2003 Lexus LS 430

By March 3, 2003
2003 Lexus LS 430

At once a deluxe limousine and high-performance touring car, the Lexus LS 430 delivers quick acceleration and agile handling along with features designed to take the work out of driving.

Consumers and experts alike have hailed the LS 430 as a benchmark for high-tech luxury in a meticulously crafted sedan. The flagship Lexus offers every luxury amenity we could want, plus a few we would never have imagined. It presents a very real example of everything technology makes possible, with systems that out-think and out-perform lesser cars and, in some cases, lesser drivers. Its functional aerodynamics and exacting quality control lead the rest of the world industry.

The third-generation Lexus LS appeared for the 2001 model year, and sailed unchanged through 2002. Changes for 2003 are minor. Fashionably larger 17-inch wheels are now standard.

Model Lineup

The LS 430 retails for $54,405. That figure buys a premium, full-size sedan loaded with sophisticated mechanical equipment, extensive safety systems and luxurious appointments. The sole engine, a four-cam, 4.3-liter aluminum V8, produces 290 horsepower and mates to an electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission.

Order the $6,895 Custom Luxury Selection, and the factory adds a list of hardware that reads like science fiction: laser-guided cruise control, sonar-based Intuitive Parking Assist, a navigation system that triangulates by satellites and coordinates with a DVD-powered data base, and an adaptive electronically controlled suspension that rides on air rather than springs. Climate-control front seats house a fan that circulates either heated or chilled air, and the rear seats are electrically heated. A power-operated sunscreen shades the backs of rear passenger’s necks, while laminated side glass provides additional protection from exterior noise and weather. Gently push the doors toward their closed position, and power door closers pull them shut. A power moonroof is included as well, along with a Mark Levinson audio system.

Or opt for the aptly named Ultra Luxury Selection ($12,485), and get all that plus front air seats with memory and message, and Lexus Link communications with one year of service. Rear-seat passengers can relax with their own air conditioning and air filtration system, plus electric seatback adjustment, memory control and a power lumbar massage, and manual rear side sunshades. And for an additional $1,460 Ultra Luxury buyers can upgrade their upholstery from lesser leather the Ecru Nappa hides.

Climate Control seats and Intuitive Parking Assist are now available as stand-alone options. Base models ordered with the Climate Control seats feature perforated leather trim throughout the interior. The moonroof ($1,100) and the Mark Levinson audio system ($3,980) are also available as standalones.


A sleek, shapely skin makes the Lexus 430 appear long and low. Its large passenger cabin is sandwiched between an extended hood and a blunted tail. Chiseled edges define a bold front grille and stepped hood, all of which give the big Lexus a substantial appearance.

Smooth creases in the sides of the trapezoidal grille thrust it forward, and the hood bulges in the center, suggesting power. The grille itself is rimmed in bright trim. Gleaming multi-lens headlamps wrap around each corner, forming exaggerated triangles. A thin bead of chrome segments the bumper at the top.

The cant of the windshield echoes the slant of the backlight (rear window). Curvaceous rear pillars blend seamlessly into rear flanks. The horizontal deck leads to a vertical back panel with oversized lamps at the corners, camouflaging the mass of the trunk.

Overall, the LS 430 presents a subtle profile, a conservative treatment where shoulders roll fluidly into side panels with only a hint of flare around the wheelwells.

Despite these quietly linear lines, the big Lexus is so streamlined that it earns a 0.25 coefficient of drag, making it one of the slipperiest shapes on the road. Its superb aerodynamics contribute to exceptionally low wind noise. And its slick exterior form is further enhanced by the remarkable fit of the body panels. Although Lexus has long been recognized for superior fit and finish, the quality achieved by the LS 430 reaches a new dimension. Engineers used a supercomputer to digitize all body surfaces, then worked out new fit tolerances ten times more precise than on the previous (pre-2001) car.

Interior Features

Slip into the cushioned seat of the Lexus LS 430, and relax in one of the most luxurious environments in the automotive world. At the same time, the padded and protected passenger compartment is a sophisticated space, overflowing with high-tech gear and power-motivated gadgets to make the driving experience safe and comfortable, even sensuous and pleasurable.

There’s ample space for heads and legs and elbows, and enough room in the rear seat to cross even long legs without touching the front seatback. The three-person rear bench has contoured spaces for two and a broad center fold-down armrest. The armrest features a padded storage drawer and a panel to control the heated seats, compact disc player and rear climate system. Extensive applications of leather and rich wood set an opulent mood.

The driver faces an adjustable steering wheel trimmed in wood and leather, mounted in front of vivid electroluminescent gauges that rank among the best available. To the right and immediately above the console, a seven-inch touch screen incorporates controls for climate and audio, as well as the optional navigation system. All variables and instructions show up on the screen as bold and legible icons that simplify operations; you can also use voice commands to direct the action.

Again and again, the Lexus uses complex computer technology to simplify the driving experience. The automatic climate system, for example, reads temperature sensors around the cabin, and sun-sensing articulated air registers deploy in particular areas as needed to combat solar heating.

