12 Highlander ( US made ) and she ran up 40,000 miles on it. It is perfect. Never a problem. But, 2 of the tires need replacement. I keep trying to trade it in, but she keeps stopping me. I have a 12 Camry Hybrid ( US Made ) that has also been perfect, although it only has 15,000 miles. Once, I opened the hood, and I saw lots of Japanese, so I am not sure how much of that vehicle is sourced from US suppliers. I know of a US made 07 Camry with 125K. Only problem has been 2 sets of rear brake pads and 1 set on the front. My brother passed it down to his daughter. That car was never maintained with the exception of oil changes. Still running the original trans fluid, coolant, and brake fluid. I keep telling them to change the trans fluid, and they keep ignoring me.

          • 0 avatar
            jz78817

            highdesertcat,

            have you ever even set foot in an assembly plant? I have. The Japanese makers run their North American assembly operations largely the same as their Japanese ones. Squawking about assembly location is a load of horseshit Toyotaphiles trot out when someone points out that Toyota screws up too. “But… But… That one wasn’t made in Japan!!!” And that doesn’t wash. The plants are run the Japanese way by Japanese management, parts are sourced under and validated to the same specifications regardless of where the vehicle is assembled. The BS “unintended acceleration” thing aside, Toyota’s recent quality problems can be laid squarely at the feet of Watanabe-san and the glaringly-evident cheapening of their product line in the mid-late 2000s. Toyoda-san can easily “apologize” for that since he’s cleaning up the previous guy’s mess.

            And BTW, this:

            “In Japan, if a fault is uncovered, the guy responsible gets to see it and fix it, at which time there is a lot of bowing and apologizing.”

            is a load of crap. A parts quality problem or assembly error which does not cause a no-build situation means the car continues down the line and after final gets diverted to a repair tech. If it’s an assembly error, the offending operator gets a talking to, and repeated transgressions gets shown the door. It works this way in Japan, and it works this way in the US as I’m sure you’re aware the “transplants” are not union-represented.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            “have you ever even set foot in an assembly plant?”

            jz78817, yes I have. In fact several of them, including Detroit 2, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai plants.

            My brothers were in the business for more than 30 years and I tagged along for grins, at their expense.

            Plus, my oldest son works for one of Japan’s largest banks that underwrites a portion of Japan’s automakers and while he was working in Shinjuku, Tokyo, (1998-2005) I visited him and he took me around to Japanese automobile assembly plants. It was very interesting and quite different from Detroit’s plants.

            However, I have not visited a plant since Montgomery opened. I don’t believe things have changed all that much, though.

            Jimmyy, our 2008 Highlander Limited was made in Japan and it was the last one the dealer had before getting in the Made in American 2009 models.

            The one her sisters bought were made in the USA. But there could have been some overlap as the American plants were brought up to speed so it is possible that yours was still one of the imported ones.

            Our 2008 Highlander has been passed down to our 16-year old grand daughter as her daily driver.

            It is still problem free and all I ever did to it was change oil, filters, tires and belts. But we’re getting close to 100K now with all the long-distance driving she does.

        • 0 avatar
          jz78817

          this falls apart when people try to blame assembly location for things that aren’t assembly problems.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Well, gearhead77 may have a point, actually.

            Car assembly in Japan is done by workers with a completely different attitude and state of mind from those outside of Japan.

            They take pride in what they do. They live for the company and its success.

            The same cannot be said for workers at plant locations outside of Japan, and the slap-dash assembly, missing fasteners and faulty vendor-supplied parts like gas pedals, rusting frames and poorly welded joints, should be ample evidence of that.

          • 0 avatar
            jz78817

            you learned everything you know about Japan from comic books, didn’t you?

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Actually I learned it over a 30 year period that my brothers were in the new car retail business, and I was their analyst and advisor.

        • 0 avatar
          gearhead77

          Hmm, don’t know the deal. It worked earlier, it’s a plant quality survey.

          Here’s one that hopefully works, giving some details on moving ES350 production from Japan to Georgetown.

          http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130418/OEM01/130419891/toyota-to-shift-lexus-es-output-to-kentucky#axzz2dh96E9Q4

          For the tl;dr crowd or if THIS link doesn’t work. Here’s a line concerning RX production when it moved to Canada:

          “Last year, Kazuo Ohara, then deputy chief officer for Lexus, said some in Japan doubted U.S. factories were up to the task.

          “It’s the quality,” Ohara said. “We need some training to build Lexus-quality vehicles. For Canada, it took several years to catch up to the Kyushu level of quality.”

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Thanks. You know, way back when, Mitsubishi had the same problems with getting its American assembly up to par. In fact, they were sued for making discriminatory statements about American workers.

            Since our 2012 Grand Cherokee Overland Summit is the most recent vehicle I bought, and it also had not been prepped since it was still on a trailer as part of a swap, I went over that thing with a fine tooth comb after I got home.

            I noticed right away that there were two painted dots on every critical assembly part. To me that is reminiscent of tighter QA and a more strict QC.

            This being the first brand new Jeep we have ever bought, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop based on my experiences with all the used Jeeps we owned in the past.

            I am certain that the foreign transplants in America have had to conclude that it would take a lot more education for the actual workers to get up to speed, given the short attention span of American workers, both union and non-union.

            More recently, Mazda picked up the marbles they had lost in their JV with Ford and moved production to Mexico.

            People may make fun of Mazda products, but I would buy a Mazda6, Mazda3 or a Mazda5 in a heartbeat if I wanted one because members of my extended family already own them, and they have been problem-free vehicles for them.

      • 0 avatar
        JimofEP

        highdesertcat,

        I’m looking to interview an owner of a first generation LS400 (preferably 1990) for a 25th anniversary history of Lexus that I’m writing for the company. Please put the owners you mention in touch with me at jimgorman101@gmail.com. Thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      @Volt230:

      This LS400 would be one of my primary Exhibits introduced into evidence if I were trying the case to prove that we’ve reached & passed peak quality in terms of quality, assembly precision, as well as NVH levels.

      Can anyone really argue that a Lexus LS460 is more quiet, solid & refined than the now 23 year old LS400 (I won’t even compare it to modern Acuras, Jaguars, Cadillacs, Lincolns, etc.).

      It’s incredible, really.

      As I mentioned in another thread on TTAC, I have an aunt with a Lexus RX330 with 90,000 miles. My uncle, and her husband, has a Lexus LS430.

      Neither will replace either of their vehicles with the new iterations of their Lexi or any other make/model – not because they can’t afford to – but because the newer vehicles they’ve driven have all been “worse” than either of their present ones.

      • 0 avatar
        Xeranar

        I think science would tell you otherwise. The current numbers bear out the new iterations are better but marginally so. The giant leaps were made in the 90s. We’re close to another giant one in engine management and drive trains.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          xeranar, as I drive my rental Equinoxes the last several days, something about your comment triggered some deep reflection on this general claim.

          The rental Equinox is a fairly stripped model, yet it is rattle free, tight as a drum, easily as quiet inside with the windows up as many far more expensive vehicles, and it has ride quality that’s excellent for any vehicle that could probably be purchased new for around 22k.

          Also, the 2.4 liter under the hood is EASILY one of the best normally aspirated 4 cylinder motors in a plain jane commuter vehicle I’ve experienced in a long, long time, maybe qualifying as one of the best all around 4 bangers, period. It is no less refined than many you cylinder motors of just a decade ago, and makes as much power as many of those did, too, while getting better fuel economy.

          For someone who wrote GM off long before they did the prepackaged bankruptcy “thing,” the Equinox is a revelation to me.

          So, that begs the following question; given the effusive praise the new Impala is receiving, especially from harsh reviewers such as Consumer Reports – whicj have stated that it has a better ride, is more solid and is more refined than vehicles costing 20k more -

          Is the new Impala the old Lexus LS?

