I’ve been a Cadillac fan for more than a decade and an active member of the Cadillac enthusiast community. I love your cars, not only for the comfort, power, and style, but for the storied past that makes the Cadillac brand as important to America’s heritage as Mount Rushmore.
You, the talented people at General Motors, have the burden of not only running an upscale car brand in a fiercely competitive global environment, you have the added difficulty of maintaining the integrity of a piece of American culture and history.
Cadillac isn’t a badge you slap on a Buick or Chevrolet and send out the door. It’s an expression of achievement and excellence. It’s what an American and an immigrant like myself aspires to own, a symbol of being able to succeed in the best place on earth.
You said so yourself in this advertisement, “Every American who ever had a dream, dreamed of driving a Cadillac.”
A few years ago I was in a Radio Shack shopping for wireless accessories. I overheard a young salesman, probably in his early 20s, telling a customer that “This shortwave radio is the Cadillac of radios. It costs a lot but its the best one we sell.” Even in that brief sales demonstration, the Cadillac name was invoked as a description of excellence and top-tier status.
This brings me to the heart of my letter and complaint, the new Cadillac XTS.
Yes, it has a list of high-tech features (though I wouldn’t necessarily call them advancements) rivaling some of Europe’s best and I suspect comfort and performance will be more than sufficient. But “sufficient” isn’t the criteria you use to evaluate the self-proclaimed “New Standard of the World.”
The XTS, with its tall, narrow, and awkwardly proportioned shape isn’t making the dramatic impact a Cadillac should. What I’m seeing around the blogs and forums on the XTS are comments like:
“I hope it makes GM a lot of money”
“This will be a decent stop-gap car until the real flagship arrives”
“This will be a nice bargain for upscale buyers”
“Its not for me but I think it will please a lot of people”
“Its a great vehicle for…. [name a group of people that isn’t you]”
In other words, GM and Cadillac fans are hopeful for the car’s success, but few intend to buy one themselves.
We have to remember that Cadillacs are luxury cars. You’re supposed to desire them, aspire to them, and make people jealous when you drive them. You’re supposed to wonder what the owner does for a living and covet the beauty, excess, and prestige. Likewise, women love diamonds because they’re a form of status, beauty, and rank; they don’t want them because they’re geological enthusiasts.
I am aware of Dan Akerson’s comments from June regarding the XTS, saying it “won’t blow the doors off” the competition, that it’s a segment filler until a proper Cadillac flagship sedan arrives. This begs the question: why is the so-called standard of the world settling for filler? Likewise, few of the hard-working Americans who make sacrifices and take risks to earn a comfortable living will want to celebrate their success by driving a piece of filler.
When you design the next Cadillac flagship sedan, please remember what a Cadillac is supposed to be.
Thank you for taking the time to read this verbose letter and allowing me to share my frustrations with you.
Expected to arrive in early 2012, the 2013 Cadillac XTS is Cadillac’s answer to… the Toyota Avalon? Riding on GM’s Epsilon II platform shared with the Buick Lacrosse, Cadillac’s otherwise talented designers were dealt a poor hand, forced to cram a full-size-like American car on to the underpinnings of a global midsize.
The result is an ill-proportioned body that’s as tall as Yao Ming with an obscene rear overhang that would make Kim Kardashian jealous.
303 horsepower 3.6L direct-injected V6
264 lb-ft of torque
6-speed automatic transmission
Optional Haldex all wheel drive
17 mpg city / 28 mpg highway for FWD
17 mpg city / 27 mpg highway for AWD
SUSPENSION AND BRAKES: Brembo components
Magnetic Ride Control HiPer strut suspension in front
H-arm rear air suspension with automatic load leveling
Automatic brakes/crash avoidance
SPACE AND DIMENSIONS:
202.0 inches long (207.6 in for outgoing DTS)
72.9 inches wide (74.8 in for outgoing DTS)
59.1 inches tall (57.6 in for outgoing DTS) (This makes the XTS taller, shorter, narrower, and quite bizarre to look at.) 40 inches of rear legroom (exceeds BMW 5-series by 4 inches)
18 cubic foot trunk
Expected to weigh 4000-4200 lbs depending on equipment
FEATURES: Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system with 8” touch screen, proximity sensor, voice control, and haptic feedback
Customizable 12.3” LCD-based gauge cluster
Adaptive cruise control
Rear cross-traffic alert
Ten air bags
Safety/collision alerts with vibrating notification
Optional LED headlamps
Lineate or Zapelli wood trim
Front and rear park assist
VERDICT: It’s your father’s Oldsmobile… with a Cadillac badge. Yawn.
Lincoln’s Facebook page shared a few teaser photos of a possible 2013 Lincoln MKS.
Chrome wheels appear to be the same as the ones on the current MKS.
The MKS and MKT are expected to get Ford’s MyTouch infotainment system.
The hood of whatever car this is features curved flanks that run from the grille to the back of the fender. Its overall shape and the distance from the front glass to the front wheels resembles the MKS.
Whatever it is, it will be revealed at the LA Auto Show in a few days.
