2004 Lexus LS 430 Reviews and Ratings

Sedan 4D LS430

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2004 Lexus LS 430
Mitch McCullough

The Lexus LS 430 benefits from substantial engineering upgrades for 2004 that significantly improve what was already a superb luxury car. It''s quicker and more sophisticated than last year''s model.

The LS 430 is everything a flagship luxury sedan should be. Its ride is silky and its steering is liquid smooth. Its soft suspension and slow steering lead some to believe that the LS 430 doesn''t handle well when compared with such European benchmarks as the BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but we haven''t found that to be the case. The LS 430 can, in fact, be driven hard, whereupon it reveals lots of grip and very good handling. It boasts a powerful V8 engine, a new six-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive, and the latest in active safety technology.

Inside is a beautiful interior with rich wood accents and buttery soft leather, seats so comfortable that you never think about them, and controls that are a paragon of ergonomic excellence. Lexus provides every convenience feature imaginable. Finding failings in this car devolves into whining about bland styling or nitpicking about the lack of inconsequential features such as being able to grind the starter when the engine is running. In other words, the Lexus LS 430 plays its role to near perfection. That role is of a smooth, luxurious sedan that whisks occupants along in supreme comfort, allowing the driver to concentrate on other, more pressing matters than the automobile.

Toyota launched its Lexus luxury channel in fall 1989 with the introduction of the 1990 LS 400, an event that changed the rules for luxury car ownership. The third-generation Lexus LS appeared for 2001.

Model year 2004 brings major changes to the LS 430: revised styling, suspension refinements, safety improvements, and mind-boggling technology. A new six-speed automatic replaces last year''s five-speed for improved acceleration performance without sacrificing fuel economy. There are more airbags than ever before (eight) and a system that tightens the seat belts before a crash. There''s a tire-pressure monitor, a backup camera, headlights that swivel for seeing around corners, and Dynamic Laser Cruise Control that maintains a set following distance to the car ahead. With Bluetooth technology and SmartAccess, you can unlock the doors, start the car, drive off, and make hands-free phone calls without even pulling your key or your cell phone out of your pocket or purse.

Quality, durability and reliability are Lexus hallmarks. For the seventh consecutive year, the LS 430 ranked highest among luxury cars in the J.D. Power and Associates 2003 Initial Quality Study, a survey of owners after 90 days of ownership. And for the ninth consecutive year, J.D. Power''s vehicle dependability study named the LS 430 the most problem-free car after three years of ownership.

Clearly, the Lexus LS 430 is a luxury vehicle that owners do not need to worry about. They can simply enjoy its comfortable ambiance as it whisks them to their destinations. Model Lineup
The Lexus LS 430 ($55,125) is powered by a 290-horsepower 4.3-liter aluminum V8 and comes standard with a new six-speed automatic transmission. The LS 430 comes as one model, loaded with every feature expected of a flagship luxury sedan and more. For 2004, Lexus has added as standard equipment features that were previously optional, including a power moonroof with an auto open/close feature, a power rear sunshade, and lighted rear-seat vanity mirrors.

Several important option packages are available. A Sport Package ($220) sharpens the handling of the LS 430 with a sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch wheels and 245/45R18 summer tires.

In addition to the leather upholstery that comes standard, two grades of leather trim are available as optional, Semi-Aniline ($2,100) and Nappa ($1,460). A Premium Package ($1,390) adds front climate-controlled (heating/cooling) seats, heated rear seats, and sonar-based Intuitive Parking Assist.

A Custom Luxury Package ($5,935) is available with the Mark Levinson audio system, the navigation system with rear back-up camera, Bluetooth, the new Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Intuitive Parking Assist, climate-controlled front seats with fans that circulate heated or chilled air, rear seat heaters, headlamp washers, and power door closers. The aptly named Ultra Luxury Package ($11,320) features all that plus the Adaptive Variable Air Suspension, SmartAccess, rear door sunshades, a rear seat adjuster with memory and massage feature, rear climate-controlled seats, rear air conditioner with optical deodorizer, and other rear-seat features. Walkaround
The Lexus LS 430 is an attractive luxury car that makes a substantial, upscale statement, but don''t expect young people to stop what they''re doing to gawk as you whisper by. It tends to blend in, particularly in areas frequented by other luxury cars. It''s somewhat distinguished for 2004 with styling revisions that are substantial but subtle to the casual observer.