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I think in many ways cars hit a peak in the early 90s. That was the last of the “damn the expense, build it perfect” era. But cars were starting to get too expensive, even Mercedes was pricing itself out of the market, and the cost cutting began. Compare an early ’90s Camry to today’s Camry and there is really no comparison in fit and finish. The modern car is better in many technical ways, but it isn’t as “nice”. The Corolla is actually an even more egregious example, and I assume it really does go all the way to the top with Lexus, based on some commentary about the latest big Lexi. I haven’t so much as sat in an LS in the past 10 years.

        Personally, I never got remotely excited about the LS400. I agree that it is an amazingly well-built car, but it is as exciting as a luxury refrigerator. A Sub Zero is a VERY nice refrigerator, but ultimately it is just a refrigerator. An LS400 just has no sense of occasion about it at all. And a top-tier luxury sedan should always seem like an occasion. To me, the LS400 is the best Buick ever made, not the best Mercedes-Benz.

  • avatar
    djn

    The Q45 was the one with soul, in a sort of Zen way.

  • avatar
    omer333

    The arguement of a car having soul, or not having soul is kind of pointless. I mean, you take a CamCordCorolla-whatever econo-box, and you have no qualms about driving it anywhere anytime, cross-country or to the grocery store whatever.

    Now, you take that Corvette, Ferrari, Jag, or whatever the enthusiast car is, the machine that “has soul”, it’s seen as an investment or a car that’s only driven on Sundays when the sun’s out and its warm, or it only sees the light of day for some Cars & Coffee-Pebble Beach-Woodward Cruise-type event.

    We give things “soul” when they’re being used. The loathesome econo-box, while not cool, it’s being used, it has soul. That car with “soul” that’s never used, except once or twice a year, it’s as useful as a paperweight, a very expensive paperweight.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Except it’s not analog – sure, a car overflowing with soul might leave frequent soul stains on your driveway, and leave you with expensive bills when you have to replace your third soul capacitor this year. But that doesn’t mean your only other choice is to pack it in and buy a rental-spec Corolla in only the most muted of beiges possible. As mentioned, Panthers tend to do reliable and comfortable fairly well, but they’re cars with character, even if much of that character is anachronistic.

      To be fair, by virtue of being an attempt at greatness (however monumentally benchmarked against the W126 it might be), as opposed to a bland commodity designed to fill dealer lots, the LS at least has some character and soul, sort of.

      • 0 avatar
        omer333

        I can jive with character. I’m all about cool. I’m just tired of of the argument that a car has soul or doesn’t have soul when the guy talking about how much soul his soul-mobile has versus the econo-box won’t even drive the damn thing for fear “lowering it’s value”. The horrors!

        I’ll take the econo-box over the soul-mobile just because I want to DRIVE SOMEPLACE!

  • avatar
    gasser

    I had a 1992, bought new at my local dealer. At 2000 miles the transmission stopped shifting, which required a replacement, of which there were none on the West coast. Two weeks later I was on the way, with an inspection port (their term) unsecured by the tech, leading to a very large puddle of transmission fluid on my driveway. A few months later, the heater valve stuck open, thus frying the cabin unless the A/C was on up full. My dealer’s answer was: ” don’t you always drive with the air conditioning on???!”. They replaced the valve with only a few days wait. The next few years were uneventful. The $2000 upgraded sound system never seemed worth it. My wife (a Mercedes fan) said it was like driving a refrigerator. Still, at the price, it was better than the six cylinder E class Mercedes of 1992. At the time, for about $40K, there really wasn’t so much competition that was reliable.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    I had an early SC300, which was released only a few years after the MK1 LS400. It was actually fairly decent to drive, though not particularly quick with the non-turbo version of the Supra engine putting out 225hp through a 4-speed auto. Style wise it was well ahead of the otherwise fairly decent looking BMW 840, and certainly well ahead of the blocky and ugly Mercedes CL. The first SC is still perhaps the best looking car ever sold with an L badge on it.

    That’s the end of the positives. Seat comfort was horrendous, and with the typical Japanese two-way lumbar, there wasn’t much you could do about it. After 8 years or so the interior basically fell to pieces. Every plastic and vinyl bit split and cracked, the leather on the seats split apart in several places, and the chrome wheels pitted and let air seep out of the tires so they constantly had to be pumped back up.

    The CEL was on pretty much constantly because Oxygen sensors would last perhaps 3 months before blowing. Want a new one? That’ll be $400 please. Window regulators failed, and the weather sealing rotted away and let water into the cabin when it rained. The last straw broke when one out of four starts required a jump. By age 12 and about 120K miles on the clock, the car was staring death in the face. For the SC at least, the “unimpeachable” Lexus quality and reliability was a farce.

    I’m currently driving an Audi A6 2.7T, now age 9. The leather on the vastly more comfortable, 12-way seats looks like new. Switchgear perfect, interior trim perfect, everything works without a hitch. Problems over nine years are a purge valve (covered) coil pack recall (covered) and a couple of suspension bits amounting to about $800 total.

    It’s easy to be fooled by the Lexus = perfect, Audi = garbage memes floating around on most autoblogs. Everyone makes lemons, and I had a lemon Lexus.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      While I agree everyone builds a lemon, you apparently have opposite luck in regards to cars! I could be wrong, but the 2.7T Audi’s weren’t paragons of reliability or build quality.

      In regards to the interior falling apart, did you clean and condition the leather at all? Use vinyl protectant on the dash and other parts? I’m not saying Toyota(Lexus) are infallible, but not caring for the car has its downsides too. I see way too many cars that are only a few years old looking shabby because no one puts any time into their cars to maintain them.

      • 0 avatar
        Davekaybsc

        Admittedly I rarely used any protectant or leather conditioner in the Lexus, but I did occasionally. In any case I don’t think that would’ve saved the shifter from splitting down the middle, or all the plastic around the air vents cracking, or the vinyl on the top of the door panels splitting apart. All are common SC300/400 maladies, as are the headlights filling up with water which my car also had. The gaskets they used to seal the headlight clusters was complete crap.

        I think I’ve used protectant and conditioner in the Audi once or twice. It’s parked in the (northern) sun every day and it doesn’t seem to bother it one bit. I imagine it will be many more years before the interior starts to show any serious wear.

        The ’98-’04 C5 gen A6 was indeed not a paragon of reliability or build quality, but aside from a CV boot and control arm, mine continues to behave perfectly well.

        Meanwhile, the interior in my Mom’s ’02 RX300 is in a similar state as my SC. Seats splitting apart, cracks and splits all over the door trim, etc. At least as far as ’02, Lexus seemed to build interiors to last about 10 years.

      • 0 avatar
        jz78817

        not applicable. leather treatments are for traditionally tanned hide. automotive seat leather is processed and sealed with so much dye and polymer that it might as well be vinyl.

        • 0 avatar
          gearhead77

          So it does no good to care for the leather at all in a car? Or the vinyl or whatever? I mean, I know we’re not talking glove soft traditional leather here in most cars that most of the TTAC B&B will own.

          But I can only imagine that not doing anything would only shorten the life of the leather, especially in extreme heat and cold.

          • 0 avatar
            jz78817

            you can clean it, but it’ll eventually crack. leather soaps and conditioners are intended for traditionally tanned hides. they won’t do squat for the stuff used on car seats.

            vinyl will harden and crack because the plasticizers which keep it pliable eventually out gas. nothing you spray on it will prevent that.

            which is why I wish one could opt for some sort of “premium” cloth seating on higher trim levels. as it is, all you can get is mouse fur or burlap.

        • 0 avatar
          Power6

          Interestingly the detailing geeks at autopia seemed to have this figured out there are a couple of products out there for coated leathers. I just clean mine with some soapy stuff had read conditioners do nothing. Have a love hate relationship with leather, i miss the old audi mouse fir ha

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Bravo to the new contributor!

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      Actually, this is my fourth article here :) But thanks!

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Vojta, this a very good essay.

