The Lexus LS 400 is one of automotive's most interesting stories. We've all heard that Lexus undercut the price of the original LS in order to drive up sales of their new vehicle and brand. 9 Years on Lexus had made serious headway into the US market, and in no small part due to the success of their flagship LS 400. Customers were drawn to Lexus for a number of reasons, but the two biggest driving forces were price and reliability. 20 years on we have the chance to see for ourselves what those benefits are, because we're behind the wheel of a 1999 Lexus LS 400.
It's hard finding historical MSRPs for any vehicle we feature on TestDrive, mostly because the internet was still pretty new at the turn of the millennium, and also exchange rates at the time didn't always translate over to effective sale prices. This was clear to us as we started putting together the episode of TestDrive Showdown between the LS 400 and BMW 740iL, as there was a huge discrepancy with historical exchange rates blowing our comparisons out of whack. Rather than attempt to compare prices across 3 years and 2 currencies, we opted for the U.S. Dollar, which makes the Lexus LS 400 compete very closely with the E38 BMW 740i on price, but how does it stack up on performance and luxuries?
There isn't anything special about the exterior of the LS 400, aside from the rear windows that don't feature a quarter window which is pretty unique to this car. The Canadian-spec Series IV models came with bi-xenon headlights as standard, along with fog lamps and headlight washers. Out back the distinctive LS tail lights wrap around the rear end, and the trunk is as standard as it gets, with no power or soft-close feature to speak of. We also found the trunk space to be on the smaller side given the size of the car.
Inside is where the magic happens. Being the fourth Lexus model we've featured, we were happy to find that the engineers continued with their tradition of creating a crafted cabin experience for the driver and passengers. The layout makes sense and doesn't clutter up the feel of the car. Small details like placements of lower air vents and the addition of a steering-column mounted air vent show that Lexus was willing to go the extra mile with the little things to help win customers over. Most of the surfaces in the car are either leather or wood, though we would have liked to see more wood throughout the doors and dashboard.
The seats are also quite well thought out, very similar in comfort to the GS 400 we reviewed earlier. On our drive around we found the seats to be very comfortable and provided extra leg support over some of the other vehicles we've featured. We also had the opportunity to be driven around in the back seat and found them to be just as comfortable as the front, with thicker cushioning and a more robust design over the 7 Series BMW. The rear seating area doesn't sport much in the way of additional luxuries, but the unique approach to map and dome lights definitely peaked our interest. Opening one of the rear doors will turn on the front dome lighting along with the lights on the corresponding side, but not the other. This is ideal for multiple passengers in the back when driving at night.
But truthfully no one bought or is buying the second generation Lexus LS to sit in the back seats, at least not the owner of the car in North America. These cars are meant to be driven by the owner and give the level of care put into these cars and their proven reliability, it's a solid choice for anyone looking at a luxurious full-size daily driver. The no-frills steering wheel gives drivers basic control over the radio and computer cluster, and feels very similar to the other Toyota and Lexus steering wheels from this era. Even the heating and air conditioning controls remind us of an early 2000s Camry, which is one of the reasons why we would have liked to see more wood throughout.
When it comes to performance, this car will surprise. We took a spin with the transmission set to it's default mode and found the power delivery to be pretty lazy, but when we kicked it into Power mode the 4 litre 1UZ-FE V8 engine came to life. Having 3 different modes for the transmission profile beats the ability to easily manually shift the gears any day. While we didn't have the chance to try the car's Snow mode out, we have to believe it is as good as the Power and default settings. Driving under the default mode is likely going to be your preferred driving method though, as the owner of this 191,000km example is averaging 8.0L/100km on blended driving, that beats out most of the mid-size SUVs we've driven along with a lot of the newer luxury cars.
The suspension and steering are two other components that are likely to be of significance to any buyer. First off the suspension is soft like a Mercedes S-Class, but with enough road feel to remind you that you aren't driving one. Going over slight road imperfections wasn't an issue in the LS 400's traditional suspension setup. The Lexus air ride suspension is a rare option, and one that most enthusiasts prefer to avoid as repair and replacement costs can often exceed the value of the car.
Steering is a little different on this car, and a little loose compared with the GS 400 and competitors from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. While the car never felt like it was understeering, you do get the sense that the power steering is working hard to move the car around, and that sometimes make you feel like the steering components have a wide berth. The car feels light to maneuver but also a bit imprecise.
All-in though, the Lexus LS 400 will likely cost between $5,000 and $9,000 for a decent example. There doesn't seem to be many low-mileage models available to pickup, but higher mileage doesn't necessarily mean disaster. We've found the second generation LS to be just as reliable as the other models we've featured so far. Regular maintenance is key to keeping a car like this on the road, and aside from some minor issues like the starter motor and power steering leaking, these cars have little to be worried about. As we always recommend when buying a car like this, it's important to have it inspected by a trusted mechanic before making any final decisions. Also finding the service history could be the difference between a great daily driver and a costly nightmare.
You can watch our full episode of TestDrive Spotlight on the 1999 Lexus LS 400 here: