Sunday drive with Hormazd Sorabjee: Lexus LS 400 vs Lexus LC 500
Ahead of me is a ribbon of smooth undulating tarmac with the Pacific Ocean on one side and verdant, rolling hills on the other. No people, no traffic, everything around me is green and clean. I’m in the picture-postcard perfect Central American country of Costa Rica, along with a bunch of journalists from all over the world, for a very special occasion – to celebrate the 30th birthday of Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand. And what a birthday bash it was.
Lexus threw us the keys of not only its current range of vehicles but the historic ones as well. Thirty years of Lexus history was compressed into a heady two days of intense driving. From the original 1989 LS 400 to the latest LC 500 coupe, I got to drive the milestone cars that made Lexus into the most credible Japanese luxury car marque ever.
Back to the future
The car that I had my eye on was one that started it all – the Lexus LS 400, which made its debut in the US three decades ago. This humble luxury sedan sneaked onto the turf of a complacent Mercedes and BMW, and completely disrupted the luxury car market. Whilst the German luxury brands wowed customers with their brilliantly-designed and engineered products, they didn’t focus as much on customer satisfaction. Lexus showrooms with their fancy furniture and five-star hospitality set new standards for service. That was the chink in the German armour the LS 400 drove right through and blew wide open.
Smooth, reliable, quiet and comfortable, the LS 400 defined what Lexus stood for and to get a quick sense of what made this car a game changer when it was launched, I took a short spin in an immaculately preserved 1990 model.
The LS 400 takes you back in time. A time when there was no satnav, no Bluetooth and no touchscreens. The grand old Lexus’s businesslike interior with plush leather seats, a cassette/CD player and an array of large chunky buttons amidst a logically and brightly lit instrument cluster epitomised luxury back then. But what took it to another level was the refinement it offered. I was struck by how whisper quiet the LS 400 is even by today’s standards and the soothing experience it offered on Costa Rican roads. But the appliance-like efficiency and uninspiring design of the original LS 400 also highlighted the brand’s biggest weakness – a lack of emotion.
In the quest to make the perfect car backed by a high-quality ownership experience, Lexus never bothered about design and this thinking is evident in the LS 400’s rather unremarkable appearance. In fact, Lexus has been criticised over the years for the uninspiring styling of its cars and this was becoming a weakness especially since German rivals had upped their game on the sales and service front.
Then one fine day, Toyota (and Lexus) boss, Akio Toyoda issued a mandate to his design teams: “No more boring cars.” The result of that edict was a styling upheaval across portfolios that is no more obvious than in the stunning looking Lexus LC 500, the brand’s flagship coupe.
The first LS 400 and the latest LC 500 maybe separated by nearly 30 years, but parked side by side, they look a millennium apart. The LC 500 is nothing short of jaw-droppingly stunning with a body replete with cuts and creases that makes it look like a work of origami. The long bonnet, which houses a thunderous sounding V8 (you also get a politically correct V6 hybrid), the massive 20-inch dual tone alloy wheels and of course, the hour-glass shaped ‘spindle’ grille, a Lexus trademark, make this a car that swivels heads.
The interior too with its swoopy dashboard follows Toyoda’s diktat and a cool touch is the panic grab handles for an easy-to-terrify front passenger to tightly grip.
Performance from this 477hp monster is terrifying and I baulk when I read 200kph on digital speedo, which is easy to achieve on any half decent stretch of tarmac. Prodigious grip, superb brakes and a well-composed ride makes the LC 500 a car to chomp continents in comfort and great style.
The good news (for those who can afford the ₹1.5 crore price tag) is that the LC 500 will be headed to India to add more excitement to a brand that’s best known for its quality and reliability.
Hormazd Sorabjee is one of the most senior and much loved auto journalists in India, and is editor of Autocar India
Sunday Drive appears every fortnight
From HT Brunch, July 28, 2019
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