        Thank you for it.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          Meant to write “this was” obviously.

          TTAC’s system won’t let me edit my comments lately, for whatever reason.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            You’re not the only one. Mine, ditto, along with other problems like misdirection and vanishing into the great ttac server-void.

            What I had to do was write my comment in Wordpad, make sure all’s well, before I cut and paste into the ttac comment box and send it on its merry way to the la-la server universe.

            I know it’s not on my side of the great divide. Others complained about this in the past but I was spared all this until now.

            I use WinXP SP3 and Opera v12.16.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            WinXP and 4:3 displays FTW!

            This old Vostro is like an old truck..SOUL!

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            I think it could be related to my use of a tablet lately, because I rarely experienced these these types of issues on my X220 Win7 notebook with Firefox.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            DeadWeight, I was going to try commenting using my Apple MacBook Pro SSD512, but my 21-year old grand daughter has it and isn’t parting with it. Not even for a couple of hours. Something about Video Live Chat with her friends.

            I figure Mac OS and Safari would give us both a different take on the situation.

            We have my wife’s Android S4 but with my bad eyesight and fat fingers, trying to use that thing to comment on ttac would be a nightmare.

            So I’m going to leave this sleeping ogre alone.

            Just wanted you to know, I’m also having problems commenting on ttac. This is new.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        My bad for not paying proper attention.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    On another note for whatever reason seeing those pics of a first rate Lex in a quaint European countryside makes me want to go back to studying film. One could build a nice short around a few characters, that car, and those surroundings.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    Vojta, you’re losing a lot of shadow detail in some of your photos (especially the interior shots and instrument cluster) because the camera is having to control exposure for the excessive daylight. Use bracketing with +/- 1 or 2EV, and then some HDR software to combine the photos into one. You’ll get way better results. The head on shot though is really nice, well done there.

  • avatar
    84Cressida

    The whole soul thing is a farce to me. The fact that the LS is so well built, reliable, and comfortable DOES give it soul and character. That it isn’t a rolling pile you have to wrench on every single day doesn’t make a car that isn’t soulful, it makes the car that does a piece of shit. I think this and several other Toyota and Honda products from the era still look great today and not out of place. You can’t say that for several of the competition’s car which look so outdated its not even cool.

    My Cressida had a soul, it had character, and I loved it. My ’91 Camry, a car that many of the ignorant would scoff at, is very fun to drive, looks great, and has lots of soul. Certainly more than some geriatric Detroit land barge or piece of crap Mercedes.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      “piece of crap Mercedes”

      I love a brother Toyota fan, but that was silly.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Not to diminish the good models Japan Inc. has developed over the years, but Mercedes and the Big Three have put out soulful offerings in the past.

      • 0 avatar
        84Cressida

        No doubt they have, but I fail to see what exactly a Panther or B-body has over an LS. They’re pretty much the same type of vehicle, except the LS is a higher bracket car and isn’t BOF. As far as handling, the one thing that gets “enthusiasts” to wet themselves, the LS will out handle any of those cars all day long. Acceleration and overall refinement and build quality also easily goes to the LS. It’d be one thing if he compared the LS to something like a CTS, however unfair that would be, but to compare it to cars it objectively performs much better than in every important “enthusiast” criteria seems like a joke and a half to me.

        Cars like the Panthers get all this love because they were the last of their kind, of a dying breed from a bygone era. I would argue the fact that those type of cars died out shows that they were nothing special. Having driven several Crown Victorias and Town Cars, I can positively say the only reason they’re loved is because of the BOF architecture. There is nothing redeeming about how they drive or how they feel, quite the contrary actually, and all of their very few positive attributes are accomplished by modern cars built to modern standards, with the exception being police/limo/taxi duty. Working at Enterprise, I never met ONE single person that loved them after being saddled with them, with one lady who I will never forget after returning her Crown Vic early for a switch out proclaiming “it really makes you appreciate your own car so much more”. If these cars were unibody, they’d be laughed at by every single “enthusiast” for their dated looks, cheap interior, 4-speed auto, and terrible handling.

        And for the record, I think Ford is completely off their rocker killing the car. They should’ve kept it around for police duty, where it does excel and its replacements are total jokes. They also gave up a near monopoly.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “No doubt they have, but I fail to see what exactly a Panther or B-body has over an LS.”

          Well they are easier to find parts for, work on, and modify.

          The LS is very well built, but it isn’t perfect, and after 25 years you’re gonna need to break out the tool box eventually.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          I agree with you there. The only thing “alluring” about Panthers is that they are utter dinosaurs. As for why Ford discontinued them, it is mostly because it would have cost too much money to make them compliant with new fuel-economy and safety regulations.

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            So the government killed the Panther? It was safe, comfortable, cheap, reliable, easy to maintain, big, got decent mileage…

            What a shame that the government can come along and destroy something like that.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    The biggest thing I remember about the LS400 is how small it was/is compared to others in the same group from that same period. It was like a 4/5th scale S class MB. But they were competent cars and really have held up well as I still see the occaisonal one looking suprisingly good usually with original paint to boot.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    These German U boat reminds me of a w116 300sd once i had. I took her from prince george bc to hope in about 6 hrs, solo driving.
    Flying thru the fraser canyon was fun trying to keep up to 60-65 mph.
    I had better (as well as fun) time than i drove a honda civic.
    And later after i sold the car the new owner told me the speedo was 10 mph slower. that mean I was going pretty fast without knowing it.
    Even the rear shocks were warn I didnt find it hard to handle or lost track. The tires weren’t the best or probably had been with the car for the last 15th birthdays or trying years. The car came to an abrupt demise, the new owner informed me during one of hi wintertrip in northern Alberta he had blocked his rads with card boards and the engine grenaded itself in protest akin to a Tibetian Monk on self imolation.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Toyota surprised the industry with the LS400 and the RX300. Unfortunately the pursuit of perfection soon was plagued with the same relentless bean counter cheapening that every luxury car make has been afflicted with. The culmination of this decline is the current RX350. However, there is a glimmer of hope as the new GS and IS are considerably nicer than their predecessors.

    • 0 avatar
      jimmyy

      I hate the RX. So many in Newport Beach Ca. Don’t understand how someone could choose an RX over a Highlander. Still not sure what to think of the 14 Highlander though. Will need to see it in person … not sure if I like the grill styling. Thinking about purchasing my wife a new 13.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        Drive the RX and Highlander back to back and then get back to us. The difference is very noticeable, as is the targeted market.

        The current gen HL has grown on me (I guess everything else has gotten so visually funky that the HL now seems normal). The RX is not nearly as space accommodating.

        The new HL is pretty sweet looking. OTOH I though the Gen 1 HL was perfectly designed and sized. My miss my wife’s ’03 with a 4 cyl – that was a car/thing you could beat to death and it loved it.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    How ironic that this article pops up.

    At this very moment, my father is stranded in Iowa next to his 1990 Lexus LS400. He was limping it home on a failing alternator today, when he got into a minor collision. He had the battery die on the way there. The tech installed the new one backwards and blew a bunch of fusible links (and I suspect, the regulator in the alternator). There are other details that I won’t get into, but it’s pretty much the trip from hell. He may just leave it for dead and fly home.

    It is a legend for sure. That’s why I bought this 180k mile example for him for $1200. It needed some things of course, and it’s been easier to work on than I expected. However, the things that Toyota got wrong are surprising. The leather is as hard and brittle as a tortilla chip. It was all destroyed. I replaced it with slightly less destroyed seating. They are all this way. The biggest issue are the power steering pumps, which also take out the alternators with leaking fluid.
    The LCD displays and Nakamichi audio system died long ago.

    The car itself is rock solid, but they pretty much dropped the ball on the quality of everything inside it.

    • 0 avatar
      84Cressida

      It’s 23 year old leather that has had prior owners who likely never took care of it. My ’98 Avalon’s leather, which wouldn’t have been as good of leather as this LS is in fine shape, and all I’ve done is condition it a few times a year.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Legend.

