Suddenly, it all becomes clear. What am I talking about? Why Alan Partridge traded in his Rover for a Lexus…
I jest, of course, but it seems timely that I should get my hands on Lexus GB’s 1990 LS400 on the same day that I upload the story of Jaguar’s exciting AJV8 engine – because it’s clear that the appearance and capability of the former must have had a bearing on the latter.
It’s the 20th Anniversary of Lexus in the UK and, to celebrate, the company has bought a couple of 1990 LS400s in order to form the beginnings of a heritage fleet. I think it’s great that manufacturers are increasingly doing this because, looking at what they were doing years ago and comparing it with today’s output shows that, if there’s continuity in the cars, we can see it first hand.
The reason I have the LS400 with me is because some of the guys at Lexus HQ were keen to drive my SD1 and it seemed only fair to swap for a few days.
Anyway, back to the LS400. It’s a car that the magazines hailed as being ground-breaking when launched. In terms of refinement, power and luxury, it broke new ground for Toyota – and was to be a fitting product to slap a brand new nameplate on – before going BMW and Mercedes-Benz chasing.
Is the LS400 as good as the magazines said it was? In terms of mechanical refinement, absolutely. The quad-cam V8 is astonishingly silent in use, but delivers effortless, creamy performance whenever needed. The engineers considered it so good, they gave the throttle two kick-down points and, boy, does that work. Even comparing it with today’s luxury V8s, the LS400 is still up there in terms of ultimate refinement – and that’s no exaggeration.
The engine’s huge capability had Lexus’ rivals at BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz running back to their drawing boards in order to come up with something close to matching the creamy V8. No doubt, we really should thank the Japanese – indirectly – for the magnificence of Jaguar’s current V8.
The LS400 brought new standards of quality into the arena, too. Ultimately, it might not be quite as solid as what Mercedes-Benz was putting out at the time, but those parts of the car you touch with any regularity have been so well damped and engineered to perfection, that you’d swear blind an LS400 was more tightly screwed together than a W124 or W126 Benz.
So, it changed everything?
Yes, and no.
The styling was criticised for being too anodyne and maybe a little generic when new, which did count against it in Europe. We’re a badge conscious lot here and the luxury car set wasn’t ready for something so overtly Japanese – so we bypassed it. The Americans, on the other hand, lapped it up. The marque has gone on to become an international phenomenon and, slowly but surely, is developing a profile on our side of the Atlantic, too.
I must admit that I have a massive admiration for the Japanese way of engineering cars – and I love this thing in the same way I do the Honda NSX and Datsun 240Z. It might not be the first car you’d think of when asked to come up with examples of game-changing vehicles but, having driven this 100K 1990 car – which still feels as tight as a drum, I’d rate it up there.
Once again, I find myself thinking like Mr Partridge of Norwich and hankering after one of these wonders as a direct replacement for my much-loved and sometimes missed Rover Sterling.