SALZBURG, Austria -- Running lickety-split at triple-digit autobahn speed on Austria's A1 with the castle-crested skyline of Salzburg in our mirror and signs pointing toward the spa of Mondsee only a few kilometers ahead, we're snug in the bucket behind the wheel of what surely scores as the most sophisticated car in the Class of 2007.
The vehicle, a bigger and better rendition of the elegant LS full-size super-luxury sedan from Lexus, elite upshot line from Toyota of Japan, sparkles in a sleek new skin that shields a stretched cockpit lined with sumptuous appointments in leather and wood.
It's a dreamboat design, stretched to provide more space for riders and equipped with elaborate comfort features, then armed with advanced mechanical systems linked to intelligent computer processors which can out-think and out-perform other vehicles.
Previous editions of the LS, which traces back 18 years in the history of Lexus, scored benchmarks for the quality of construction and customer satisfaction, but this version -- a new generational treatment featuring world-class aerodynamics and incredible production quality -- sets new records with fast performance figures and a long list of equipment that removes all vestiges of work from the experience of driving.
The new flagship for Lexus in 2007 bears a new badge -- LS 460 -- in recognition of a larger engine.
Displacing 4.6 liters, the aluminum V8 features the world's first electric-motor-driven Variable Valve Timing with intelligence and Electronically controlled intake cam (VVT-iE). The dual VVT-iE fusion of electrically controlled intake and hydraulically controlled exhaust produces superior startup and high-output performance numbers.
The plant delivers 380 hp at 6400 rpm plus big torque of 367 lb-ft at 4100 rpm.
And the engine links to a revolutionary new electronically controlled automatic transmission featuring eight (yes, eight!) forward speeds.
Powertrain performance figures are quite impressive.
Despite full-size dimensions and a curb weight in excess of two tons, the LS 460 can rip from zero to 60 mph in only 5.4 seconds, yet it's certified to the strict ULEV II (Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle II) standard and earns fuel economy scores by EPA testing of an estimated 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.
Lexus builds the LS 460 on a new platform with wheelbase drawn 1.77 inches longer than the predecessor LS 430 and the width of the wheel track expanded by 1.5 inches.
These structural changes become most apparent in the increased size of the passenger compartment, which has more space for elbows and legs.
Further, Lexus casts a new long-wheelbase version with 121.7-inch wheelbase. That's the realm of limousine comfort for rear seat passengers.
The stretched LS 460 L edition provides a reclining rear seat with retracting footrest, internal heating and cooling of seats, and a DVD-based VGA video screen in the ceiling.
Along with the expanded structure and upgraded powertrain, the LS 460 and LS 460 L for 2007 present a new exterior design drawn with taut lines in dramatic posture.
The sleek aerodynamic shape features a sloping hood crowned by oversized projector-beam xenon headlamp clusters and a trapezoidal grille scored with horizontal louvers. A raked windshield leads to an arching canopy over the cabin with low-slung windows and side pillars muted to create the image of a coupe.
Overall impression: The LS 460 looks streamlined and stylish -- and oh-so-expensive.
The ride quality seems expensive too.
A new independent multi-link suspension design fore and aft coupled to large-diameter tires blocks pavement bumps from intruding into the passenger compartment. The arrangement feels firm yet forgiving, even on rough roads like the B166 two-laner we follow through Austria's Alps.
New LS also gets electric power steering (EPS) to produce a responsive feel on the wheel when guiding the vehicle into a set of curves.
And its high-tech gear culminates with the VDIM -- Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management -- system.
Tapping into a host of sensors -- tracking such vehicle functions as the angle of the steering wheel, the turn rate of each wheel, lateral motion of the car body, and pressure on brake and accelerator pedals -- VDIM constantly analyzes all collected data and uses it to deploy various traction controllers and maintain stability.
The LS acronyms in car safety include variable gear ratio steering (VGRS) and EPS, electronically controlled brakes (ECB), anti-lock brake system (ABS), vehicle stability control (VSC), electronic traction control (ETC), and electronically controlled throttle system with intelligence (ECTS-i).
For preventive safety the options focus on a Pre-Collision System packaged with the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC) system.
And Lexus engineers even devised a way to eliminate the driver, at least when it's time to execute a tricky parallel parking maneuver, as the optional Advanced Parking Guidance System (APGS) aboard this car enables it to park itself.
All the driver has to do is pull beside an intended parking space, tap a couple of dashboard tabs which prompt the guidance gizmo to measure the size and position of the parking space, then touch one more button and the LS moves slowly in reverse direction, steers itself into the parking space, and stops in the perfect spot.
Inside an expanded cabin, LS 460 rates as one of the most luxurious environments in the car world. Standard equipment includes leather upholstery and memory controls for seats with seat heaters, a keyless Smart Access system with push-button starter, xenon high intensity discharge (HID) headlights, and a host of air bags like side curtains and front-seat knee shields.
The Luxury Package brings upgraded semi-aniline leather with leather door armrests, power controls for rear seats and power headrests, rear climate-controlled seats, and rear side-impact air bags. And a Rear Seat Upgrade kit adds dual-zone rear air conditioning with additional rear air ducts, a rear cool box, rear power-door sunshades and rear audio controls.
Then the Executive Class Seating Package installs a backseat entertainment system with nine-inch VGA screen in the ceiling, quad-zone climate system, rear-door power sunshades, a rear console and foldout table plus the right-rear seat recliner with ottoman.
What a way to go.