    Regarding the engine sound… tell your friend to uncork the exhaust. I’ve heard them with non-stock mufflers and they sound GLORIOUS!

    I have enjoyed your articles, specially the ones about the US vs EU wagons.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Know what cars really had “soul(s)”?

    Stephen King’s “Christine” and Walt Disney’s “Herbie the Love Bug.”

    Yeah.

  • avatar

    Soul has to do with temperament, fire, passion. Cold, clinical is not soulful. A doctor practicing medicine in the bushes of Africa is doing it soulfully, a doctor hiding behind robots doing pinhole surgery, not as much.

    So the Lexus is kind of like that. You admire the technical side of it, but you move on. You don’t remember it after a while. Like that slightly short, a little overweight woman who exhausted you in the bedroom. Then you get lucky and go to bed with that perfectly proportioned, tall lady with perfect skin that was like a fridge in bed. Oh yeah, she did all the right moves, had good technique, but didn’t put her soul/heart into it. I bet the flawed shorty is the one you’ll remember. You may want to present the image of perfection to your friends, but it’s the fiery one you’ll remember.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Now that, my friend, is an insightful perspective.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      I like your women comparo as it is spot on, but the Doctors’ one is off.

      You really have to hear that engine with slightly less restrictive mufflers slapped on. It is one of the best sounding V8s I’ve heard. And I hear plenty of V8s down here.

      • 0 avatar

        Athos, glad to see you! I’ll give you the benefit of a doubt as you know your v8s. Twice in traffic with my wife, she noticed engine sounds before I had to point it out. Once was a convertible Mustang from the current crop (had me turning my head every which way to find the origin of the glorious sound) just in normal traffic, another time was a Ferrari screaming down the avenue as we waited to take a left. Both glorious sounds!

        The doctor comparison was more to point out that in general, more visceral, muscular experiences are more soulful (to me at least) than the aseptic nature of most modern tech.

        • 0 avatar
          Athos Nobile

          Marcelo, IMO, the passion a person puts to its trade/craft doesn’t have to do much with the experience being physical/mental or field/lab. It comes from las tripas (or guts). Sorry to be short on wording.

          You have the blessing of seeing an example of this everyday: watch your son playing. The focus, the passion, the dedication, from toying with a leave in the park to playing a video game.

          I’m also glad to see you around :)

          • 0 avatar

            Thanks Athos, after studying all day I gave myself the night off.

            I understand what you say precisely, in Portuguese the expression would be similar.

            Your example of my son is excellent. When he’s really concentrated, he sticks his tongue out a little. I remember as a kid I used to that when I was doing something physical. I love watching him play.

  • avatar
    Power6

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt Vojta and assume that you are earnest about the “its perfect but has no soul” theme, but even if that were true why write this article? It pretty much writes itself from auto enthusiast cliche. You could have at least looked a little deeper into what it is about this experience, but you took the easy way out. May you put more effort into your futher work, I will continue to check it out in hopes that you do.

    This “soul” stuff is just a load of BS, charm and soul of motoring is found where your mind is open to it. Some people will find it in an old LS400, some and old Benz whatever. Soul is not firmer springs and shocks despite what you or other sheeple enthusiasts may think.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      So, when will we see *your* first article?

      • 0 avatar
        Power6

        Its easier to criticize ;-) But that doesn’t make it not true.

        I’ve been working on a sort of response to this cliche for some time, there are dozens of articles and thousands of comments that toe this line. I’ve wanted to submit here but for me it is a matter of time, I have a busy job and a cute little 6 month old daughter.

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          Cool… job & family trump all.

          I also chuckle at all this “soul” talk. What are we, animists? If so, let’s go Shinto ’cause they have awesome threads and hats.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            This is what a Camry can do to a man… *sigh*

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            Easy enough to settle.

            Take a car you think has soul, weigh it, then kill it and weigh it again. Is it 21 grams lighter?

            Care must be taken of course to retain fluids in the vehicle.

            Hmmm… this could get to be a real selling point once all the barely-there, incremental differences between competing models are exhausted. And they have to crash test some anyway, no?

            “Nuestro coche tiene más alma!”

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Yo no sabía que usted compró un nuevo Kia

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            Y una sudadera con capucha, también.

          • 0 avatar
            Athos Nobile

            El Sr Kenmore se acaba de ganar 4 espectaculares NEVERAS por saber hablar mejor el español que el compinche de Hobbes (mi comiquita favorita, por cierto).

            O usar mejor el traductor de Google. No worries, we won’t fuss about that here.

            Pase por aqui para llevarse su premio.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            I sense embarrasment looming.. not even gonna Google that.

          • 0 avatar
            Athos Nobile

            Go for it!

            There’s nothing to be embarrassed. Riase un rato :)

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Eso es porque es una oportunidad por mi español. No te preocupes, voy a recoger su premio

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            Phew!… here I thought I was going to be properly caned for having the lazy temerity to use Google translate instead of ever learning any Spanish beyond “Antonio Y Cleopatra Grenadier”.

            Sie sind ein freundlicher Mann, Herr Nobile.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Nice car, could live without the DOHC V8 timing belt maintenance though.

    http://www.lexls.com/tutorials/engine/timingbelt.html

    I could probably do two GM timing chains in the time it takes to do the belt on the LS400.

  • avatar
    stickmaster

    This car inspired generations to be loyal to both Lexus and Toyota for their perceived quality, comfort, and reliability, whether warranted or not.

    It also was instrumental in shifting consumer preferences to those attributes. After this people no longer put up with crap and I think we all benefited from it, even if it feels as though cars are slowly but surely losing their soul.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    After reading this very good article because it’s made me think a bit and then reading the well thought comments, I’m actually a little more confused, because what’s being defined as “soul” somehow in many of the examples sounds more like character. The “soul” of a car would be it’s lineage like seeing the three-pointed star or crown and crest while driving and it making you feel a certain way would be it’s “soul”. The way it does something that irks you that the mechanic says “they all do that” and even though it doesn’t solve the problem, it somehow makes you feel better knowing that everyone who owns a Binford Ralleye 500GT shares your frustration and that and the fact that it corners like no other car you’ve ever driven gives it “character”

    A good car right out of the gate is just that, a good car without any soul or character and really doesn’t stir enough emotion to be a myth or legend. Maybe that’s why people buy some of the odd-ball cars we talk about here, because the worst thing you can feel about your car is indifference

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      I’m with you, given soul or character have slightly different meanings to different folks here. I’ve certainly put up with a lot to drive a cool car. I’ve also owned some so called “boring” cars that turn out to be a wonderful surprise.

      It seems you equate glaring flaws with character. I think there is more to it. Of course this LS400 is not a perfect car, there are idiosyncrasies about it or any car, the author pointed out some of them. Perhaps some people really resonate with it like you seem to with a Benz. I do like that you acknowledge that much of this “soul” talk is the look of the badge, the lineage, i.e. nothing to do with the driving experience and with this I agree with you, I think there is a lot going on in someones head and it is hard to separate the two.

      What I am against is the herd mentality, enthusiasts are supposed to like this BMW, not like that Toyota, RWD rules, FWD sucks etc. Much rather hear about people thinking for themselves. I don’t actually care about the opinion or whether it agrees with my own, would just like to read something insightful that makes me think.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        This is where I admit that even though the new Corolla S is behind its competition in power, being able to get a Corolla with 4 wheel disk brakes for (presumably) less than a Civic Si sounds kinda…good.

      • 0 avatar

        Hey Power6!

        Agree totally as to the herd mentality. To each his own I guess. In my case for example, not feeling it for any current BMW out there, with the possible exception of the Series 1 Coupe. Though, I’ve never really seen a Toyota that was for me. I think FWD is what’s what. I don’t mind station wagons, but I think sedans are fine and I probably prefer them to SWs. I like minivans pretty much, but CUVs, not really. All of that to say, yeah, think with your own head!

