“Luxo-Barge”: (noun) a long, luxurious and powerful automobile, usually found ferrying around CEOs and diplomats in complete comfort. Commonly identified members of the luxo-barge board of directors include the Mercedes S class, BMW 7 series, Audi A8, etc.
What options do you have when you don't want a BMW or a Mercedes, though? In terms of value for money (because yes, car owners on the deep-pocketed end of the scale worry about value as well, like everyone else), the Japanese have always been hard to beat. Whether you want the entry level executive car in the shape of a Camry, as opposed to the German excellence that is the 3-series, or even if you want a fully loaded, fully specced car, the Japs will have something to offer up. In most cases, the options you'll get for your money will beat the Germans and the British out of the water, at least here in Bangladesh.
Lexus was branded as the luxury automaker arm of Toyota, a move designed to sell cars to rich people without the cheap-as-nails-mass-market-motoring image that Toyota had been attached to since forever. Lexus took North America by storm in the early 90's, selling by the boatloads, and their piece de resistance, in the form of the ubiquitous LS, cemented its place in the luxo-barge race with a cheaper price tag, solid engineering, and a level of comfort and quietness that would send its German counterparts scampering back to the design board to try and tackle this invasion.
Fast forward a decade and Lexus is still a solid competitor, although rising costs have rendered the brand's price advantage almost nil. You will still find people who are terribly attached to the brand and love it to bits. Akbar Sattar is one of them.
When his family wanted to buy a big luxury sedan, the parents were obviously leaning towards the German options. Akbar, a certified car nut (his resto-mod Fiat X1/9 was featured on Shift, 20-09-13), wanted the Lexus you see in the pictures. A 2003 LS430, full specification, all the boxes on the options list ticked off.
To say it is large would be an understatement. However, next to the other machines in Akbar's garage (more on that in a later issue of Shift), the LS430 can almost be called a mid-sized sedan. The space in the front and rear inside the leather and wood filled interior definitely suggests otherwise. Its bigger than Johnny Depp's character wardrobe.
When Akbar climbs into the driver's seat, I head for the rear. I slide in, and feel the plush leather seat envelop my back, and with the message options turned to a medium backrub, I nod off…
…And get violently thrown back, deeper into the seat, as the nose of the LS gulps in what must be 20 million cubic inches of air, 8 cylinders and 32 valves gulping them in and shoving them out explosively. The 4.3 liter 3UZFE V8 has an endless stream of torque from 3500 RPM onwards, and hides the bulk of the car so well on the move that it's easy to forget that this is a heavy, electronics laden luxury car. 300 HP and 325 lb ft of torque are biiig numbers for Dhaka streets. Ever had your stomach bottom out from intense acceleration? The Lexus on full power sends tingling sensations down your spine and makes your stomach feel like it is weightless.
The entire time, the cabin was in its own bubble, shutting out road noise and encasing the occupants in a luxurious cocoon.
It drinks like a depressed, mid-life crisis struck accountant, but then the incredible bursts of speed and smoothness of the V8 are absolutely worth it. As for the running costs, its high, but not stratospherically high like the European luxury saloons. The rule says if you're able to buy one, you should be able to maintain one as well.
Its a pretty sleek car despite its slightly surprised-frog look at the front, although we personally prefer the facelifted, 2004 onwards version over this generation.
Cool car? Definitely. Worth it? Probably not, but in relative terms, it does edge out its more expensive German rivals.