Lexus LS400

Lexus's flagship LS400 made an immediate impact on the prestige sector when launched

Making a name and forging a reputation can take a car manufacturer decades, if it's lucky. Yet Toyota achieved it in less than one with its Lexus luxury offshoot. And the car that really did the business for the Japanese firm was the flagship LS400. At its 1990 launch, it made an immediate impact on the prestige sector, teaching the establishment a trick or two. Now this capable saloon can be bought for the price of a used Ford Mondeo. Here's what to look for...

Driving If you like your motoring to be serene, swift and silent, then few can match this one. It wafts along with Rolls-Royce elegance and is a tremendous mile-eater.

The sheer size and bulk of the Lexus rules it out as a driving machine, and compared to a Jaguar XJ or the best from BMW, the LS400 feels vague and unrewarding to hustle along quickly. (However, an optional handling package introduced in 1997 tightened up the suspension.) That said, motorways show the Lexus in its best light, where the legal limit seems too much of a crawl.

Only one engine is available, and what a gem it is, too. The 4.0-litre V8 (4.2 on the latest model) is one of the silkiest you'll find. With a choice of 241, 260 or 280bhp on tap depending upon model, this big saloon is no slouch. It will keep up with the best GTis, yet return around 23mpg. Top speed is 155mph.

There's no manual transmission option, but the automatic suits the car extremely well because it's so beautifully smooth. One word sums up driving an LS400: effortless. It's extremely docile in town and yet can surge past slow traffic with a press of the throttle. If ever a car could drive itself, it's this Lexus.

Living with At nearly 16ft 6in long and 6ft wide, the bulky and admittedly dreary-looking LS400 is a big beast to park or negotiate through town. But there's no shortage of space or comfort inside. The cabin was made even better for the 1995 model year when, among a raft of improvements, the LS also gained a longer wheelbase for added room.

At launch, Lexus shocked and rocked the luxury car market by taking on and very nearly beating the establishment at its own game in the refinement stakes. Although the appearance of the original LS400 seems largely unchanged over its lifetime, there have been continual revisions and improvements to keep it up with the best. These include better seating, air-conditioning and even more equipment: leather trim, heated chairs, cruise control, powered steering adjustment... You name it and this Lexus has it. But one area where it took Toyota time to catch up was in the cabin's finish, which for some years lacked the ambience and aura of those of the best Germans.

Buying and owning A used LS400 is as comfortable and relaxing to own as it is to drive. Its reliability has won numerous awards for customer satisfaction. Lexus says it has never sold a replacement auto box since the car was launched. How's that for durability?

However, the model's undoubtedly robust nature is tinged with some extremely high spares and repair costs, and this really bumps up its pence per mile figure. It's a complex car that needs main dealer skill and understanding – and Lexus specialists are fairly thin on the ground.

Notwithstanding the price premium, a main dealer is also the best place to buy used, even if the firm downgraded its Lexus Approved scheme from three years to one some time ago, because it cost too much to operate. The good news is that it is still a top-quality programme.

The manufacturer-backed 12-month plan mirrors that of the new car warranty, has no mileage limit and covers models dating back seven years or which have covered up to 140,000 miles. Other benefits include an RAC inspection and breakdown cover, full mileage verification, history check, fresh MoT and excellent vehicle exchange opt-out in case of problems with your car.

Verdict

What the LS400 lacks in pedigree and badge snobbery, it makes up for in other departments. Such is its reliability and integrity that even the earliest examples are outstanding buys if they have been serviced properly. The Lexus offers levels of refinement and comfort that traditionally only the best brands could provide, while dealer back-up is unsurpassed. That stately styling may be as dull as they come, but the real beauty of the LS400 lurks under the skin.

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