        • 0 avatar
          Jeff S

          Over 30 years ago I had a girl friend who had a Lancia Beta coupe, which was one of the best handling and most enjoyable cars I have driven. It had the questionable Fiat reliability but it was full of soul and the car and driver were completely connected and engaged.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey Lie2me!

      I agree with everything you say, except for the lineage part. I think small economy cars have a lot more soul! Or character. Don’t know, it is confusing.

      This article made me think of my own experience this past week. My wife travelled from Monday to Wednesday and I drove her car the days she was out. Her car is a Renault Logan, 5 yrs old this month and nothing ever really extraordinary happened to it. All in all it’s been a reliable, economic, comfortable car, that can more serve the needs of our little family (wife, me and a 2 yr old boy).

      Objectively then it’s a much better car than my 8 yr old Ford Ka, which has left me stranded 3 or 4 times. I can’t get the lights to work on the instrument panel and I think it’s loosing coolant again. In the year I’ve had it, I have probably spent almost as much money on its maintenance as I have on the Logan over 5 yrs. I used it when my wife was out because it’s much easier to load and unload the baby into it, so the Logan is more practical, reliable. Yet…

      In the Logan I found myself doing what I had to and then driving straight home. Silently, effortlessly, easily, with no worries of getting stuck in traffic (possible overheating situation for the Ka) or thinking that maybe the car will die for no reason when there’s some small variation in the acceleration or idle (like it’s happened, 3 times in the Ka, everything ok, then dead). Back in my Ka, I found myself taking the long way home. Listening to it rattle, crack, boom over bumps and potholes, gunning it when possible, braking a little later for curves, and accelerating sooner on the way out, going that extra two or three times around the block just because.

      Soon, I’ll be in a situation where I can change the cars. Any sane person would sell the Ka and keep the Logan (and buy a newer car for the wife). Well, I don’t know if I’m ready for that. A part of me wants to keep the Ka and sell the Logan.

      Call me crazy, but that’s soul.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        +1000

        Spot on, Marcelo! This is why I have a garage full of (relatively) weird cars. I get to drive rented transportation appliances all the time. When I am at home, I want to drive something FUN! I went out to get some butter tonight in my 500 Abarth. Just a run to the grocery store 1 mile down the street from my house. And I ended up taking a 30 minute route home all around town. Nobody does that in a Corolla or a Camry who has had their license more than a month.

        And the nice thing is, the way cars are today there is a more than sporting chance that the Fiat will be JUST as reliable as a Corolla. In fact, so far it has been the most trouble-free of the four new cars I have ever bought. Not a single thing in six months, which just pips the BMW, which has had one issue in 2yrs, at month 5 when the seat controller fritzed out.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          A weird car collection is my dream, man!

          It would have such oddities as a 1981-83 Imperial, a wide-body Mitsubishi Starion, a Jeep J-series pickup truck, an old Mack B or R model truck, at least one golf cart, a 1980s Lincoln Town Car…

        • 0 avatar

          Hey khrodes1!

          I understand completely. Today it went like this, wife,”30 minutes to buy bread? What were you doing?”. Me, “Driving.” Wife rolls eyes…

          Maybe, two or three yrs down the road, when I’m ready to sell the Ka (if I actually keep it), the Cincuecento will be a contender, that’s for sure.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          krhodes1, I envy you.

          My wife made me give up all the old and weird vehicles I had parked on my property as part of me buying my 2011 Tundra. I even had to sell both my ’88 Silverado and my 2006 F150.

          Parting was indeed sweet sorrow.

          All my old and weird cars I kept running and I relished taking them out for a spin on US54 when I got a wild hair.

          The weirdest one I had was an old Gremlin. The oldest, a WWII Jeep with a Chevy 283 conversion in it, and 31″ mudders at the four corners.

          Gawd, I miss those hobby horses.

          • 0 avatar

            Gremlin. Cool!

          • 0 avatar
            Jeff S

            highdesertcat-I miss my 63 IH stepside. It was not as easy to drive as today’s vehicles but it was unique and distinct. I always had truck lovers stop me and admire it. Simple but functional.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            @highdesertcat

            I wish your wife had been around when I bought my Porsche… :-) That one was a big mistake. Luckily I don’t pick wrong very often, and I can afford the loss. And who knows maybe once I get it back together I will love it so much I keep it a long time.

            There is probably a happy medium there though. You should have a toy budget, and so should she. If you blew all of yours on the Tundra fair is fair though!

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            krhodes1, my wife was a wonderful girl when I met her, and she has only gotten even more wonderful over the past 47 years we have been married.

            Her dad and she saved my life in Oct 1965 when they found me huddled up against a bunker in the desert when the people I worked for at Civil Engineering had forgotten about me out there mowing weeds at the Air Force Sled Track and my tractor had run out of gas.

            After I got out of the Hospital her dad invited me up to the Boy Scout Camporee he had in the mountains to work as a Staff member on the weekends.

            It was great fun and his whole family was involved in running the place on the weekends, including his oldest daughter. It wasn’t long before we became interested in each other and were married a few months later in 1966.

            Into this marriage I brought my love of cars/trucks/bikes/ATVs/JetSkis, and she shared my passion. Even raced my dad’s Dragster at Riverside Raceway, and won!

            During my two decades in the Air Force I used to go to the Air Force Lemon Lot on the base where I was stationed and buy up all sorts of cars/trucks/motorcycles from people who were leaving the base, and I’d tinker on them a while and most often turn them by reselling them to others.

            But after I retired from the Air Force, I kept the weirdest, like the Gremlin, and the squirrelly like the WWII Jeep along with a collection of bikes and other old cars. My collection was growing. It was beginning to look like an old junkyard back behind our house in the desert.

            So I told her once I quit building additions to our house we should BOTH get involved in property beautification of our oasis in the desert.

            Since 1996, when I quit building, she planted trees, bushes, helped build a Spanish Courtyard and other paver Patios around the house, but then there were my old junkers still staring menacingly in the direction of the house.

            So when I told her I was hooked on a Tundra back in Dec 2010, she said, “Why don’t you sell all those old cars to people who can actually get some use out of them? You’ll be making our place look better in the process.”

            She’s been in Real Estate with her parents’ Business since 1980 so I figured she knew what she was talking about.

            I have to say she was right. The place doesn’t look like a junkyard anymore but looks like a Dude Ranch. Quite an improvement.

            So, yeah. I gave up a lot when I sold all my old collectibles. But OTOH I’m really too old to tinker, tool and wrench on cars these days. I’m closer to 70 than I am to 60 and I feel it all over.

            I don’t bend well, can’t crouch at all, and take several days to recover from a DIY 5-tire rotation.

            In my case, all’s well that ends well. We’re down to two cars now, four if you count the cars our two grand daughters living with us drive.

            Now I don’t keep any car we have longer than the factory warranty coverage, with the exception of the 2008 Highlander which “takes a lickin’ but keeps right on tickin’” to use the slogan from Timex.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “The ‘soul’ of a car would be its lineage”

      That’s “heritage.”

      I would say that “soul” is the je ne sais quoi, i.e. the intangibles that make something greater than the sum of its parts.

      If it’s a function of the senses, then I would say it mostly comes from these:

      -What you see (Styling)
      -What you hear (engine and exhaust note, mostly)
      -What you feel (steering feel, suspension tuning, controls)

      Toyota is generally a “fast follower”; it doesn’t lead, but it borrows from others and improves upon the ideas that inspired it. Because the company shoots for balance in most of its designs, it builds things that work very well but that don’t necessarily stand apart from the crowd.

      That’s a matter of design, quite literally — the company is trying to achieve an all-around good result, rather than to polarize or to make a unique statement. If there’s soul in it, then it’s the engineering quality that managed to most of the pitfalls that often befalls the designs of others, but that engineering discipline isn’t something that translates into an emotional quality that moves very many people.

