The Comparison Test We've All Been Waiting For: 2005 Lexus LS430 Vs. 2018 Suzuki DR-Z400SM
You needn’t be an automotive writer to know that when a key is tossed in your direction, you catch it. If it’s the key to a winter-garaged, low-mileage, 2005 Lexus LS430, you grab the key and run.
I rode to a work two weeks ago on the new Suzuki DR-Z400SM with which I replaced my 2013 Scion FR-S. It’s something I do a few times per week. The bike’s fun. It’s a riot. It’s a rip-roaring good time. But it is a process. Want to meet the fam for a hastily arranged early lunch? Once I’m all geared up, I head outside and wait for the carbureted Suzuki to rediscover a happy idle. Gloves on. Cuffs straightened. Helmet cinched. Leg heaved over the lofty supermoto. Many minutes later, I’m finally on my way.
So much for the early lunch.
Two Tuesdays past, however, my good friend Jeff heard me heading out and said, “Hey, take the Lexus.” His dad’s Lexus, that is, and formerly his grandfather’s Lexus. In this moment, I not only entered deeper into the vehicular recesses of an infamous Island clan, I set up an impromptu comparison test the likes of which may never again occur.
MEET THE CONTENDERS
In January 2000, Lexus unveiled the third iteration of its full-size luxury sedan flagship at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A new LS is a big deal, or at least it was, back when luxury shoppers were car shoppers and not SUV shoppers. The third-generation LS was a successor to the 1990 car that revolutionized the North American luxury car landscape with unparalleled refinement, dependability, and buying experience. The third LS was released with a new 4.3-liter V8 and Lexus’s first incarnation of radar cruise control. Nearly 160,000 LSs were sold in the U.S. between 2001 and 2006, or roughly 26,500 per year. (Lexus now typically sells fewer than 10,000 LSs per year.)
Initially priced between $55,000 and $74,000, this specific 2005 LS430, with around 90,000 miles, is now valued at, well, let’s not tell its owner.
Around the same time as the third-gen LS debuted, another smaller Japanese automaker released a new dirt bike. The Suzuki DR-Z 400 replaced the DR350. The DR-Z uses a 398cc, liquid-cooled single-cylinder and can cruise at around 100 mph if you need it to, but would rather use its relatively light weight (for a road bike, at 321 pounds) to attack a twisty rural road. The five-speed gearbox seemingly joins riders in pleading for a sixth gear.
The DR-Z is a road-legal dirt bike as a DR-Z 400S and a supermoto as a DR-Z 400SM. This leftover 2018 was then made more suitable for dirt by removing the sportbike-oriented Dunlops. The SM is priced from $7,299 in the U.S.
The DRZ’s whole reason for being is performance on any road and in any condition, a raison d’être I’ve embellished by adding Continental TKC tires that maintain a fair dose of road performance while turning the Suzuki into a capable trail runner and dirt road runabout. 0-60 comes up in a little less than six seconds, a few tenths of a second quicker than the Lexus limo.
To be fair to the 16-foot-long Lexus, despite a near complete absence of feel or interactivity, its quiet composure in corners is something to behold. Faster steering, brakes with more bite, and a modern automatic transmission would transform the LS430’s back road performance even with the stock 290 horsepower.
The DRZ offers no comfort. The seat is punishment. For what, I’m not sure. But it is cruel and unusual. NVH appears to be something Suzuki sought out rather than attempted to minimize. Protection from the wind is wholly absent. While the LS’s rear passengers don’t even inhabit the same zip code as its driver, the Suzuki’s rear passenger is all up on you. It’s less butter-on-toast and more white-on-rice.
Meanwhile, by the standards of even many modern LS competitors, this 14-year-old example’s dearth of vibration – whether upon ignition, through the pedal, or at any touchpoint – is a quality still lacking in too many premium vehicles. This is bank vault levels of isolation. The seats offer more than enough comfort for a cross-country trip. The armrests are proportioned and placed properly. The Mark Levinson audio system is soothing.
The DRZ doesn’t know what a feature is. Sure, there’s electric start, but you’ll have to choke it first. There are signals and a horn. Mirrors, too. There’s no storage, however, plus the lighting is poor. There’s no keyless-go (though the LS lacks that, too.) Heating the grips and seat would’ve cost extra.
The LS430, on the other hand, includes ventilated front seats, navigation, a sunroof, a rearview camera, and a power rear sunshade. And a very lengthy list of other items unavailable on the Suzuki.
I’m averaging 55 miles per gallon (U.S.) on the Suzuki with a mix of highway and dirt road riding. It’s not even close to being broken in.
According to Fuelly.com, the LS is likely to return 21 miles per gallon. Like the Suzuki, the Lexus wants premium petrol.
If this were any other LS, perhaps the story would be different. The first-gen car was dull but classy. The second LS, the MY1995-2000 car, used a longer wheelbase and better aero to make the same statement, only better. Then with the third-gen LS, Lexus seemed intent on taking cues from the awkward W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class that Mercedes had replaced a few years earlier. Lexus followed up the third effort with a cleaner look when the fourth LS was unveiled in Detroit in 2006.
The Suzuki, of course, looks like it’s from the 20th century because it basically is. Largely unchanged since 2000, the square headlamp and scraggly tail make some people think I’m riding a vintage bike. Pair the gold wheels with 50/50 tires and the DR-Z looks like a reputable workhorse that means business.
That’s three category victories for the Suzuki and two for the Lexus. Comparison test over. My bike wins; Jeff’s dad’s Lexus loses.
Okay, buyers cross-shop some crazy stuff, but this is a leap beyond for even the most oddball shopper. This so-called comparison test nevertheless offers a layer of authenticity that’s harder to find when examining two of the latest and greatest midsize sedans or two wildly over-equipped full-size pickup trucks. In an automotive era that, fortunately for all of us, celebrates capability and innovation, we can quickly become lost in the objective facts and forget what it’s like to experience the characteristics – and character – that make a vehicle appealing.
You know what I mean. The sheer lack of any tangible sensation when the LS’s velvety V8 starts up. The lightness of the DR-Z’s front wheel when you twist your right wrist. The texture of the LS’s perfectly aged wood-topped steering wheel. The mud spraying off the DR-Z’s front tire that hangs in the air long enough to splat into your visor. The way in which the LS’s volume knob turns as if in molasses, but not molasses that’s too terribly thick; maybe it’s maple syrup. The bang bang bang downshifting after a high-speed straight as the DR-Z hurtles toward a tight corner.
Increasingly, cars (and bikes, to some degree) are measured in fixed data sets: electric range, rear seat legroom, bi-weekly lease payment, grams of CO2/mile.
Yet it’s much more fun to ignore the numbers, eschew objectivity, abstain from pure reason, and celebrate the differences of mobility instead. Even if you’re just heading out for an early lunch.
[Images:© 2019 Timothy Cain]
Gtem on Jun 26, 2019
Quite a stretch for material, just a weird and nonsensical comparison. Would have been much better off just writing a review of the LS and juxtaposing it against the current field of luxury cars, or asking the current owner what running costs are like for an older LS (he's at 90k he must have had the big timing belt service done recently on that 4.3L V8, or else is due for it).
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