St Louis MO
Durham NC (traded LS430 for Escalade)
Atlanta GA (CNN, Coca Cola)
Dalton GA (Visited Austin, drove Roadmaster and Town Car)
Nashville TN (Country Music Hall of Fame)
St Louis MO Total Distance: 1,785 mi
I got on Priceline and ended up bidding for a room at this place, the Hotel Preston just east of town.
The reviews were… interesting. One person on Yelp insisted that the place was haunted.
This is the elevator, lined with a padded, bright red animal print.
The room was pleasant, if not new.
Portraits of country musicians.
Hank Williams Jr
Nice view of the airport. Unfortunately, there were no flights to watch this late at night.
The guy at the front desk recommended a place for pizza delivery. My expectations were pleasantly exceeded.
Most of the reviews said that Hotel Preston was an average airport hotel masquerading as boutique, and I suppose that’s true. The decor was fascinating and the lobby was beautiful, but it could use a minor refurbishing.
There were some interesting features, however. You can call the front desk and ask for a beta fish in a jar to hang out with you. They call it a “beta fish companion.”
I’d stay here again, even if its haunted. Customer service was outstanding, but I do wish the shower had more water pressure.
We headed into Nashville to go to the Country Music Hall of Fame. This town is recovering briskly from flooding.
This coin shop next to the CMHOF sold parking spaces. Smart use of land.
The former SBC building, renamed “at&t” after SBC bought the old AT&T and adopted the brand name.
Nice atrium with live music and a small cafe.
We paid $20 per person for tickets, a bit steep, but the presentations were nice.
Way, way over the top.
One of Elvis’s Cadillacs
TV in the back.
Some episodes of Beverly Hillbillies
The set of Hee Haw
Oh look, an Impala!
A producer’s office from the 90s.
A display dedicated to Taylor Swift
The Apple iBook she used to make a couple music videos.
There was a huge section devoted to Hank Williams Sr and Jr.
A small viewing room played music videos and performances by controversial or politically motivated artists, one of which included Martina McBride’s “Independence Day”, a song about being a victim of domestic violence and finally getting even.
I was disappointed that the museum didn’t focus more on the instrumentation and what makes country music sound like country. There were listening booths setup to hear tunes from different eras of country but none of them worked. There was a mention of the early British folk songs that directly influenced American country and folk, and some instruments were highlighted and described in detail like the distinctive, ‘weeping’ pedal steel guitar.
The most impressive display, aside from the rotunda itself, was the thorough video presentation on controversial artists and songs.
Otherwise, most of the focus was on personalities, award shows, and outfits. This was a museum for popular music fans and tourists rather than musicians and technical enthusiasts looking to discover something unique.
We stopped at Jim and Nick’s for barbecue. Collard greens cooked nicely, sweet mayo-based slaw, and for some reason there’s pickles on the ribs. In the back of the photo are sausages.
After that huge meal, I fell asleep.
The LS430 might not be very interesting to look at or drive, but I enjoyed it as furniture.
St Louis MO
Durham NC (traded LS430 for Escalade)
Atlanta GA (CNN, Coca Cola)
Dalton GA (Visited Austin, drove Roadmaster and Town Car)
Nashville TN (Country Music Hall of Fame)
St Louis MO Total Distance: 1,785 mi
I pulled out my iPad and shopped for hotels in Atlanta.
Ended up with a Crowne Plaza location for only $40, a smoking deal in such an expensive neighborhood, so I thought.
After looping around and getting lost, we finally arrived.
The beds were comfortable but the carpet was dingy and it smelled a bit like smoke.
This smoke detector looks to be older than me (I just turned 30).
We were exhausted so we slept early.
Got up at around 6am and looked online for breakfast. Found a well-reviewed place called Goldberg’s Bagels.
The Lexus navigation system is adequate, pretty decent for 2004 but rapidly its showing its age.
I left a scathing review on Priceline of Crowne Plaza Perimeter Atlanta. In addition to the miserably ineffective heat and strange odors, I found roaches crawling around the following morning. I rang the front desk to let them know about the bugs as I was checking out, and their attitude was one of total indifference.
I ordered eggs, a fruit bowl, latke (potato cake), and corned beef. It was excellent, one of the highest-quality breakfasts I’ve had in a while.
We headed back to the hotel to look up tickets for the CNN tour and Coca Cola. They ended up being $30 per person for both. CNN wanted $50 for the Robin Meade Morning Express tour. That’s a lot of money to see someone who may or may not be there.
Heading into Atlanta
Sharp looking Infiniti M45.
Driving through the park.
We parked across the street from CNN for $10.
This used to be an amusement park, thus the layout.
For the first six months, this building was home to the first indoor amusement park known as The World of Sid and Marty Krofft. The escalator (on the right) was intended to build suspense, verified by Guinness as the longest freestanding escalator in the world. The building was hit by a tornado in 2008.
A genuine artifact from Desert Storm.
Gift shops and such.
Eight stories, 205 feet long.
We were given a live glimpse of what they see in the control room, managing multiple feeds and using voice commands to sequence and direct them.
We then went into a simulated studio, complete with a touch screen, green screen, anchor desk, and teleprompter.