  • avatar
    Scribe39

    Most seem to be attempting to define the undefinable. I’ve had many, many cars in my 58 years of driving and there were many which were forgettable, and others that “spoke to me.” If you have never felt a car was attuned to you, then I feel sorry for you.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    No offense, but car writers who write about cars with “no soul” are projecting, I think. Face it: You have a job where you describe whether the plastic is cheap plastic or expensive plastic and whether the suspension is “well sorted”

    Criticisms of the manufacturers have to be handled like a political writer for Pravda in the 1960′s or you will be blacklisted from media events by the manufacturers. Its a shallow kind of existence and If you write about cars with “no soul” your unconscious is seeing the problem even if the rest of you isn’t.

    Besides. I dated plenty of women with no soul. Why the hell would I care if the car I drove had no soul?

  • avatar
    Gottleib

    The soul or character of a car really involves the “human element” which is really what soul and character describe. When I think of the “character” of a car I think of those elements that provide connection between man the machine. Most of those elements involve some interaction, like steering, applying the gas, brakes and selecting the gears of the transmission while driving the car.

    What I conclude from the comments here and in other articles about cars that are without character or soul involve the lack of interaction when driving. The more interaction between driver and car the more character and soul present.

    As car design incorporated more electronic versus mechanical solutions to engineering the cars have lost some of what is deemed soul. For instance look at the beauty and timeliness of a Duesenberg of the 1930s or the Jaguars of the 1950s. Just about all the components were assembled by humans and were mechanical in nature. Further these cars were mostly assembled by humans and were considered to be made by hand.

    As we progress into the 1970′s and beyond more and more of the components in cars have become electronically controlled. The assembly process also includes the use of robots and electronics to do what was once done by a human. Transmissions are automatic and controlled by electronics, fuel is metered and injected electronically and braking is done via electronically controlled and metered electronic servos. Reliability has increased, cars now require less maintenance and as mentioned by others taken on the character of an appliance that performs as designated but lacking in character.

    Recall the reviews of newer cars that dislike the qualities of electronic steering now being added to more cars since it can save the use of fuel. It removes that mechanical connection between the driver and the wheels that many consider part of driving. Also the comments made by so many that a car without a manual transmission doesn’t afford the essential driving experience. As cars become more reliable, more electronic and less mechanical the driver car interaction becomes less interactive. I think this is why so many view cars as becoming more like an appliance. The few mechanical attributes of a car are the suspension components and the internal combustion engine and even these are being monitored and controlled electronically. There are fewer and fewer human machined and assembled components and therefore less human qualities in a car today.

    This is why the older cars mostly mechanical will always have a place of honor in the hearts of those that love driving and cars.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Outstanding point.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      Good points. The reliability is much better but most of today’s cars are boring. Add speed limiters to them and they become even more appliance like. Next thing they will add a ice dispenser with a choice of crushed ice and filtered water. Maybe next Maytag will produce cars and Sears will offer a Kenmore car.

    • 0 avatar
      afflo

      Golf clap….

      And the manual thing – Occasionally I read a review of a car by an auto journalist, whether professionals in magazines and newspapers or amateurs on blogs, and I read “The _____ is offered in a manual and automatic – we suggest skipping the manual and choosing the slick shifting automatic.”

      Um… No. I enjoy driving. Why on earth would I want to give up an essential part of the driving experience? It would be like riding a motorcycle that countersteered for me. Who cares if the dual-clutch syncronized gearbox can shift up in a fraction of the time of a manual, and runs a quarter-mile in .34 seconds less? Are you buying a car to run drag races, or to enjoy driving?

      The tired “Just wait until you have to drive it in traffic” line is an indicator that someone really doesn’t enjoy driving that much, but feels it necessary to fake it. If you’re running at a steady speed, you’re not shifting anyway. Driving in traffic just means you’re getting more opportunities to orchestrate the throttle, clutch, and gearbox. It would be like saying, “Guns are great until you have to shoot them!”

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        @afflo.. I sgree with you 100 percent.After 40 years of automatics, I went back to a manual. I was over a year re learning to drive. The 2SS Camaro 6 speed is bitch to master. At least for me it was. I nearly give up twice,and I wouldn’t drive in heavy traffic.

        I wouldn’t give up. I learned to drive back in 1969 on a 64 Chevy with a stove bolt, and three on the tree. How much harder could a modern vehicle be?

        I had some business in downtown Toronto,and needed to go in, and out during rush hours. I own two other cars,but I said to myself, I’m driving the Camaro.

        By the time got it home, I had it down perfect. I probably will never need to buy another vehicle. But if I do it will be a stick.

        A stick shift anything has “Soul”

  • avatar
    Aquineas

    I’d go with an Acura Legend Coupe, red of course, with tan leather interior.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    No soul? It’s not even ginger.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I don’t know about all of this “soul” nonsense, but I think there’s plenty of charm and ceremony in a well-executed and fabulously-built vehicle…the kind of vehicle that gives you the feeling that you could preserve it forever…

    As for modern Lexus vehicles, I think that they are pretty much back to chasing the Germans except for one important thing: they have basically ignored turbochargers, as have Honda and Nissan. Maybe the Japanese automakers know something that everyone else doesn’t…

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    A very interesting article and an excellent choice of car for it. Cannot say I agree with the conclusion, though – especially the one about ‘soul’. In my opinion you generally need to spend a lot more than a day, or ’200-300 miles’ to discover it.

    While the distance / time will definitely suffice to discover the simple surface pleasures, it will probably take much longer to delve deep enough to discover what it is like to live with the car and what joys it will give to its owner, some not the the first tiem around. Many of the cars with immediate appeal often turn out to be one or few trick ponies.

    Be that as it may, the car deserves the ‘legend’ status without a doubt. It was probably the first time that someone produced a completely credible luxury / premium car right out of the box (at least as far as objective criteria allowed).

    It enriched a good number of cardiologists and psychoterapists in Bavaria and Svabia for a year or two – whether that is a good or bad thing remains in the eyes of the beholder.

    It was the only ever non-German luxury car to tie for first spot with a German car in Auto Motor & Sport, the paragon of German automotive national pride, speak shameless nationalism (it matched the points score of the BMW 740i, which previously bested the then current S-Class).

    Whether it gave enough of a kick up the other luxury car manufacturers’ backside to get their act together in the way the NSX did for sports cars is possibly open to interpretation – it certainly did not harm, though.

    And at least it got Lexus to provide enough of a shock in terms of customer service in many European markets, to push all the other premium manufacturers closer towards acceptable levels – something many Mercedes and BMW customers ought to be grateful for.

    In any case, keep the interesting articles coming!

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      Very good point about needing significant time with a car to truly know it. I’ve owned my 98 LS400 for going on 12 years now. I love it more now than I did when I first bought it. This is a car that never gets old and never let’s you down. Just returned from a 5 hour round trip road trip, totally refreshed when I finished. I have a 30 mile one way commute, this car makes it a cinch. In the typical day I spend 2 hours driving it and there is no other car I would do that in, day in and day out.

      If faithful, low maintanence companion that never let’s you down or tires you out means “no soul”, then fine. I’ll take that any day.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    ” Soul ”

    It’s like Art or riding Motocycles :

    Either you get it or you don’t .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Kristjan Ambroz

      And just like art, some like a Pollock, and others the Dutch masters…

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        The CTS Coupe fits into that category as well.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I like every single CTS Coupe I’ve seen, which is about 4 or 5. All are black or white. I’d prefer old man white, because black is too obvious and hard to keep clean. I’d be driving it in the winter, cause I’d have the AWD one.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            A friend of mine has an ’12 AWD 3.6 in black. The interior is gorgeous and he put the handsome “V” grille on the front which significantly enhances its appearance over the $23 factory eggshell grille, but let’s just say the overall look of the car strained our friendship for a short time.

