2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport first drive review: Sharpening the edge

2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport front quarter

2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport

When the Lexus LS400 went on sale in September, 1989, as a 1990 model, critics doubted Toyota’s ability to build a luxury car. They doubted, that is, until they drove it. But today, with Lexus a luxury car able to match the best in the field, there are those who say that Toyota’s premium division—hotrod model Lexus IS-F notwithstanding—can’t build a luxury car with a performance car edge to it. Well, consider the new 2013 Lexus 460 F Sport as the sharp part of the blade.

And it’s the 2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport—in F Sport-exclusive Ultra White— we drove for this first-drive review. It’s part of a Lexus LS lineup that also includes the base LS 460 and the long wheelbase version of that model, the LS 460L, and the LS 600hL hybrid, available only in long wheelbase trim. The LS 460, the 460 F Sport and LS 460L are available in both rear and all-wheel drive, and the LS Hybrid is available only with a full-time AWD system.

2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport dash

The dash of the 2013 Lexus LS 460 is dominated by a new wide multi-function screen. (Click to enlarge)

The 2013 Lexus LS series is all-new for 2013, save for the engines, more about which later. The platform, the frame around which a car is built, continues with the same basic layout, with suspension and basic configuration unaltered. However, the body is more rigid, thanks to a new procedure called laser screw welding, a way of targeting laser welds between spot welds. A stiffer chassis means a better ride and better handling.

Wrapped around that stiffer chassis is a body that’s all new. Most striking is the Lexus’ new “spindle” grille, the largest yet of Lexus’ new design theme. The 2013 F Sport’s exterior differs from others  models with a mesh grille with more depth, larger cooling openings, black grille trim, and round fog lamps. The F Sport’s standard sport-tuned air suspension is calibrated to ride .4 inches closer to the ground.

The new Lexus also has fins.  Not big 1950s fins, but rather small ones that help direct air around the body, stabilizing fins on the outer door mirror, front pillar, taillamps, plus “underbody rectifier fins” beneath the car. The upper fins help keep air along the body, creating less drag, while underneath the body, with the large surface area, little fins can make a big difference. How big? The 2013 Lexus LS has a drag coefficient of only 0.26, once achievable only by special concept cars.

2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport engine cover

Open the hood of the 2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport and all there is to see is an engine cover…and an engine surround cover. (Click to enlarge).

About the engine: While some competitors have moved from large naturally-aspirated engines to smaller turbocharged power plants, for the 2013 LS 460, Lexus stayed with the 4.6-liter V-8 that gives the model its name. This year the output was raised to 386 horsepower (up from 380), and Lexus claims 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds. Note one: AWD models are tuned for less horsepower and are not as quick). Note two: The LS 460 F Sport doesn’t get an edge in power over the non-Sport versions.

Notably, however, a comment was made by a Lexus exec that Lexus LS models didn’t get a new engine to go along with the rest of the all-new 2013 model year  car because “you don’t do everything at once.” In literature, that’s called “foreshadowing.”  Want a V-8 in your LS? Buy now. Something smaller and turbocharged is likely in the offing.

The LS 460 continues with the eight-speed automatic transmission for 2013, though the F Sport adds paddle shifting for the first time in an LS. The steering-wheel mounted paddles, unlike some paddle-adapted automatics, actually encourage use. Our notes say that they feel “natural.” Manual mode is indeed fully manual. The transmission will not shift up against the rev limiter, and foot hard on the gas pedal will not make the transmission “kick down.” The transmission also rev matches well on manual downshifts. It’s a good gearbox.