What the anchor sees. The papers on the anchor desk mirror the teleprompter feed, available to read in case of a teleprompter glitch.
Our tour guide demonstrated the fancy touch screen.
A demo of the traditional green screen. A volunteer put on a green cape. His head floated over the northeastern United States.
The news room. They receive tips and scan for information. After confirming with two sources, they submit it to editors who then decide what to use on air.
In the far back you can see a conference room separated by glass doors. That was the original broadcast studio, and this was the newsroom you saw in the background.
We got to see Suzanne Malveaux doing a live broadcast. The studio was in a room separated by glass. Photography was not permitted.
We also visited the studio used for Morning Express on Headline News, but again, photography was not permitted.
There used to be an ice rink on the main floor. It was changed into a map of the world.
Brass medallions on the floor indicate locations of CNN’s international news bureaus.
A not-so-bright woman called 911 because she was lost in a corn maze. She was only 25 feet away from the exit when she dialed.
Earlier in the tour, at the top of the escalator, they took our photos. We bought one at the gift shop.
The real printed photo is much sharper.
We headed a few blocks down to the “World of Coca Cola”
Inside were museum exhibits, a “4D” theater with water and moving seats, promotional films, a small in-house bottling facility, a small theater playing old Coca Cola ads, and most importantly, a tasting room for sampling Coca Coca products from around the world.
The first soft drink consumed in space!
I predict diabetes in their future.
They covered the New Coke debacle.
Several fountains dispensed drinks from around the world. I enjoyed most of the Asian beverages, especially the apple soda from China (far right), the Melon Frosty Fanta from Thailand (far left), and Bahrain’s Pineapple Crush (third from left).
I think I was the only person to like Beverly, a bitter Italian grapefruit flavored soda. I contacted Coca Cola asking where I could find it in the US; they said it was only available in Italy and at the World of Coca Cola in Atlanta.
I don’t know why anyone in Honduras would name a drink “Delaware Punch” I assumed it would taste like sewage, much like the state, but it was grape.
I’ve had Inca Kola before and enjoyed it.
Manzana Lift had a punchy flavor.
The African drinks were sweet but with less ‘brightness’. Uganda’s Fanta was delicious.
Krest Ginger Ale had a nice spice to it.
Everyone was given a complementary glass bottle of Coca Cola, made here minutes earlier.
After trying to be a badass by sampling everything, I felt a bit ill. Drinking original Coca Cola was a welcome relief.
The Coca Cola 4D theater was more irritating than involving. The chairs were supposed to rock back and forth to simulate motion. Instead, I felt like a baby being shaken to death. And instead of light mists of water to simulate being outside or near a body of water, I was squirted in the face with a coarse stream, as if some asshole was standing in front of me, pissing in my face.
We headed north to Dalton to see Austin, a friend of ours.
I don’t remember why we got off I-75, but a train was just here and I missed it.
The Lexus gave not-so-compete directions to Austin’s house…
…so I pulled it up on my iPad. Google’s directions aren’t that great either, but with the two systems combined, we managed to find it.
I got to drive Austin’s Town Car as well as his Roadmaster.
In early October of 2011, my friend made an offer in a 2004 Lexus LS430 with his 2007 Escalade as a trade-in. I was, for once, burned out on travel and reluctant to go, but I tagged along anyway.
St Louis MO
Durham NC (traded LS430 for Escalade)
Atlanta GA (CNN, Coca Cola)
Dalton GA (Visited Austin, drove Roadmaster and Town Car)
Nashville TN (Country Music Hall of Fame)
St Louis MO Total Distance: 1,785 mi
My dog stayed home for this one. We loaded up the Escalade and headed east.
I PASSIONATELY HATE DRIVING THROUGH ILLINOIS.
The Escalade’s ride quality and seating comfort were superb but the wind noise, a common problem for 2007 Escalades, was rather annoying.
Thankfully, I packed my iPod, iPad, and Thinkpad so I had plenty to keep me occupied while we traversed the Land of Bland.
I just ordered a fifth-generation iPod Nano from Cowboom. I can’t understand why it has a video camera.
The FM tuner is sort of handy as well as the spoken menus for the blind, and the sound quality is the best of any iPod I’ve ever heard.
Somewhere in Tennessee.
I picked up one of those much-hyped Magnum ice cream bars. Highly overrated. It was a chocolate-caramel mess with hardly any ice cream.
Ian loaded up on caffeine to stay awake.
You know you’ve traveled quite a bit when you recognize gas stations in the middle of nowhere.
I don’t know how not to buy a Moon Pie when I see one.
Motor Trend says goodbye to the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, and Town Car.
Ian thought we’d make it to North Carolina by 1am, a terribly unrealistic goal when leaving Missouri at 3pm. The hotel booking had to be extended.
I’m sitting in an Escalade eating a Big Mac. There’s something grossly (and delightfully) American about that.
Arrived at the La Quinta in Durham NC.
It’s about 6am EST.
This $60 room was impressively new, clean, and quiet.
Has a little entrance nook.