  • avatar
    Numbers_Matching

    Although it compared very well to the then current W126, the LS400 was introduced a full 10 years after it. So, being used as a benchmark, and a relatively static one at that, I would expect the LS400 to be as good or better in many ways than the ’126.

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    I agree with you – the W126 was at the end of its lifetime, when the LS400 came out. The introduction of the LS400 in Europe was somewhat after the US debut, though, so it competed with the W140 from the very start and the comparison test against the BMW 740i I spoke about was against the E38 generation (1994-2001), not the already ‘grey’ E32.

    This is a result that neither of its successors (LS430 or LS460) managed to repeat.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Oh God it has cloth?! What the heck! You’d be hard pressed to find one with cloth in the US. I think they look better with the non-N/A market headlamp sprayers and side blinker lights.

    “[S-Class]…got very fat and a little bit vulgar in its W140 iteration.”

    How dare you say that about the best looking modern S-Class! It was fat because it was the 90s! I don’t consider it vulgar at all, I think it’s very serious and restrained.

    The fat B-bodies were vulgar, indeed.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    I always look at the impact of this car as one more example of General Motors’ 40-year decline. Because let’s face it, THIS is what the Cadillac Sedan de Ville would have evolved into had GM been led by real visionaries instead of pasty-faced bean counters like Roger Smith.

    Let’s face another fact. Several Mercedes/BMW buyers hated the hard ride, the hard seats and lack of gadgetry that characterized on their top-line stuff in the Eighties.

    Toyota knew damn well what they were doing. The look said M-B but the experience was American plush. Their target audience was former Caddy/Lincoln owners or intenders. The fact that they brought it in at $20K under an S-Class initially and with lots more reliability justified the purchase and built the Lexus brand practically overnight.

    Criticize the lack of soul all you want, but I think that argument is bunk. I’ve driven several of these and think they’re brilliant in their own right. Look at what the other big high-zoot sedans are like now. Lexus redefined the market.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      THIS is what the Cadillac Sedan de Ville would have evolved into had GM been led by real visionaries instead of pasty-faced bean counters like Roger Smith.

      Yes, +1. If GM wanted a real Cadillac flagship today they would just have to take an LS460 or a Hyundai Equis and bolt tailfins on it.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Pretty clearly, the design brief for the LS 400 was that the car would not draw attention to itself in any way. In that the Toyota crew succeeded. A car that has “character” or “soul” draws attention to itself in some way; and if the word “character” is used, the way that the car draws attention to itself is considered a positive by the driver. So, for example, one might have a car, like BMW (at least until the advent of EPAS), which drew attention to itself in the way that its steering feedback informed a sensitive driver of exactly what was going on with the two front wheels.

    The LS400 certainly was a legend in that it achieved previously unattained levels of build quality and precision and levels of NVH reduction, including from the suspension, that were unprecedented at anywhere near the price point. Finally, when introduced, the LS400 was substantially less expensive than its European competitors.

    If the LS400 had one flaw, IMHO, it was the frankly derivative styling. To my eye, there is a clear difference between the Japanese sense of what a car should look like, and the equivalent European/North American sense. There are relatively few Japanese cars that I have found attractive, and some that I find seriously unattractive, including, for example, the LS400′s successors, which get worse as they go along in my opinion.

    De gustibus non disputandum est and all of that.

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    As for the design, several more progressive designs were considered but apparently got binned as too risky by the Japanese management. Whether the JDM derivative (the almost equal Toyota Celsior) justified this conservatism or not is now a moot point (have no comparative production figures).

    The fact that the car blended in so much was possibly exactly what the doctor prescribed after the partial excess of the 1980s – it certainly did not harm the sales prospects of the car enough to make it anything other than a success.

    Had the car looked more ‘appealing’ I am sure it would have a slightly more enthusiastic following amongst the automotive cognoscenti but then very few Japanese cars have been blessed with design that Europeans found lastingly appealing.

  • avatar
    stereorobb

    Legend for sure. I’ve had alot of cars over the years, including big fat Chevys and fords, SUVs, aggressive hard ass BMW and benzes, as well as a few others I’d like to just forget about.

    I may be a little biased but the Ls400 is by far the greatest car ever made! I’m on my 3rd one now, and they just can’t be beat. My first was one of the original 1990 ones that I got back in 2004 with 187k on the clock. I had it for 5 years and it never missed a beat. I drove the hell out of it as well, it survived 3 accidents, being stolen and recovered 6 months later, my wreckless early 20s years when I had no fear of death and wanted to drive as fast as possible constantly, I drove it cross country twice and all over hell and back. What did it in was the transmission and steering rack going out at the same time, and I wasn’t gunna put $3,000 into a tired and at that point hooptified 20 year old Lexus with 395k miles on it. ended up finding a 91 ls400 with 220k about a month later that was just as good, but it was short lived only cause some drunk asshat T-boned me at 45 mph. I drove a 96 BMW 740il for about 6 months after that and yes it was fun to drive, but it wasn’t as quick on its heels as the older Ls400, and didn’t have all the gizmos and gadgets the Ls400 had eather, oh and then it blew up on me at 155k so that was the end of that. Then I got a 1989 560SEL Benz with 139k on it. Absolutely beautiful classic of a car, but what a TURD! It had alot of soul but it was a dog on the road and broke down on me every other block. I ditched that and got a 96 jeep grand Cherokee that was the opposite of everything I stand for and absolutely HATED driving it the entire time I had it, but I had to keep the mrs happy so I just waited till it too died. The funny thing though over the years, that old 90 ls400 I had left a lasting impression on me, And I really missed it so about 6 months ago I decided to try and find another one. Unfortunately as many early Ls400s as I ran across in my hunt, they were all very tired and had over 300k+ miles on them. Heck I didn’t find a single 90 but there’s still plenty of 91s and 92s out there, all in horrible condition though sadly. I live in Florida and the climate just destroys them. So I figured I’d give the second gen ls400 a chance, there old enough now so people are scared of them and there very cheap to obtain, I had almost as hard of a time trying to find a clean non abused low mile 95-97 style one, I had almost given up after 40 test drives, 200 miles of shady car lots and creepy craigslist ripoff artists, and disappointment when I found a really nice original one owner 95 ls400 with 151k on it. It’s a little different than the old 90, feels bigger, and isn’t quite as fast off the line the 90 was but its still quick, very comfy, and absolutely bulletproof, I do a ton of driving in my job and I’ve already put 20k on it and it hasn’t missed a beat. I do think the 2nd gen ls400 is a bit more relaxed feeling than the original ones, but still a great car.

    Now for the haters… Soulless? Bland? No personality? Boring? My ass. Those of you who just assume there just glorified Toyota camrys or are too numbing to drive, that haven’t actually spent some real time behind the wheel of one, Go get a early 90s Ls400 that’s still got some life left in it, go street racing in it, do some burnouts in it. Dive into hard curves at 70mph and tell me its boring. Better yet, get it up to around 100 hit the ebrake and put it sideways! The old ones are a absolute blast to drive and stick to the road like glue, they can still blow the doors off of new 745lis, and s550s off the line and down the road! And yes, the speedometer that goes to 160? It’s the only car I’ve ever had that really will do 160! I wouldn’t reccomend taking a frail almost quarter of a century old one up that high till you had it serviced and checked out, but the 1uz-fe v8 is a beautifully engineered motor that just sings with delight at high revs, is dead quiet with normal city driving, but stomp on the gas and it has a very satisfying growl to it, and it will put you back in you’re seat too! I will admit, the silence of them just cruzing is almost painful, but if you wanna escape that, just roll the windows down which btw, will ALWAYS work along with just about everything else in the car. If you don’t think they have soul and personality, don’t replace some things like the shocks and suspension parts until there terminal. A Ls400 will make all sorts of squeaks rattles and clunks for you and still be ok to drive for along time. It’s not all a bed of roses though, like any car it requires matinence, and once in awhile something really terrible brakes on them that costs a fortune to fix but its totally worth it. They really are getting up there in age but they don’t look it or act like it at all unless they are abused for a long time which sadly is happening to most of them now. So go snag a nice one now before its too late! Most of them turn sour around 400k miles, so find one that has around 180k on it that’s been well kept (all the nasty stuff that brakes happens before that so the crap is out of the way) and enjoy it! Everyone thinks there 10 years newer than they are, women love them and its easy to pull tail with them, youre friends will all be green with envy and wish they had one. The Ls400 is bar none, the greatest luxury sedan ever made, they’ve stood the test of time too!

