Photo by Christian Stoll

The Lexus LS has been with us for 25 years—here’s why it’s one of the finest cars ever made.

03/06/2014—“Can we create a four-door luxury car to challenge the very best?”

Eiji Toyoda, chairman of Toyota at the time, posed this innocent question to his top management team way back in 1983. Over the next six years, 60 designers, 1,400 engineers, and 2,300 technicians proved they could by conceiving the first Lexus LS and, in the process, a new luxury car brand.

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The success of the project can be attributed to many factors, but in his informative book Lexus: The Challenge to Create the Finest Automobile, Brian Long sums it up well: “Each team had been given the task of identifying the manufacturer who led its field of expertise, analyze why it was the best, and then beat it. There was no time limit imposed and, with the usual constraint of having to use common components taken away, the innovative Lexus engineers were in their element.”

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The LS finally launched in the United States in 1989 to almost universal media acclaim. Its reliability, great value, and whisper-quiet cabin, as well as Lexus’s superior customer service, allowed it to take on and outdo the offerings of older and more established brands, notably in sales success.

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In many ways, this first-generation LS has been the template for Lexus ever since, as it expanded to become a global brand with a range that grew to include smaller sedans, coupes, and SUVs.

The original LS was rightly lauded, but the model marked only the first step in the car’s evolution. In the subsequent 20 years, the sedan repeatedly shook up the market with innovations in performance and design.

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The 1994 LS 400, for example, introduced an adjusted power steering system that enhanced handling. The 2000 LS 430 boldly increased the car’s wheelbase and height, and came complete with an overhauled suspension, a new 4.3-liter V8 engine, and an advanced, collision-safe body. And the 2008 LS 600h became the first all-wheel drive hybrid model of the series, demonstrating Lexus’s ongoing commitment to corporate responsibility.

The environmentally focused hybrid power pioneered on the LS is now offered across the Lexus model range, while its excellent build-quality techniques and reliability lessons have also filtered down to smaller Lexus vehicles, too.

The level of detail that made the original LS stand apart from the competition is still apparent on, and particular to, the current 2014 model. Take, for example, Japanese craftsmanship like the Shimamoku (“striped wood”) veneer on the model’s steering wheel, which involves 67 manufacturing steps over the course of 38 days. Or the innovative body-temperature-monitoring sensors that automatically adjust the air-conditioning for each passenger.

The intense attention to detail is also apparent in the all-wheel drive, long-wheelbase LS 600h L—“the flagship of the flagships”—where the rear-seat area with optional ottoman sections and a quality Blu-ray/DVD player are available for the first time.

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Controlling the all-wheel drive, long-wheelbase LS 600h L from the driver’s seat is hugely enjoyable—the Drive Mode Select function allows for ECO, Comfort, Normal, Sport S, and Sport S+ options via a simple switch of a dial on the central transmission tunnel.

And despite its luxurious size, this 389 hp 5.0-liter gas/electric hybrid can still greet 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and a top track speed of 130 mph not long after, while offering an official combined EPA fuel economy rating of 20 mpg. This is an incredible achievement for a 5.2-meter-long (17-foot-long) car with all the accoutrements on board that you could wish for.

Overall, both up front and in back, the new LS still has the ability to make any journey special, just like Eiji Toyoda envisioned so long ago.

Photo by Christian Stoll