Yep, that’s a bathroom. It has double doors that don’t lock.
There’s a sun-blocking shade behind the curtain, great for people like me who sleep in.
Next morning (very late afternoon, actually).
Dressed in argyle and ready for action… to go trade in a car.
An unusually shiny elevator. I have a weird habit of taking pictures of elevators.
Goodbye, Escalade. I hardly knew you.
Arrived at the Ford dealership and took the 2004 LS430 for a drive. It was, through and through, a very sharp car.
The interior configuration was strange. There was a “great room” design with cafeteria-style desks, showroom vehicles, and a waiting area all in one place. You could hear people five feet away talking about their personal finances and using all kinds of negotiation tactics. I listened as a husband and wife pushed hard for a better deal on a Ford Flex, sending the salesman back repeatedly to chat with his manager.
While the intent with this layout was probably to make people feel more open and comfortable, I found it to be unprofessional and unnerving.
You can’t visit the south without eating barbecue. I asked the salesman for a recommendation, and this was the only place he could think of.
Hush puppies are served as free appetizers. I ordered a place of chicken, “barbecue”, potato salad, and onions and squash.
The style served in the Carolinas emphasizes mustard, used in the bowl of yellow slaw displayed above toward the back. When you order barbecue, you don’t choose your meat — the word “barbecue” automatically means pulled pork. I asked for sauces but unlike Texas and Kansas City styles (or maybe this is just a Barbecue Lodge thing), you don’t get a selection of sauce bottles on the table ready to squirt, so she brought out a bowl of red sauce typically used for chicken.
The chicken was excellent, the pork was tender, and the squash was mushy but tasty. What really stood out was the mustard-based cole slaw, something I’d like to see more of outside of the Carolinas.
We went to Wal-Mart for travel supplies (car chargers and snacks). Outside, someone was approaching strangers and telling them about Jesus. The larger black fellow was listening to the evangelist, nodding his head, “Oh, oh really, yeah, hmmm.” Poor guy.
Headed back to the La Quinta to rest and plan the rest of the trip. We could head back to St Louis, or we could head to Georgia and see what’s there.
This regionally unique beverage was in the hotel vending machine. It’s basically cherry soda, quite tasty.
250 calories for the 20 oz bottle. Talk about empty calories.
The following morning. Some guy who just bought a Lexus LS430 doesn’t know how to park.
Yep, some guy.
Its a plain looking car but the wheels help.
I decided to camp out in the back seat, enjoying heating, cooling, vibration, massaging, reclining, sunshades in all directions, and personalized climate controls with upper and lower vents.
A button on the side of the front seat allows me to move it forward, giving me extra space with the back seat reclined.
A place to cool my beverages.
Privacy shades for VIP passengers.
I got a couple looks as we cruised around town. I’m not very important; I just enjoy sleeping.
Sal at the Cadillac Owners forum has a photo of the new (and accidentally leaked) Cadillac XTS, a front/all wheel drive twin turbo V6 luxury sedan.
Below is the XTS concept that GM paraded around the auto show circuit last year:
And this is the final production car:
After receiving criticism for the XTS being tall, awkward, and jarring, GM delayed its release in order to refine its appearance and technology. Unfortunately, not much has changed. The fog lights are different as well as the shape of the headlights. The production car has different wheels, larger rear view mirrors, thicker door and glass pillars, and amber side markers on the wheel arch. The side profile looks to be mostly unchanged.
Overall, it lacks the stately appearance of the outgoing DTS, coming across as stubby rather than sleek. From afar, it looks like an enlarged Buick Lacrosse with the side profile of a Ford Taurus.
Expect twin turbo power to come from GM’s popular 3.6L V6, producing 320-350hp. There will be no DOHC V8, though an OHV V8 (like in the CTS-V) is rumored to be offered as part of a V-series package. With a front wheel drive architecture, more than 350hp seems unlikely.
To GM’s credit, they did say the XTS will be a stopgap, a segment filler before the arrival of Cadillac’s real flagship sedan. The XTS will compete with the Lexus and Acura. The Germans have no reason to be concerned, nor does Infiniti.
The 2012 concept car’s dazzling interior was going to make up for whatever else the car lacked.
How much of this suede and leather decadence will carry over to the production car is unknown, to be revealed at the auto show in Los Angeles on November 16th.
Here’s a video demonstration of CUE, Cadillac’s infotainment and LCD digital instrumentation system:
At 109 years, Buick is the oldest surviving American car brand. Likewise, Buick owners are the oldest surviving Americans.
The Buick Lucerne, however, was short-lived, debuting in 2006 and disappearing earlier this year in June. Reviews were mostly positive, with most of the motoring press praising the Lucerne’s ride comfort, ergonomics, refinement, and build quality (winner of three JD Power awards). Most were indifferent to its styling and driving dynamics, though Car and Driver managed to use the word “agile” before immediately following with “hardly athletic.”
A fully optioned Lucerne Super came with a 292-hp version of GM’s Northstar V8 and magnetic ride control, the same suspension technology used in the Chevy Corvette.
If the Lucerne is beginning to sound a lot like a Cadillac DTS, its because it basically is.