    • 0 avatar
      JimofEP

      StereoRobb,

      I like your enthusiasm for the LS 400. I’m in the process of writing a history book for Lexus to commemorate its upcoming 25th anniversary. We want to interview someone who owns or has owned a 1990 LS 400. Let me know if you are interested via email at jimgorman101@gmail.com

  • avatar
    raminduction

    I bought one of these several years ago with 100K on the odo. I had a choice: a 540 BMW with a factory supercharger or the LS 400. I wussed out and bought the Lexus. Looking back, it wasn’t a totally catastrophic choice, as it’s still running strong with 240k showing. I drove it stock for the first few years, but realized that there was something about the car that some upgrade tweaks just might bring out. Eibach springs, Koni Sports, a slightly stiffer read anti-sway bar, and some 18x8s with 245-40s brought some real changes to what other-wise was a competent but not quite boring car. These improvements actually did bring out a “soul” in the car, and it appears to thoroughly enjoy being pushed. Although “pushing” 4200+/- pounds of car (4000 pounds of car and 200+/- pounds of my fat ass) around turns can get a tad “interesting”, even with the variable ratio power steering.

    The early LS 400s could be called the world’s best Buick Roadmaster, because it was hamstrung by the pathetic transmission. If it only had come with the later 5-speed auto, it would be an entirely different car, and by that I mean that it would have been v. fast, and far more fun to drive with the extra gear. The one real failure of Toyota with this car is the front brakes: one hard stop from 80mph, and it’s time for new rotors. Yup, the car was designed for the people that don’t really enjoy driving, but wish to be seen.

    Even after all these years, the car still looks fresh, and as stated elsewhere, there are some standard features on this car GM still hasn’t figured out (like power headrests on the driver and passenger seats, Cadillac!). Engineering wise, other than the aforementioned front brakes, the car is incredible. After 240K the only leak is the PS pressure hose, and it’s easy to replace. Too bad Toyota never picked up on the potential of this car.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t be too quick to blame the transmission. It did the job asked of it with world-class smoothness and reliability. You can’t just slap an extra gear ratio in there and win greater range or acceleration. That transmission had a 250 hp 4.0 engine to work with. The later 5 speed had an engine that was massaged with greater torque band and horsepower, so it had more engine to play with. Over here in Street Reality, a 3,770 lb car that can accelerate to 60 in 8 seconds and go 149 chip-limited mph, is good enough really.

      • 0 avatar
        raminduction

        Well, Amskeptic, nothing you say about the transmission is backed up by facts or reality. In fact, if you had been paying attention, you would have noticed that not only did car manufacturers increase the number of gears in manual transmissions (most are now 6-speeds), they also did it with automatics, going from 3 to 4, to 5, and all the way up to 8 in the LS 460. It happens to be a fact that the one item one can change about a car to get better acceleration and better fuel economy, while all at the same time getting more flexibility out of the car is to increase the number of gears in the transmission. My statement about needing the later model 5-speed in the original LS400 stands: this car would have been a rocket-ship with the later model 5-speed, turning in 0 – 60 times well under 8 seconds. Why? Because the gear ratios in the later model 5-speed matched to the standard 3.63:1 differential ratio would have produced ratios that would have allowed that tiny mouse motor that makes NO torque at lower RPMs to take advantage of gear multiplication to make up for the lack of low-end “grunt” and the bloated weight of the car. Sorry to burst your bubble. Oh, and the car would have had the same top end as the OD ratio in the later model 5-speed is the same as the OD ratio in the “buick” transmission the car came with.

  • avatar

    I see that we have to thresh out our definitions of “soul” “character” and “legend”. That is difficult in our wordy advertising-drenched world for sure.
    I own a 1962 Lincoln Continental, a 1978 Mercedes Benz 450SEL, (had a 1994 BMW 540i), and this 1992 Lexus LS 400 here, now at 135,000 miles.
    Legend – yes, it is historically significant
    Character – yes, it is the Japanese definition of a luxury car, it may not be the life of the party like the Italian, it might not be uber-competent Merkel like the Mercedes, it might not be the champion slalom athlete like the BMW, it might not be the loyal soft velour American car, but it is Japanese, it is delicate yet strong, it is not flashy but it doesn’t fall behind, and it is not a pig.
    Soul- you cannot speak of this without owning one for twenty or so years. I catch traces of soul under the inscrutability. This car and I have had to work out traffic knots, snow storms, a failing fuel pump, and I *felt* the car try to work with me. I appreciate that. This car doesn’t play mysterious games like the BMW and Mercedes like to, but yes, the complexity demands your best attentiveness and fealty to the workshop manuals (which, again, have a seriously appreciated Japanese clarity).
    The engine is a work of art. I have seen other examples of Japanese moving art, and they all are lithe, compelling, beautiful to look at, and they put out. They even ask for more. This engine apologizes to no one.
    The understated styling apologizes to no one either, but those lacking an appreciation for nuance may need something more reassuring, like a trashy Bangle BMW toy, heck buy a Pontiac Aztek. Although the Lexus may be accused of being derivitive, it is saved simply by the perhaps accidental marriage of form following function.
    This goes for the early interior as well, I *love* the all-business-no distraction driver’s environment of the ’92. The later Lexi got more and more lost in exterior whooeystylin’ froo-froo, and the infotainment dashboards are a menace (to be fair, all modern cars are getting lost in this idiocy) to the rest of us drivers.
    BUT
    ergonomics are hideous, brakes are inadequate, winding roads overwhelm its handling ability, and our little Japanese flower looks a bit queasy after a simple dance.

    This car executes, breathes, displays the great human effort undertook to forge a new benchmark in luxury car standards. Like any other important and sustained honest work of engineering or art, this car shows the designer’s handiwork more so than the usual car company committee’s internacine battles with the accounting department. The lovely organization of the engine compartment becomes a welcoming friend in comparison to lets say the 1994 Lincoln Town Car, because the Lexus communicates a dignified Respect and Endeavor, unlike the contemptible chaos of the Ford product.
    I am sticking with this thing, just like the 1973 VW bus I drove for 588,000 humble miles. It IS honest and unassuming, qualities I look for in any friend.

    • 0 avatar
      raminduction

      I don’t know about your LS400, but while I cannot keep up with Boxsters, WRX’s, 911′s, Cooper S’s, etc., on back roads and Hwy 1,the modifications I’ve made to the suspension on my LS400 make it fully capable of handling those roads with aplomb and never overwhelmed. Don’t know about your “flower”, but mine has some “thorns” now, and as I stated, with a 5-speed tranny and ’93 front brakes, this car would be a real treat.

    • 0 avatar
      JimofEP

      Amskeptic,
      Your post about the LS 400 caught my attention. I am writing a history of Lexus to mark its 25 anniversary this year. We would like to interview someone who owns or did own an early vintage LS 400. I can be reached at jimgorman101@gmail.com. Thanks.

  • avatar
    anoldbloke

    I am a big fan of of the ls400, I own a 1990 UCRf10, which was complete with air suspension which I really liked, sadly had to replace the worn units with coils/strut suspension as being an old pensioner peasant, adjustable damped air struts delivered to Australia are an arm and a leg these days, regardless of that it still drives and rides very well and is amazingly quiet even at 24 years old, not many cars you could say still feel and drive like a quality car at 24 years of age, and the little 4.0 litre v8…. bloody magnificent, another vote for legend class.


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