In 1983, the chairman of Toyota laid out a plan in front of the entire group of leaders, and it started a project that would change the entire luxury market forever! Lexus, one of the largest automotive brands in the world, found by the heads of Toyota as its ‘Luxury Vehicle Division’. Lexus originated from a corporate project to develop a new premium sedan which culminated in the launch of the Lexus LS, especially the LS 400.

With futuristic tech on offer paired up with an equally innovative and capable engine, Lexus made ripples in the automotive world. Let’s take a look at What Makes The Lexus LS400 Special.

The First Offering

Lexus LS400 front

The development of the LS began all the way back in 1983, then code-named the Flagship 1 Project (short version: F-1) as a flagship sedan built in secret. After a design process that took five years and cost over 1 Billion US Dollars, Lexus finally made its first model, the LS 400 with an all-new V8 engine and a plethora of luxury features. Toyota created Lexus to sell its vehicles in the global market while selling the same vehicles in Japan with a unique name under the Toyota brand till 2005.

Upon initial launch, the LS 400 did well! There were two major reasons behind the exceptional selling of the LS in the USA. The first reason was the reputation of Toyota. While Toyota was not famous for making the most luxurious cars, it had a reputation for making cars that lasted forever. People knew that the Lexus LS400 is a reliable machine if nothing else. The second reason being the price of the car. Until now, the Americans had options from Cadillac or the German manufacturers' BMW and Mercedes to choose a good, luxurious sedan from which were pretty costly. Toyota made the LS in Japan, their currency of Yen was falling against USD every year, they could sell the car with more luxury than either the Beemer or the Merc for far lower prices and still make a hefty profit! This combined with their reputation in terms of reliability meant people seeking such sedans started giving Lexus a chance. So, the Lexus was faster than the BMW, looked better than the Mercedes, and offered more tech and features than the Cadillac while being cheaper than all 3. As a result, the LS sold more than both BMW and Mercedes by the next year!

Not just in terms of sales, the LS400 changed the whole luxury vehicle game! Quite a lot raised the standard of luxury cars in 1989. The competing companies had the option to either lower the prices or sell their cars with more or at least on par luxury that Lexus offered. Many brands dropped the prices of their sedans to compete with the LS. In 1991, the chief engineer of Mercedes tried to add more and more features to their 1991 S-Class to keep up with its Japanese counterpart, but they went way over budget which sadly led to the firing of the fellow. Cadillac, instead of straight out improving their vehicles, tried to reverse engineer the LS, to figure out what technological advancements made the car feel like such a premium sedan at a cheap price. Ultimately, they concluded that the equipment at their current manufacturing process at General Motors’ plant didn’t prove able enough to produce a car like the LS.

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How It Revolutionized The Luxury Segment

lexus ls400 interior

Although we can expect all kinds of features, comfort was the USP for these cars. For starters, Lexus did a stunt by arranging a pyramid of filled wine glasses on top of the hood and revved the engine to 4000 rpm. The result: not a single drop fell off the glasses. It made citizens in North America and Europe accustomed to the default comfort provided by other brands that the people appreciated this new oasis of calmness and smoothness and made it the go-to standard to be pitted against. Instead of over-the-top techs like perfume atomizers and starlight headliner that you see in a Rolls-Royce, Lexus focused on quality and dependability, something which even high-end marques struggled with during the 80s and 90s. And it all started with the Lexus LS400. The LS400 refrained from using any Formula One tech used to create sports cars like the Acura NSX and Integra Type R. Instead, Ichiro Suzuki had F1 technicians look into the car’s engine development. Refinement was the ultimate goal here, and they have succeeded.

Although the car looked beautiful on the outside, the interior was the best feature of the LS. In terms of build quality, there were no compromises made, journalists noticed that every minor part felt weighty and solid. Another home run the car made was the sheer smoothness and calmness that could be experienced at speeds as high as 130mph! That too in the bumpy roads with ever-present potholes back in that era. Today, you can easily find such smoothness in most luxury cars from Bentley, BMW, Cadillac, and many more, but back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, it was a thing of novelty in that price range. Even the absence of wind noise was something that the LS achieved exceptionally well at high speeds, and it only added to the overall premium feel while inside the cabin.

Features like an automatic tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with SRS airbag, and an electrochromic rear-view mirror made the LS400 ahead of its time. It featured a holographic visual effect in the back-lit electro-luminescent gauge cluster for improved visibility. It also offered a memory system that stored the driver’s preferences for the seat, side mirror, steering wheel, and seat belt adjustments. For the audiophiles, they added a Nakamichi premium sound system on board to soothe the acoustics. Futuristic features like an integrated cellular telephone with hands-free capabilities packed with 300 technological innovations to aid smooth operation while driving. The cabin was well insulated for silence. They made this possible with fluid-damped cabin fixtures, vibration-insulating rubber mounts, airflow fairings, and sandwich steel body panels. All of this in 1989!

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Performance under the hood

Lexus LS400 Black
Via: Bing

The engine is yet another thing to behold in glory. Toyota knew that to compete in the market, they had to make not only a comfortable car but also a fast one. Instead of equipping the car with their old inline engines, Toyota created a new engine, the 1UZ-FE. A 4-liter v8 that produced 250 hp, proved to be a major success in not only the LS 400 but in many more future vehicles to come. With features such as 6-bolt main bearings, DOHC system, and belt-driven quad-camshafts, it made the engine one of the most advanced, strongest, and most reliable engines ever seen. How strong? Matt Farah of The Smoking Tires had an LS 400, and he drove it for 1 million miles without ever having to repair the engine and transmission! Everything felt like Lexus built it with the hardest materials made to last forever. Over the years, the engine only got better and more powerful. In the years 1998-2000, the 1UZ-FE was voted to the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list. Also, since it was a Toyota engine, it was highly moddable too. Turbocharged variants were available in the later years, till then strapping a turbo to the naturally aspirated versions was not a worrisome job, and the engines handled a lot more power thrown at them than initially intended.

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Price Factor

Lexus LS400 Black
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When it debuted in 1989; it was a total game-changer in terms of price. At US $35,000, the LS 400 took the top place in terms of value for money. What’s more surprising is that Toyota initially planned an even lower $25,000 price for the car (which would have been other-worldly) but the US government made a law that restricted the number of Japanese imports to 1.68 million cars per year. Also, Japan’s currency was getting weaker every year as well. But that, while making it relatively expensive to build the car, meant that selling it in the stronger currency of USD will be a lot more profitable than expected.

Today, 30 years later Lexus has built a legacy of highly reliable vehicles that started with the LS400. The 2021 Lexus LS sells for a base price of US $76,000 with the LS F Sport version going up to $89,260. The model that laid the foundation of what Lexus is still going strong with the fifth generation named “XF50”. Just like back in 1989, today Lexus is the brand known all over the world for making luxurious and reliable cars. Competing against the Mercedes-Benz S-Class(old and iconic rivalry right there), Audi A8, Audi S8, Genesis G90, and many more, the LS remains one of the go-to models for getting a good deal in terms of value for money, making it forever remembered as the iconic car that single-handedly changed the luxury sedan scenario.

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