Lucerne shared an assembly line at GM’s Hamtramck, Michigan plant with the closely related 2006-2011 Cadillac DTS. Buick’s H-body architecture shared its wheelbase and suspension with the K-body platform underpinning the DTS, but the Lucerne was shorter overall by four inches.
Lucerne’s engine cradle was modified to accommodate both a V6 and V8 including Buick’s venerable OHV 3800 Series III V6, a 3.9L OHV V6 (shared with the Impala, G6, and Uplander), and two versions of Cadillac’s Northstar V8. Thismakes the Lucerne the first eight-cylinder Buick since the 1996 Roadmaster, and it may be the last.
If you didn’t mind the looks, which appear to be inspired by bath soap, the Lucerne offered Cadillac levels of comfort, performance, and refinement for a significant savings.
At $42,220, the Lucerne “Super” comes with a 4-speed automatic, V8, touch screen navigation with XM Navtraffic, magnetic ride control, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, heated and cooled seats, rear park assist, and a sunroof.
To get all of these features on the Cadillac DTS, particularly magneride, you have to choose the Platinum package which starts at $60,795. That’s a price difference of $18,575. The DTS Platinum comes with a much more attractive body, standard Tuscany leather (Aniline optional), greater prestige, and optional adaptive cruise control, but that hardly makes up for the canyon-wide price difference (Platinums are, thanks to depreciation, outstanding bargains as used cars).
In addition to low MSRPs, Lucernes often came with heavy rebates and enticing lease offers, putting bargain-priced V6 versions in the garages of thousands of middle class Americans. For those of us who endure the midwest’s four distinct seasons, Lucernes offer outstanding traction in heavy snow, pleasingly effective heat and air conditioning, and sufficient power to run from a tornado.
Unfortunately, the retirees who favor soft American sedans are dying off due to age and the Lucerne always lacked the Cadillac DTS’s wider, younger, and more aspirational audience. As a result, Buick brand managers were forced to discontinue the car, replacing it with a youthful lineup of upscale sport sedans, compacts, and crossovers.
And the brand itself may have been discontinued entirely if not for China’s historic reverence for Buick.
Goodbye, Lucerne. We hardly knew you. We hardly noticed.
General Motors is flat with only Chevrolet posting sales gains. Earlier this year, Cadillac ended production of the STS and the fleet-favorite DTS. The ATS compact and XTS full size sedan are due to arrive next year, leaving Cadillac dealers with only the CTS, SRX, and Escalade.
Chrysler, Fiat, Jeep, and Dodge enjoy their best October since 2008, turning a profit for yet another quarter thanks to the Dodge Ram, Jeep Compass, Dodge Journey, Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Jeep Compass, Jeep Liberty, and Fiat 500. European exports have boosted sales volume for the Dodge Journey, rebadged as a Fiat Freemont.
Fiat sales have missed targets thanks to poor marketing (Jennifer Lopez), but interest in the new Fiat 500 is high with sales volume expected to grow rapidly.
Mercedes Benz, thanks to the facelifted and improved C-class, has outsold BMW. However, Mini and the BMW 3-series continue to be strong sellers.
Nissan is up 22% thanks to the Altima and Rogue, with the Altima receiving heavy sales incentives and aggressive lease offers. Infiniti posts a 13.5% decline, though the upcoming JX crossover should help.
The Chevy Volt outsold the Nissan Leaf by a few hundred units.
337 Saabs were sold. The 9-4x crossover built by GM is currently the only Saab in production. Over in Gothenburg, Volvo’s new “naughty” S60 is selling like hot cakes.
VW and Audi are both up significantly, with Volkswagen posting a 39% gain in the US. Credit for the increase go to the new Chattanooga plant and significantly cheaper VW models.
Flooding in Thailand has made it difficult for Honda and Toyota to resume pre-Japanese-tsunami global production levels.
Lexus posted a 14% decline. I’d like to believe that it’s because boredom has finally fallen out of favor with luxury buyers, but it’s really due to Tsunami-related supply issues as most Lexus products are built in their home market.
Based on auto sales, the US economy may be showing signs of recovery despite EU debt concerns and slower growth in China.
I love luxury, cruising in smug comfort like the Monopoly Man, checking on high-end properties at Park Place while zipping through Baltic Avenue with the windows up and doors locked. When you’re piloting a luxury sedan, you can’t help sneering at the unwashed masses trapped in Dodge Caravans, Toyota Camrys, and other depressing forms of mobility.
It’s a good feeling, but there’s more to driving than sitting in a fancy box and moving from place to place. It’s an act of assertion, freedom, emotion, and personal expression, at least in America.
And as far as expression goes, few sedans say “I’ve made it” like a full size Lexus. One could safely assume that the owner, at least when the LS430 was new, attended a respectable university and enjoys a secure, upper middle-class lifestyle as a doctor, lawyer, or banker. Unfortunately, aside from how they’re dramatized on Boston Legal or E.R., the average doctor or lawyer leads a quiet, responsible life free of rough edges or excitement… just like this Lexus.
