Sunday, June 24, 2012

The $15,000 Question: Lexus LS

In the US, the average person spends an hour a day commuting to and from work and travels a distance of between 25 and 50 miles.  That adds up to around 264 hours a year or 11 full 24 hour days spent on the road, most of it in stop and go traffic.  The time spent between commutes is filled with meetings, deadlines, short lunch breaks, and bad coffee.  At home it's a quick dinner, kids activities, and if your're lucky, 8 hours of sleep before the cycle starts over again.  

We're a nation of weary, over stimulated, multitasking, people and the trend is increasing.  According to recent studies, the time and distance of our commutes is only expected to grow longer and our roads more congested.  As our precious free time evaporates, we're doing more in our cars.  We guzzle fast food and large amounts of cola, talk on cell phones, shave or put on makeup, all while we creep along in rush hour traffic.  

One time on my drive to work, I looked over and saw a girl doing her nails... on her toes. 

It's no wonder our cars are growing larger and have more amenities.  We want to be coddled, comforted, isolated from the outside world and the full catastrophe of our everyday lives.  This is why, if you have $15,000 to spend, a Lexus LS is a compelling buy. 

Most gearheads I know would rather drive a track ready car like a Lotus Elise, Porsche 911 GT3, Shelby Mustang, or BMW M3.  But drive any of those cars within the torturous confines of stop and go traffic and you'll go mad.  The Lexus LS is quiet, comfortable, soothing.  It's less about driving than sitting in your den, listening to Beethoven or Miles Davis.  The bottom line is a car like the LS turns a stressful drive home into quite time, a break so the stress at the office doesn't collide with the mayhem at home.  

There are other cars that achieve this tranquility.  Certainly the BMW 7 series, Mercedes S Class, and Jaguar XJ come to mind.  They are the targets Toyota aimed for when they launched Lexus in 1989.  There's also a smattering of Buicks, Lincolns, and Cadillacs, or at least Cadillacs made before GM discovered the Nurburgring.  

But the Lexus has something those cars do not--unflappable reliability.  It was engineered to be the best car in the world and for an unprecedented 22 years it has topped both Consumer Reports and JD Power's list as the most reliable car ever.  It's not uncommon for the LS to go 200,000 or 300,000 before major repair work needs to be done.  And if Irv Gordon didn't have a 2.7 million mile head start with his Volvo P1800, I would expect a Lexus LS to be in the Guinness Book with the record for highest mileage.  

The only real drawbacks to the car are that maintenance can be pricey, especially on a car that was not properly maintained.  It's comes with a V8, which is not especially fuel efficient, and is rear wheel drive, making it tricky to drive in the snow.  Finally, because it is at heart a Toyota product, people sometimes confuse it for a Camry.  

Right now across town, there is 2003 LS 430 with 83,000 miles for $15,000.  Or for less money you can find earlier models in good condition from as little as $4,000.  The thing to consider when buying these cars is not the mileage but the service history.  Find one that has been well taken care of and you'll be motoring serenely for years to come.