The front fenders, hood, headlamps, fog lamps, grille, front and rear bumpers, trunk lid, and rear combination lamps are all new and the front headlamps have been redesigned. The standard 17-inch wheels have been redesigned and new 18-inch wheels are available with the Sport Package, freshening the profile. These changes clearly upgrade the appearance for 2004, giving it a more substantial look and more presence, but few are likely to say, "Ohmigosh! It''s the new LS 430!" Perhaps most noticeable to other motorists are the newly exposed dual exhaust tailpipes, which protrude from the lower edge of the bumper and project a look of power and performance to those in your rearview mirror. New LED brake lights are brighter, light up quicker, last longer, and draw less current, plus they look neat.

The LS 430 looks long and low, sleek and shapely. It cuts a handsome, though subtle profile. Its large passenger cabin with a generous greenhouse is sandwiched between a long hood and a short tail. Its canted windshield and elegant A-pillars are set off by the slant of the backlight (rear window) and thick, curvacious C-pillars that blend seamlessly into the rear flanks. The bold, trapezoidal grille thrusts it forward, while the hood bulges with power. The grille is rimmed in bright trim. The short, horizontal deck leads to a vertical back panel with oversized lamps at the corners, camouflaging the mass of the trunk.

The LS 430 is so streamlined that it earns a 0.26 coefficient of drag, 0.25 with the optional air suspension, making it one of the most aerodynamic shapes on the road. That contributes to exceptionally low wind noise and improved fuel economy. The slick exterior form is further enhanced by the remarkable fit of the body panels. Although Lexus has long been recognized for superior fit and finish, the quality achieved by the LS 430 reaches a new dimension. Engineers used a supercomputer to digitize all body surfaces, then worked out new fit tolerances ten times more precise than on the previous-generation (pre-2001) model. Interior
The interior of the Lexus LS 430 is quiet, comfortable and luxurious and is loaded with high-tech gear designed to make driving safe and pleasurable. It isn''t a showy interior, but the workmanship and attention to detail are first class. And a number of revisions improve what was already an excellent interior.

Majesty leather upholstery is standard and comes in a choice of Ash, Cashmere, Semi-Aniline Black and Comfort Interior in Saddle and Ecru. We found the light colors beautiful, but no one does black as well as the Germans. Snazzy perforated semi-aniline or luxury leather trim are optional. Rich wood trim in Bird''s-Eye Maple or Walnut warms the LS 430 interior beautifully and there''s an optional Antique Walnut with fired edges that''s quite interesting.

The seats are roomy and can be quickly adjusted to a comfortable driving position. The driver faces an adjustable steering wheel trimmed in wood and leather with easy-to-use controls for the audio system. Vivid electroluminescent gauges rank among the best available and, for 2004, the needles are white, making the instruments easier to read. Window switches are illuminated, making them easy to find at night.

To the right, at the top of the center stack, is a seven-inch touch screen used to control climate and audio, as well as the optional navigation system. Thankfully, a set of hard buttons integrated along the driver''s side of the touch screen is provided for the primary climate controls (temperature, fan speed, Auto, recirculate, defrost). A similar set of buttons to the right allows quick access to key navigation and audio functions. This combination of hard buttons and touch-screen buttons seems to work well. You can also use voice commands to direct the action: "68 degrees." Your passenger should have no trouble finding and adjusting the separate temperature control. The automatic climate system reads temperature sensors around the cabin and aims cool air specifically at any hot spots where the sun is baring down.

The navigation system is improved for 2004 with more datapoints (5.6 million vs. last year''s 785,000). It''s also more sophisticated, using icons to show points of interest, and even displays building footprints in Manhattan and Chicago. Navigation systems are getting better every year. A new backup camera can help the driver spot objects behind the car. Whenever Reverse is selected, the system automatically projects an image (in living color) onto the navigation screen of whatever the camera lens can detect behind the car. Looking at this screen can help the driver spot objects that might be difficult to see in the mirrors or over the shoulder. As if that wasn''t enough, the navigation system is linked to the optional Lexus Dual Mode Mobile Phone. For example, if a point of interest is called up on the navigation screen, a push of a button will dial the location directly.

