Lexus LS 400 Generations: Through the Years

The LS 400 launched the Lexus brand and set a new standard for luxury cars with its combination of refinement and engineering.

Building A Brand

1990 Lexus LS 400 -

1990 Lexus LS 400 – |  Shop Lexus LS 400 on

It is difficult to grasp, some thirty years on, just how groundbreaking the Lexus LS 400 was when it debuted in early 1989. The LS 400 was Toyota’s premier flagship for the launch of their new luxury brand. With build quality and high style at a price that undercut the competition, the LS 400 wowed critics and quickly vaulted Lexus to the top of the segment.

Alongside Honda and Nissan, Toyota had built a reputation for quality, reliable economy cars. Toyota’s antidote for the Ford Pintos of the world had made them into a major competitor with Detroit, but starting in the early 80s, Toyota set their sights on a new brass ring, breaking into the luxury car segment, and taking on brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Jaguar in the international market.

The F1 project, as the new luxury sedan was codenamed, began in 1983. Toyota set no budget cap on development, eventually pouring over a billion into the project, including over $400 million on developing the car’s new 1UZ-FE V8 engine. The project evolved over years and enlisted some 60 designers, 2,300 technicians, and 1,400 engineers. A total of 450 running prototypes were built, and extensive road testing was conducted all over the world, including mile-after-high-speed-mile on the German Autobahn. Initially, designers were working with a sleek, sporty design for the car, but that was changed to a more conservative, three-box design in 1986.

The Lexus LS 400 debuted in January of 1989. Lexus marketing emphasized the meticulous engineering that they had devoted to its creation. If you were around at the time, you will recall the now iconic television commercial in which the LS 400 hits 145 mph on a dynamometer with a pyramid of champagne glasses balanced, unperturbed, on the hood, the image accompanied by the Lexus tagline: “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.”

First Generation Lexus LS 400 (1990-1994)

1990 Lexus LS 400 -
1990 Lexus LS 400 -
  • The Lexus LS 400 debuted in January of 1989 with an initial MSRP of $35,000 (equivalent to $82,000 today).
  • The engine, the 1UZ-FE, had been specially engineered for the LS 400. The 4.0L 32-valve V8 produced 250 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. This paired with a four-speed automatic transmission.
  • Top speed for the LS 400 was 160 mph and the car could run form zero to sixty mph in 8.3 seconds.
  • Designed to compete with German luxury sedans, the LS 400 offered the latest in automotive technology and luxury appointments. These included California walnut interior wood trim, leather upholstery, a Nakamichi premium stereo, memory driver’s seat, and power adjusting seat belts.
1993 Lexus LS 400 -
1993 Lexus LS 400 -
  • The LS 400 was one of the first production cars to offer a power adjusting steering wheel.
  • Other technological innovations included an electroluminescent gauge cluster, hands-free cell phone connection, and an electro-chromatic rearview mirror.
  • Lexus worked to ensure the LS 400 provided a smooth and calm ride by reducing vibration and reducing wind and tire noise, and double wishbone suspension with an optional air-ride suspension upgrade.
1993 Lexus LS 400 -
1993 Lexus LS 400 -
  • The Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) version of the Lexus LS 400 was the Toyota Celsior.
  • Toyota instituted a recall on the first three-months of LS 400 units, totaling approximately 8,000 cars, to repair electrical issues.
  • A 1993 refresh updated the LS 400s grille, body paneling, suspension, and added bigger wheels and tires and more colors to the options list.
  • The Lexus LS 400 was an instant success, selling over 42,000 cars in its first year of production. That beat out Jaguar, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.

Second Generation Lexus LS 400 (1995-2000)

1996 Lexus LS 400 -
1996 Lexus LS 400 -
  • The second-generation Lexus LS 400 debuted for the 1995 model year with 1.4-inches added to the wheelbase (netting 2.6-inches additional inches of rear-seat legroom) and shedding 210 lbs. in curb weight.
  • Visually, the second-generation LS 400 looked much like the first. And yet over 90 percent of components were either new or had been upgraded.
  • The 4.0L V8 was tweaked, resulting in a slight boost in power to 260 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. A new five-speed transmission debuted while improvements were made to brakes, sound insulation, and aerodynamics. Dual-zone climate control was also added.
  • Base pricing increased to $51,000.
2000 Lexus LS 400 -
2000 Lexus LS 400 -
  • The LS 400 was given a mid-cycle refresh for the 1998 model year.
  • The most significant update came in the form of variable valve timing for the V8 engine. This resulted in an increase up to 290 horsepower while simultaneously improving fuel efficiency.
  • Handling was also improved upon with modifications to steering and suspension.
  • A new CD-ROM-based GPS system was also added for the first time in the North American market.
  • The addition of front and side impact airbags and stability control improved safety.