Extensive safety measures begin with the strong structure, incorporating impact-absorbing crumple zones and steel reinforcements surrounding the passenger compartment. Seat-mounted side airbags help augment the required front-mounted bags to shield front-seat riders. Side-curtain airbags are mounted above the side windows, front and rear. High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers and front side window glass that repels water enhance driver visibility.

Driving Impressions

The Lexus LS 430 delivers excellent throttle response and impressive handling for a vehicle of its size and weight. Quick acceleration gives the LS 430 a lively feel. Yet it rides so smoothly and quietly that triple-digit speeds feel sedate, as we discovered at the 4.0-mile Road America road-racing circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

The 4.3-liter V8 generates 290 horsepower and, more importantly, 320 pounds-feet of torque. That’s enough to propel the big Lexus from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.7 seconds, according to Car and Driver magazine, and past the quarter-mile mark in about 15.3 seconds, leaving the Acura RL in the dust. Still, the LS 430 is not as quick as a BMW 540i, Mercedes-Benz E430, or Jaguar S-Type 4.0. The top speed of the LS 430 is electronically limited to 131 mph.

Lexus builds one of the quietest cars available. The LS 430’s engine is barely audible. Mechanical and road vibration is damped out as well. No other automaker does a better job than Lexus in creating a zone of total serenity for driver and passengers.

With power directed to the rear wheels and independent suspension all around, the LS 430 features the classic chassis layout for driver control. Anti-lift and anti-squat suspension geometry reduces body pitch when accelerating or braking. Lateral roll, or body lean, is held to a minimum in hard corners. The Custom Luxury and Ultra Luxury packages include adaptive suspension damping to further isolate the passenger compartment from uncertain road conditions.

A Euro-style touring suspension, optional at now extra cost, brings firmer shock settings for more sporting road manners, plus W-rated Dunlop tires.

Technology helps the driver keep the LS 430 on the road in an emergency handling situation. Its Intuitive Powertrain Control module analyzes throttle position, vehicle speed and engine load before allocating torque to the rear wheels.

Other active safety systems include anti-lock brakes with brake assist, which automatically applies extra braking force during emergency stops. An advanced vehicle skid control (VSC) system weds ABS and traction controllers with microprocessors to correct oversteer or understeer.

Another high-tech option puts a laser to work with the cruise control to maintain a pre-set distance between the Lexus and the vehicle in front of it.


Lexus LS 430 dazzles with sophisticated styling and high-tech hardware, but its best attributes may be the quietness and cushy refinement of its luxurious passenger cabin.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:LS 430 ($54,925)
Engines:4.3-liter dohc 32-valve V8
Transmissions:5-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard):dual front airbags, side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags, 3-point seatbelts with force-limiting pre-tensioners, adjustable headrest for five seat positions, ABS, Brake Assist, Vehicle Skid Control (VSC), High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps, daytime running lights, child restraint seat anchor brackets
Safety equipment (optional):dynamic cruise control
Basic warranty:4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in:Tahara, Japan
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):LS 430 ($54,925)
Standard equipment:electronic climate control; power brakes; power steering; central locking system with keyless entry; vehicle theft deterrent system; power windows with auto up/down for four windows; auto dimming interior mirror; auto dimming dual exterior mirrors; power tilt and telescope steering wheel; three memory settings for driver's seat, steering wheel, exterior mirrors and shoulder belt adjustment; AM/FM/cassette/six-disc in-dash CD; trip computer; tachometer; electric trunk and fuel door releases; first aid and tool kits; 17-inch alloy wheels with 225/55HR17 tires.
Options as tested (MSPR):Ultra Luxury Package ($12,485) includes Dynamic Laser Cruise Control, Intuitive Parking Assist, in-dash DVD navigation system, adaptive suspension, front seats with heat/cool control, four-spoke wood and leather steering wheel, power rear window sunshade, manual sunshades for two rear doors, heated rear seats, rear air conditioning, rear seat adjustment with power slide and memory, power trunk and door closer, Mark Levinson 240-watt audio system with 11 speakers, power moonroof, air suspension; Ecru Nappa leather ($1,460)
Destination charge:$575
Gas guzzler tax:N/A
Price as tested (MSPR):$69445
Layout:front-engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine:4.3-liter dohc 32-valve V8
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):290 @ 5600
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):320 @ 3400
Transmission:5-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:18/25 mpg
Wheelbase:115.2 in.
Length/width/height:196.7/72.0/57.9 in.
Track, f/r:62.0/62.0 in.
Turning circle:37.4 ft.
Seating Capacity:5
Head/hip/leg room, f:38.1/56.7/44.0 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:37.9/57.3/37.6 in.
Cargo volume:17.5 cu. ft.
Towing capacity:N/A
Suspension, f:independent
Suspension, r:independent
Ground clearance:5.9 in.
Curb weigth:3,945 lbs.
Brakes, f/r:disc/disc with ABS and Brake Assist
Fuel capacity:22.2 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of March 3, 2003.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-872-5398 - www.lexus.com

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