Bluetooth technology is part of the optional navigation system as well. When combined with a Bluetooth-equipped phone, this wireless technology allows the driver to transfer personal phone books to the navigation system and make hands-free phone calls using the car''s touch-screen display. Customers can place a hands-free call in different ways depending on their preference. To help prevent driver distraction, the one-touch dial feature is the only dialing function that a customer can access when the vehicle is in motion. The system can store up to 18 one-touch dial numbers. Some Bluetooth technology functions are disabled when the vehicle is in motion, but the driver can use steering wheel controls to answer and end calls as well as adjust call volume. This greatly extends the utility of the handheld cell phone, which can remain in the driver''s pocket while underway. The system can be programmed to work with up to four different phones. The Lexus dealer orders a compatible phone for you from a wide choice of major providers.

A small LED display above the navigation screen displays driver''s and passenger''s temperature setting, outside ambient temperature, and the time. Directly below the navigation screen is a pair of vents that can oscillate from side to side, just like that little fan you have out in the garage.

Below, the standard audio system includes an in-dash, single-feed six-disc CD changer, and a 15-function information display with a trip computer with compass. The audio controls are large, elegant, and easy to adjust. The optional Mark Levinson premium audio system is designed to deliver optimal sound quality regardless of where you''re sitting. Presets allow the drive to optimize the sound quality according to the number and placement of your passengers. Speaker placement has been modified for 2004 for better sound imaging. XM Satellite Radio is available by subscription, eliminating the need for the driver to reset stations when driving long distance. This brings CD-quality music and 24-hour news and sports channels into the cabin.

Back seat passengers will find lots of leg room, comfortable and luxurious accommodations, and convenience features that aren''t even included in the front seats of some cars. The three-person rear bench has contoured spaces for two and a broad center fold-down armrest. The armrest features a padded storage drawer and a panel to control the heated seats, compact disc player and rear climate system. Extensive applications of leather and rich wood set an opulent mood.

Passive safety features include seat-mounted side airbags, rear side curtain airbags (important for head protection), new knee airbags, in addition to the dual frontal airbags. Most important are the seatbelts, which feature pretensioners, force limiters, and retractors, so be sure to use them. The optional Pre-Collision System uses radar to detect obstacles in front of the car and, if it determines an accident is unavoidable, it can preemptively retract the driverÆs and front passengerÆs seatbelts. PCS also prepares the Brake Assist which, after the driver applies the brakes, automatically applies increased braking force to help reduce collision speed. Driving Impressions
The Lexus LS 430 sets the benchmark for smooth ride quality. This is one smooth, quiet car, and riding in it is very pleasant. The engine is barely audible. Mechanical and road vibration is damped out. No other automaker does a better job than Lexus in creating a zone of serenity for driver and passengers.

The LS 430 handles well for such a large, luxurious sedan. It responds predictably when driven to the limit of the tires in corners, though it doesn''t encourage you to do so the way a BMW does. The softness of the suspension results in squirmy transient response when compared with say, the BMW 745i. But the LS 430 does generate lots of grip and offers the responsiveness afforded by rear-wheel drive and double-wishbone suspension front and rear. New monotube shock absorbers improve handling for 2004. The new shocks are larger and more technologically advanced, resulting in flatter cornering response and a smoother ride. The steering system has also been improved for 2004, providing more road feel, more feedback, more precision.

Two suspension options are available, a sport suspension and an air suspension. The Sport Package features a sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch wheels and tires. This setup improves handling feel while maintaining a smooth, comfortable ride. While Mercedes and other manufacturers offer sport suspension packages that result in a harsh, choppy ride, this isn''t one of them. Even with the sport suspension, the LS 430 rides smoothly and softly. The optional air suspension allows the driver to switch between two shock-damping modes (and to raise the ride height for driving in deep snow). However, the car floats a little more on the air suspension, even in the Sport mode, making it feel bigger, more boatlike. For this reason, we prefer the sport suspension.

