Toyota Lexus comes in Mercedes wrappings

January 10, 1991|By Richard Truett | Richard Truett,Orlando Sentinel

Toyota makes the best Mercedes-Benz you can buy. It's called the Lexus LS 400.

This luxury sedan is an amazing piece of engineering artwork. There may not be a smoother, quieter and better riding car available for any price.

The fact that Toyota could sell a car for between $36,000 and $40,000 that is in most respects equal to or greater than the more expensive, big Mercedes-Benz models is nothing short of spectacular.

But the LS 400 comes up short in a few areas, and isn't quite ready to be considered among the world's finest cars for one major reason: styling.

A luxury car is something you want, not something you need. You buy a luxury car to satisfy yourself as well as to make a statement.

Even though Nissan may not be doing too well with its luxury car flagship, the Infiniti Q45, at least Nissan had the courage to try to carve out an identity all its own. Toyota didn't try.

From the grille to the taillights, Toyota copied Mercedes-Benz.

You start the 250-horsepower, 32-valve, V-8 engine and it makes no noise or vibration. You put the four-speed, computer-controlled automatic transmission in drive and feel no sensation of the LS 400 moving over pavement. What more could you ask for in a luxury car, you wonder?

You can't field a serious luxury car if it isn't built well, and this is where the Lexus excels over the Europeans. You can tell by looking at the precise way things fit together that not even the most minor of details was overlooked. Solid, sturdy and durable are the words that come to mind when you examine the LS 400's fit and finish.

From the neatly arranged tool kit and first-aid kit in the trunk, Toyota has gone out of its way for its customers. When problems with the car's alternator and third brake light were discovered shortly after the LS 400 debuted, Toyota set the industry standard for dealing with recalls.

As you would expect in a luxury car, the interior is outfitted with leather, wood trim and thick, rich carpeting. Tasteful, conservative and elegant best describe the interior -- except when referring to the instruments. Placed behind dark tinted glass and lighted automatically when the ignition is switched on, the instrument cluster is a thing of beauty.

Brightly lighted gauges and warning lights are placed with the obvious intention of making it easy for the driver to quickly discern important information. The switchgear, easy to locate and use, felt expensive and solid. I didn't care for the front seats. They lack cushion and flexibility. You sit down, feel the seat receive your weight and then all of a sudden it is as if the seat bottoms out against the floor.

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