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 2004 Luxury Buyer's Guide
by Martha Hindes

Lexus LS 430
lexus Ls 430

Smoother and a bit faster on the uptake, the Lexus LS 430 luxury sedan moves through the year with some refinements and technological advancements, but subtle rather than breakthrough styling changes. Not that Lexus needs a breakthrough.

Already it's a dominant factor in the high-toned luxury car field, with a reputation for sumptuous, super-quiet cruising as it rides on a high-powered V-8. This is Lexus in mid-cycle, maintaining its position with others still having to chase it as it adds a six-speed automatic transmission for more smooth shifting and punch throughout the gear range.

Looking towards the aggressive performance side sometimes criticized as lacking, it offers a sport package version with the more solid suspension indigenous to European competitors, with larger 18-inch wheels replacing standard 17-inch ones. The 4.3-liter V-8 generates 290-hp, enhanced for quicker starts especially in semi-manual mode. Optimized brake pressure at each wheel keeps stability during hard maneuvers.

On the safety side is a new tire pressure monitor, added for driving security. A rear-mounted television pickup, displayed on the optional voice-command navigation system screen keeps backing up safer especially with children or pets nearby. And during the current '04 model year, Lexus added a front radar sensor to anticipate an impending crash and ratchet in seat belts for added passenger protection.

New on the inside are heated and cooled seats for rear passengers, who are sometimes forgotten when thinking about comfort amenities. Though this is only offered as an option, it is a thoughtful addition nonetheless. Massaging rear seats in the Ultra Luxury model adds yet another indulgent touch. (Does "personal limousine" have a nice ring to it?) Self-adjusting air suspension and adaptive cruise control are other upmodel features. Unlocking the door with loaded arms is no problem with the available, pocket-bound keyfob called "Smart Access," that automatically signals it to open. Lexus enhances the package with the available, highly rated Mark Levinson premium audio system.

With a known winner starting in the mid-$50,000 range, Lexus seems determined to prove you just can't go wrong with the third generation of a classic.

Acura RL Luxury SedanJaguar XJ Long Wheelbase
BMW 645 CiLexus LS 430
Cadillac STSLincoln Town Car
Chrysler 300CMercedes-Benz S-Class
Infiniti Q45Volkswagen Phaeton