The Lexus V8 is smooth and quiet, and the new six-speed automatic shifts so smoothly it''s almost seamless. The 4.3-liter V8 generates 290 horsepower and 320 pounds-feet of torque. Acceleration performance has been improved significantly over last year''s model. Lexus says the 2004 LS 430 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, a significant improvement over last year''s 6.3-second performance. The performance improvement is almost entirely a result of the new six-speed automatic. First gear is lower, and second, third, and fourth gears are closer together, all of which makes for a quicker launch and quicker acceleration. Yet the LS 430 still earns an EPA-estimated 18/25 mpg City/Highway, a benefit of the transmission''s long-legged fifth and sixth gears. The driver can manually control shifting, though we found it usually best to put it in Drive and let it do its job. Engine and transmission are designed to favor smoothness over performance, however, so they do not offer the crispness of a BMW powertrain, the other end of the spectrum. The engine''s electronic throttle control (drive-by-wire) system helps smooth acceleration from a standing start by very slightly delaying throttle opening when the driver steps on the accelerator pedal, and the transmission favors smoothness over shifting speed. But overall, the Lexus V8 and six-speed automatic are a powerful team, delivering strong acceleration performance for quick passing and freeway merging.

The brakes are responsive and easy to modulate for smooth stopping power. Four-channel, four sensor ABS helps the driver maintain steering control during panic stops. Brake Assist is designed to determine if the driver is attempting emergency braking and, if the driver has not stepped hard enough on the brake pedal to activate the anti-lock brake system, it applies maximum braking pressure until pedal pressure is released. Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) is an excellent active safety feature that helps control side skids under demanding conditions by correcting loss of lateral traction during cornering. VSC integrates traction control to help limit rear wheel spin on slippery road surfaces.

The optional Dynamic Laser Cruise Control system is designed to maintain a set distance from the vehicle traveling in front. Summary
The Lexus LS 430 excels as a luxury sedan with a cabin that''s quiet, comfortable, and luxurious. It is a meticulously crafted car that offers every luxury amenity imaginable, plus a few we would not have imagined. Its construction quality is the best in the industry. Everything about its operation is smooth. Its powerful V8 and six-speed automatic are a smooth, silent team. Its ride is silky, its steering is smooth and precise, its brakes allow easy modulation for smooth stops. If you want a premium luxury sedan that delivers no-hassle smooth, luxurious sailing, the Lexus LS 430 should be at the top of the list.

Model as tested
Lexus LS 430 ($55,125)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Tahara, Japan
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Sport Package ($220) includes Euro-tuned sport suspension, 18x7.5-inch aluminum wheels with 245/45R18 summer tires; Modern Luxury Package ($4,980) includes Mark Levinson Audio, Lexus Navigation system with rear back-up camera and Bluetooth technologyé 4-spoke wood and leather steering wheel with Voice command, front climate control seats with heating/cooling control, rear seat heaters, Intuitive Parking Assist

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Lexus LS 430 ($55,125)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual frontal airbags, side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags, knee airbags, 3-point seatbelts with force-limiting pre-tensioners, ABS, Brake Assist, Vehicle Stability Control, child restraint seat anchor brackets, tire-pressure monitor
Safety equipment (optional)
4.3-liter dohc 32-valve V8
6-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
electronic climate control, vehicle theft deterrent system, power windows with auto up/down for four windows and jam protection, power tilt/slide moonroof with auto open/close feature and jam protection, power rear sunshade, central locking system with keyless entry, auto dimming interior mirror, auto dimming dual exterior mirrors, power tilt and telescope steering wheel, three memory settings for driver's seat, steering wheel, exterior mirrors and shoulder belt adjustment, 178-watt AM/FM/CD six-disc in-dash changer with seven speakers, trip computer, tachometer, electric trunk and fuel door releases, first aid kit, tool kit, 17-inch alloy wheels with 225/55HR17

Engine & Transmission
4.3-liter dohc 32-valve V8
Drivetrain type
front-engine, rear-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
290 @ 5600
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS, EBD and Brake Assist
Suspension, front
245/45WR18 summer tires
Suspension, rear

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

J.D. Power Rating
Overall Quality Not Available
Overall Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Overall Quality - Design
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Design
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Design
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Design
Not Available

Overall Dependability Not Available
Powertrain Dependability
Not Available
Body & Interior Dependability
Not Available
Feature & Accessory Dependability
Not Available

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J.D. Power Rating Legend
Among the Best
5 / 5
Better than Most
4 / 5
About Average
3 / 5
The Rest
2 / 5

* The J.D. Power Ratings are calculated based on the range between the car manufacturer or car model with the highest score and the car manufacturer or car model with the lowest score. J.D. Power generates a rating of a five, four, three, or two. If there is insufficient data to calculate a rating, “Not Available” is used in its place.

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