On a checklist of what a luxury car should be (Lincoln’s old slogan), the Lexus LS430 encompasses quality, refinement, prestige, reliability, comfort, and retained value. All of the intellectual, practical, and reasonable questions are positively affirmed.
The LS430 also scores top marks in JD Power and Consumer Reports quality and dependability surveys, and with that honor the LS430 retains its value like nothing else.
A 2003 Lexus LS430 with 100,000 miles and every single option including radar cruise, “ultra luxury” with special wood, rear reclining seat, premium sound, and navigation is worth $21,000 in perfect condition, retaining about 30% of its original $71,000 MSRP.
A 2003 Cadillac Seville STS with 100,000 miles, also loaded, is worth $8000. That’s 15% of its original MSRP of around $55,000 with the technology package. Kelly Blue Book is being a bit generous to the Seville — realistically, 2003 Sevilles sell for $5000-$7000.
In the minds of consumers, the Lexus brand is a sure thing, a safe bet with no risks and high expectations of ownership satisfaction. The problem is, none of those expectations or criteria include driving pleasure. That’s my greatest complaint about the LS430.
It’s a stunning piece of craftsmanship with soft stitched leather on every possible surface, perfect build quality, deep and lustrous paint, perfect dependability, exceptional comfort, high market desirability, and surprisingly impressive fuel economy (26.5 mpg highway). It is, dare I say, the best mass-market car ever produced, with arguably higher quality than its successor, the LS460.
Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a bore to drive.
Effectively, you could argue that in this category of car, the notion of driving “fun” is irrelevant — and you may be right. On paper, at least, the pros vastly outweigh the cons, the only con being my subjective evaluation of how it looks and feels.
The responsible, well-educated, well-off folks who choose their cars based on checklists and pragmatic criteria can expect to be thoroughly satisfied. Nothing will make the “don’t pirate music and follow the speed limit” crowd happier than a Lexus LS. Trust me.
Otherwise, for those of us who make up 20% of the car buying public, the passionate enthusiasts with heart, soul, and gusto, the LS430 is dreadful. It’s a rolling tribute to rules, formalities, and order.
[Here comes my predictable Lexus bashing.]
It’s not ugly!
That’s a polite way of saying it isn’t pretty, like telling a girl with warts on her face that at least she’s not dead. While the original LS400 had somewhat of of a swoopy shape and a long, low body, the LS430 went the opposite direction with tall, lifeless proportions and dulled edges. There’s about as much design inspiration in this unimaginative three-box contraption as a Ford Econoline.
The added height does create significantly more headroom than the LS400, but it makes the car a bit more susceptible to wind at high speeds.
You can see in the sculpting of the tail lights and the roof how the LS430 was closely modeled after the legendary W140 Mercedes S-class from the 90s, but the S-class had more wedge-like proportions and straighter, more formal creases and lines.
The S-class says “I have all the power and money,” while the LS430 says “I work for the guy who has all the power and money.”
Panel gaps are impressively tight and the doors, if you close them gently, will quietly latch themselves shut (optional), just like like the S-class.
Apparently, Lexus intended to copy Mercedes-Benz but were afraid of being sued, so they rounded off the corners and edges to create something that looks, unfortunately, more like an elongated Toyota Avalon. However, thanks to the credibility gained from carrying the “L” badge on the trunk, it gets away with being plain.
It isn’t tuxedo sharp, nor is it a classic. It’s a gently carved box, efficiently shaped to maximize cargo and passenger room, and nothing more.
We’ve established that the LS430 is a bore to look at. You might argue that looks are less important in the luxury game, as traveling in superb comfort is far more important. You would probably be right.
Every ounce of disdain I have for the way the LS430 looks and drives is made up for by two ounces of praise for its stunning interior. With the Ultra Luxury package, the LS430 receives burnt wood trim with faded edges that gracefully blend into the door, a beautiful effect on a black interior. Every single surface is lined with soft, thick, odiferously delightful stitched leather. When I say every surface, I mean every single surface.
The insides of the door handles have the same high quality leather as the seats, door panels, and outer handles, all perfectly stitched and precisely installed.
The rear vents have stitched leather where they could have easily gotten away with plastic or vinyl.
Even the ignition is adorned in stitched leather which is, by the way, keyless. You can walk up to the vehicle, get in, and turn the nub on the dashboard (a predecessor to pushbutton start) without ever removing the key from your pocket. Upon exiting, you close the door and push the little button on the door handle to lock the car.
The knee board under the steering column (where no one ever looks or touches) is needlessly and delightfully done in finely stitched leather. An entire herd of grass-fed cows must have been sacrificed to create this stunning interior. It’s a Hindu’s worst nightmare.
They didn’t neglect the floors either, covering them in thick, luxurious carpet that’s vastly superior to what’s offered in the standard LS460, the LS430’s successor.
The headliner is made of real suede that also covers the pillars.
Rear passengers get their own lighted vanity mirrors, a feature that was fairly common on top-level Cadillacs built before the late 1990s.
If you look very closely, you can see that even the inside of the glove box door latch is lined with stitched leather.
