LEXUS LS 460 AND LS 600H L
ENGINE: 5-liter V-8, 386 hp or 600h L hybrid 438 hp, 5-liter V-8 with electric motor
ACCELERATION: 0-60 in 5.5 seconds
BRAKING: Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, emergency brake assist, electric parking brake, electronic brake force distribution, 13.1-inch rotors
SOUND SYSTEM: Mark Levinson stereo/CD system with 19 speakers and USB connection
PRICES: LS 460 base price $71,990; $81,990 for the F Sport; $119,910 for the LS 600 L

Lexus unveils its latest line of sleek sedans.

In the Lexus sedan pecking order, the Ls four-door sedan is at the highest end. cLearLy desIgned for smoothness, quIet and weLL-appoInted accommodations, the latest edition has those features pLus both a sport model and a super luxurIous and fuel-efficient hybrid edition.

All three lines feature the new and more aggressive themed split-front grill that has been added to the others in the Lexus fleet. Another addition is a new interior with improvements in the dash with larger video screens, among other things.

On the power front, there’s a high-tech 386-horsepower, V-8 engine working through a new eight-speed automatic transmission that provides plenty of thrust. And, with the top model stretched LS 600h L hybrid, the combined electric/gas motor results in 438 horsepower, yet comes with a combined 20 miles per gallon for this large sedan. Zero-to-60 times run a zippy five-and-a-half seconds for both models. If you seek better handling and braking, the all-new F Sport is available, and its grill has the outline of the others but is blacked out. Shifting on this model can be performed with paddle shifter. A sport-oriented suspension, as well as big brakes and wheels are part of the package.

With a key somewhere on you, the Lexus greets you with little lights flashing and the side mirrors swinging out. Simply pull the door handle, and you are in the leather-lined and wood-festooned interior. Touch the start button, and you are off and running.

A new 12.3-inch video screen is centered in the dash and operated by a handy mouse-type device on the central console. Navigation, stereo, climate and tons of data are easily manipulated or retrieved.

Duplicate controls are on the wood-leather steering wheel. Put the transmission in reverse and the power rear window shade disappears, with the screen providing a clear picture of what’s behind you. Warning buzzes and graphics on the screen alert the driver to any dangers around the car.

The driver and passengers ride in almost total silence in normal driving scenarios. Even with the throw-you-back-into-the-seat acceleration, the decibel level hardly rises. The worst pavement conditions are handled with the absorbing suspension but with no sense of floundering.

For those seeking either more power or more economy, a small dial on the console can be adjusted to set shifting and other modes to attain either desired goal.

Rear seating is roomy and accommodating with climate vents found on the back of the console and on the pillars between the front and rear seats. Two small and well-lit, fold-down mirrors are found in the ceiling. The rear seats cannot be dropped for more storage, but there is a small pass through into the trunk behind the drop down armrest. However, do not fret about carrying capacity because the nicely lined trunk is huge.

If you want more for your rear riders, then order the L model and the wheel-base and length jump about five inches, and more legroom is provided. If that is not enough, there is the optional super executive two-rear, two-seat feature. These seats have a power-reclining capability plus a swiveling console table-and for that exhausted executive, a massager!

With this latest rendition of the LS line, the luxury buyer not only receives the more aggressive exterior design and an upgraded interior, but more options to fill almost any need.

MINIVANS to the Max

When Dodge came out with first mini-van in the 1980s, the basic kid-carrying formula was a front-wheel-drive box with sliding side doors, and a big rear liftgate with lots of interior room.

Flash forward a few decades, and the minivan has moved into the luxury family-mover arena. Besides the usual posh leather interiors and power items, added are optional features like power sliding doors that are operated with the key remote. And for entertainment, many manufacturers offer video screens, so that DVDs or games can be viewed or played.

In many minivans, the rear rows of seats can be made to magically either disappear or lay flat. And the Dodge Grand Caravan or its upscale twin, the Chrysler Town and Country, offers a table that can be erected relatively easily.

After the initial burst of minivans, the field has narrowed primarily because of the SUV explosion. Besides the originators of this class, the Chrysler Duo (including the VW Routan), Honda recently introduced its newest edition of the Odyssey with fresh styling and magic seat configurations. Likewise, Nissan recently revised its Quest with seats that fold completely flat. Toyota’s Sienna can be ordered in multiple configurations all equipped with a powerful V-6. Not to be left out is Kia with its Sedona minivan which has a standard V-6 and six-speed transmission.

As the saying goes, the minivan has come a long way, baby. It has gone from a simple people- and kid-carrier to a luxury entertainment cruiser. Let’s hope it keeps moving in the same direction.