When you think Mercedes-Benz, you think "speak softly, but carry a big stick." BMW's "Ultimate Driving Machine" ethos means the car can be most exhilarating. It's an excitable sort of car that gets the blood boiling with passion. A Jaguar is too idiosyncratic for the average Filipino--unless you're a Paul Smith fan, you'll have a hard time getting it. Audis are something of a left-field novelty, the new bold choice with which to announce your presence.
But what if the above-mentioned choices are unappealing? Image, in this case, is based heavily on perception. And perception is reality in fast-paced, bustling Mega Metro Manila.
The anti-luxo mobile is a Toyota Vios: locally made, very proletarian, a plebeian on the road. You don't get respect on the road in one because you're a small, mass-market sedan swimming in a sea of big SUVs and PUVs. If said Vios owner turns out to be an eccentric billionaire and decides to buy a car that commands respect primarily for its sheer size, then the Lexus LS460L in four-seater trim will be his new beast of burden.
The LS460L is huge, but curvaceous enough to hide its bulkiness until you're really close. It looks like an alien morphing to adapt to its new environment. Lexus is new here, having been launched just a few months ago. Being new to the party means making a splashy, noisy entrance. But nobody knows what to expect from the new guest. Sure, there's a lot of hearsay, but life is best lived, as they say.
I picked up the LS460L from Lexus Manila at The Fort, and promptly headed out to C-5. It was a busy midday morning with light traffic. As I gunned the throttle, it was the eight-speed sequential-shift automatic transmission that caught my attention. Shifting like a WRC rally car with less than 1,000 revs per gear change, the smarter-by-half transmission effectively laid down to the ground the 342hp that the 4.6-liter V8 produced, masking the car's weight and hinting at its ability to sprint to 100kph in under 5.5 seconds. A decade ago, that was considered sports-car territory.
As the sublime coil-sprung suspension (the adaptive air suspension is not available in the LS460L units sold locally) belied the speed, I reached the abrupt ascent-and-descent bridge at the Commando Link Road and the LS460L did its best to mimic Carlos Sainz's Group A Toyota Celica GT4 flying up the crest. If El Matador had the LS460L's suspension, he would have won more rallies, I suppose, as the LS460L lands smoothly and takes off hard and fast. After this realization hit me, I was simply flabbergasted that an eight-million-peso luxury limousine can have such fine suspension control and stability at high speeds, especially given its 2,200kg body weight.
I ran out of what little talent I had well before the Lexus got up in attention. The huge brakes--four-piston aluminum calipers clamping on 334mm dinner-plate rotors--are another well-kept secret: They bite very progressively, very powerfully on the limit. It's actually suitable for a sports car. The multi-spoke 18-inch wheels and 235/50 all-season rubbers hide the brakes well, and Lexus, in the tradition of being quiet and somber about itself, has resisted engraving or even painting the calipers.
After all the initial shock over the LS460L's dynamic competence, I found myself stuck in a two-hour bumper-to-bumper traffic along C-5's Kalayaan stretch going back to Ortigas. Perfect time to explore all of the LS460L's toys and gadgets. The ottoman-equipped rear seat is a first-class, airline-style La-Z-Boy. The center console houses controls for the seat massager as well as audio, video and climate control settings, and is covered in admittedly cheesy-looking, super-glossy wood trim. All four seats, with cooling and heating functions and covered in perforated leather, made the long wait most bearable as my hotdog-fed tush was chilled.
The main screen up front is a touch-screen system that shows audio, video and the rear-facing camera's feeds--handy when backing up the LS460L's even bigger, high-octane-fed tush. The 19-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system--as I've already said a number of times in the past--does really seem to be the very best. You can play anything and hear everything. Live concert music means you'll hear people coughing in the audience clearly, yet still not obtrusively.
There's also a lot of unseen toys and goodies: variable-steering ratio rack; four-channel ABS with EBD; Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management traction and stability control system; 12 multi-stage deployment airbags...and the list goes on and on. I want to stop now so this review won't sound like a brochure.
The ultra-luxurious LS460L isn't that perfect, however. There are some switchgear that look like they were nicked from the Camry, the Previa and the Prius--all of which I have driven.
But the LS460L will wallop the competition based on the value-for-money proposition alone. A fully-loaded LS460L will set you back by P8.238 million, but everything else in that price range has a V6, or can cost over half a million bucks more for the same level of trim. Did I mention that it also has the smallest turning circle of under 12 meters? Now, that's a big help for your chauffeur.
I'm impressed at how responsive the LS460L is. It's effortless and soothing when you need it to be so, yet decently fun and engaging when you're in the mood. It's also supremely reliable, composed and stable. The toys are the icing, and the price is the cherry. This car is one fine tiramisu.
Source: Top Gear Philippines, April 2009