Unfortunately, a lot of these special features were optional. I drove a standard LS430 a year ago and found the interior to be well made but stoic, lacking in warmth with unexpected hard surfaces. A lot of the stitched leather was replaced by panels of vinyl and plastic, less like a Lexus and more like a Cadillac Deville.
The LS400 came with several of these niceties at no extra cost.
Electroluminescent gauges follow more than a decade of tradition for Lexus, and as always they’re clean, beautiful, and informative.
There’s a mess of buttons on the steering wheel. The left side has three layers of buttons, some for displays, some for phone functions, some for navigation, and some for the radio. You have to get to know them with time, because the layout is unintuitive. If you aren’t careful, trying to adjust the volume will prompt you for a voice command.
The navigation system was acceptable for 2004, certainly easier to use than what Cadillac, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz offered at the time, but accuracy is lacking. While it guided us somewhat successfully to our destinations, it didn’t provide sufficient warning of exits and turns. Guidance distance is adjustable on aftermarket navigation systems — I could not find a setting for this on the Lexus.
The Auto Recirculation button to the left of the display allows the car to choose on its own between ventilation and recirculation. When pollutants enter the environment, it automatically changes to recirculation mode to keep them out. Unfortunately this feature, which was also available on my 2001 Volvo S60, doesn’t work very well.
It isn’t often that I describe the smaller details of an interior before discussing the cockpit, but in the case of the LS430, the details are far more interesting. All of the controls are well within reach but the dashboard feels unusually short and high. For some drivers, that creates a sense of protection and security. For me, it comes across as old-fashioned, like it was plucked out of the LX470 SUV and placed into a sedan. I’ve become accustomed to longer, sleeker dashboards in longer, lower cars.
Because of this, the best seat in the LS430 is the back.
The top row has controls for power reclining, massaging, vibration, and headrest adjustment. The second row has audio and AC controls. Right above the door is an additional vent for more direct ventilation and air conditioning, controlled independently of the front. Unfortunately, rear audio controls are not separated from the driver with no headphone jacks available for private listening.
Behind the arm rest is a cooler for canned drinks. This one could use a cleaning.
Bonus: Rear windows have slide-up sunshades.
Super Bonus: The corner windows have shades too.
Additional tweeters and smart equalization keep rear seat passengers from being blasted in the ears. The Mark Levinson system, while unexciting, produces clean audio. It suffices.
Opening the rear arm rest reveals two large cupholders, storage space, and additional controls.
The two knobs control rear seat heat/cooling and the button controls the power rear sunshade.
On the left side of the passenger seat are buttons that allow the rear passenger to move the front seat forward, creating more leg room in the back.
I had more space than I knew what to do with. Japanese market versions offer a front seat pass-through for the feet.
I spent the entire trip from North Carolina to Georgia to Tennessee to Missouri right here, browsing around on my iPad while dozing off on occasion.
Normally, I find it impossible to fall asleep in an upright position which makes it impossible for me to get any rest on an international flight. But with my seat heater on and the vibration function working on my lower back, I managed to doze off quite frequently, snoring loudly as we cruised through the south.
Thankfully, I had my iPod handy to drown out my friend’s collection of shitty Coldplay albums.
This is by far, without question, the most intensely detailed, well-appointed, and relaxing luxury car I’ve ever experienced.
But I still would never buy one. Allow me to explain.
Details can be impressive, and in medicine, law, and accounting they’re absolutely critical. In the act of motoring, however, they’re less essential. Yes, you have to have a precisely timed mix of air, fuel, and ignition for a combustion engine to function efficiently, and strict manufacturing guidelines and standards are required to build a reasonably dependable piece of complex machinery on a fast-moving assembly line.
But details, while obviously important, contribute nothing to a car’s soul or personality. With the LS430, Lexus is attempting to derive the car’s personality from its quantitative achievements. That’s like reading a book and admiring the quality of the paper and the number of pages rather than understanding the story behind it.
Would you eat pancakes that are perfectly round but taste like wood? No, of course not. Why would you drive a car that’s well made but lifeless behind the wheel?
While it may be unreasonable to entirely disregard the importance of details, it’s outlandish to suggest that the “Pursuit of Perfection” (Lexus’s slogan) is desirable in and of itself. Perfection in and of itself is boring, and being passionate about perfection alone is like being passionate about tree bark. Who cares about perfection if the thing being perfected is nothing of interest?
This isn’t to suggest that the LS430 drives like a Toyota Camry or a Buick Lesabre. It’s actually quite sophisticated.
In front of the well-appointed cabin is a 4.3L Toyota 3UZ-FE V8 sending 290 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. From what little of it I can hear, it’s a sonorous engine with amazing potential. The engineers have unfortunately chosen to silence this gem of a motor, keeping it out of sight and out of mind based on the belief that Lexus owners will take offense to the “crude” noises of air intake and exhaust rumbling. I suppose that’s true, and it’s a bit sad because aside from the finely crafted interior, that V8 engine is most impressive part of the car. It deserves to be heard.
The steering system offers a reasonable level of surface feedback although the wheel itself is the size of a screen door — you feel like a midget driving a school bus. Parking maneuvers are feather light while highway cruising is well-centered and accurate. Unfortunately, it feels numb and artificial while turning and taking curves, like the system is filled with molasses rather than hydraulic fluid.
A sport mode button tightens the steering and firms the suspension quite noticeably, and when I drove the LS430 I kept it enabled. Turning it off resulted in less precise steering and a somewhat mushy ride.
The six-speed automatictransmission was tolerable, a step above the clunky 5-speed in the LS400 but far from the responsive, silky perfection of GM’s 4-speed 4T80E in the Seville and Deville. With the Power switch enabled, shifts were less reluctant on kickdown and it felt more eager to change gears, but it still felt unnatural and hesitant. This land yacht had no interest in being hammered like a speed boat.
That said, speed is no problem. The LS430 soars to 60 in 6.5 seconds and finishes the quarter mile in under 15 seconds, competitive for any 4000lb luxury car. If you’re willing to put your foot down and put up with the slightly reluctant shifts, the LS430 will go head to head with the Cadillac Deville DTS, although the Mercedes E500 and BMW 545i can reach 60 in under 6 seconds. The LS430 would prefer to lope along at 70mph in the middle lane, cosseting its passengers in heat and soothing vibration. Lexus owners are unlikely to engage in stoplight races.
Where the LS430 shines, its ace in the hole, is ride comfort. The electronically damped air suspension neutralizes surface imperfections, turning annoying bumps and highway expansion joints in to distant, muted whispers. The body remains steady and linear over undulations, never feeling unsettled or queasy, nor is it squishy and mushy like the Lincoln Town Car (a review of that coming soon).
Credit also goes to the Michelin Primacy tires, grippy and sublimely quiet while offering adequately stiff sidewalls for spirited daily driving.
Whether that stable, neutral ride translates into lively cornering is another matter, one that’s somewhat irrelevant when talking about this kind of vehicle. The LS430 is no sport sedan, nor does it intend to be. It is, however, powerful and quick, not to mention superbly quiet with little wind or road noise. Refinement is everything to the Lexus brand, and the LS430 is a strong example of what Toyota could achieve in 2004. Unfortunately, excessive refinement has a tendency to dial out the fun.
The old LS400 was a more satisfying driver’s car.
The LS430 is an outstanding piece of Japanese precision, but accuracy doesn’t translate into enjoyment. Most drivers will interpret its numb, muted tendencies as peaceful and serene, a Japanese zen garden on four wheels, a place to neutralize stress and calmly transition from work to home. Passengers will be impressed by its array of comfort features and, in turn, may be impressed with the owner.
As a luxury object the LS430 excels, achieving levels of refinement never before seen in a global mass market automobile, but it lacks in interactive enjoyment and visceral pleasure.
My recommendation is to buy a black one, tint the windows, and hire a driver.
Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive, 4.3L 3UZ-FE V8, 290 hp, 320 lb-ft torque, 6-speed automatic Economy: 16/23 mpg (achieved 26.5 on a road trip) 2011 Purchase Price: $21000 with 70,000 miles Curb Weight: 3995 lbs Problems: None. Positives: Smooth, neutral ride. More luxury and comfort options than you’ll ever need. Services: None needed.
Ride: 10/10 — No floating, wobbling, or mushing about. The LS430 turns the road surface into a sheet of glass.
Powertrain: 8/10 — A silky, robust V8 engine paired to a lazy transmission. 26.5 mpg is an impressive feat, so it scores a point for that.
Braking: 7.5/10 — Stops on a dime, but brakes are touchy and difficult to modulate. It’s too easy to jerk the car around with slight movements of the brake pedal.
Steering/Handling: 6.9/10 — It’s a big car and it feels like it. Steering offers sufficient road surface feel but seems numb in handling maneuvers. Body roll is ample.
Audio/Accessories: 9.9/10 — A plethora of features for the driver and passenger. More luxury than a first-class flight. The Mark Levinson system is competent but it pales in comparison to the stunning Nakamichi system that came with the LS400.
Interior: 10/10 — Plush, soft, and attractive. The layout is nothing interesting but the panels, switches, and surfaces are nice to touch. Infiniti has adopted the burnt-edge wood trim look in its current models.
Comfort: 8.7/10 — I wish the seat bottoms were spring-supported like the LS400 — they reduced long distance fatigue. The cabin seems a little bit narrow compared to the Town Car and Deville. You can’t sprawl out like you can in a Lincoln. Heated, cooled, and vibrating/massaging seats make up for those shortcomings, but you have to get the Ultra Luxury package to enjoy those features.
Styling: 4/10 — It doesn’t look ritzy, and that may be preferred for the typical low-key Lexus owner. If you’re the rebel dictator of an African nation, buy a fleet of these in black and stick some Toyota badges on them. You’ll blend in with traffic and avoid assassination attempts.
Quality/Reliability: 10/10 — It’s a Lexus, and it’s the best Lexus ever made, if you’re into that.
Overall: 9/10 — The right buyer will adore this car for its value, comfort, refinement, and prestige. I am indifferent to its joyless demeanor.