Third Generation Lexus LS 400 (2001-2006)

2003 Lexus LS 430 -
2003 Lexus LS 430 -
  • The third generation of LS 430 launched with the 2001 model year. This time more significant exterior updates were in order and included changes to the grille, headlights, and a smoother, more aerodynamic body. Three inches were also added to the wheelbase and the trunk grew by 30 percent.
  • The starting price of the LS 430 was now $54,500.
  • A new engine was also added, the 3UZ-FE was a 4.3L V8. Horsepower remained the same at 290 but torque rose to 320 lb-ft. The LS 430 could now make zero to sixty mph in 6.7 seconds.
  • The change in displacement prompted Lexus to update the alphanumeric naming of the car to the LS 430.
  • A new double wishbone suspension was also introduced as was a new optional Mark Levison premium stereo.
2003 Lexus LS 430 4.3L V8 -
2003 Lexus LS 430 4.3L V8 -
  • The LS 430 was the first Lexus in North America to feature (lidar assisted) adaptive cruise control dubbed “Dynamic Laser Cruiser Control.”
  • New options and trim packaged added features like power soft-closing doors, a power trunk, oscillating AC vents, and massaging, reclining rear seats as well as the new sport-tuned “Touring” trim.
  • A new GPS system was also available, located in a dash-mounted LCD touchscreen.
  • In 2004, a refresh introduced a new six-speed automatic transmission. Minor visual updates were made to the front and rear ends.
  • The lidar used in the adaptive cruise control system was replaced by radar.

Fourth Generation Lexus LS 400 (2007-2017)

2007 Lexus LS 460 -
2007 Lexus LS 460 -
  • The fourth-generation LS debuted for the 2007 model year as the LS 460 thanks to a new 4.6L V8, the 1UR-FE.
  • The new V8 made 380 horsepower and 367 lb-ft for torque, paired with a new eight-speed automatic, and allowed the LS 460 to spring from zero to sixty mph in 5.7 seconds.
  • The design of the new LS 460 was smoother and more aerodynamic than previous generations.
2007 Lexus LS 600h -
2007 Lexus LS 600h -
  • A new adaptive variable suspension was introduced in this generation as well as a new automatic parallel parking feature, then a first in a North American luxury car.
  • New safety technologies were implemented like lane departure warnings and a new stability control system.
  • A hybrid version was also introduced, the LS 600h. This ran the “Lexus Hybrid Drive” that paired a 5.0L V8 with a hybrid assist sending 438 horsepower to a new all-wheel drive system.
  • In 2009, all-wheel drive was added as an option and the car’s front and rear facia were given minor changes.
2013 Lexus LS 460 -
2013 Lexus LS 460 -
  • For the 2010 model year, a new Sport trim granted access to Brembo brakes and an air suspension.
  • The LS 460 was given a facelift for the 2013 model year. This was the biggest visual change for the LS since its inception, most notably a new spindle grille, but also included new designs for the trunk lid, hood, head and taillights, and bumpers.
  • A new F-Sport model was also added for 2013.

Fifth Generation Lexus LS 400 (2018-Present)

2018 Lexus LS 500 -
2018 Lexus LS 500 -
  • The fifth and current generation of LS, the LS 500 was introduced for the 2018 model year.
  • Despite the new name, the car’s new engine was not a five-liter V8 but a 3.4L twin-turbocharged V6 (The LC 500, with which the LS shares its new TNGA-L platform, does carry that 5.0L V8).
  • The twin-turbo V6 has 415 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque, and allows the LS 500 to make its run from zero to sixty in around five seconds.
  • The all-wheel drive hybrid version, the LS 500h combines a 3.5L V6 with two electric motors for 354 horsepower.
2020 Lexus LS 500 -
2020 Lexus LS 500 -
  • Major updates were also made to the interior of the LS 500, too, with ornate flourishes like cut glass accents and quilted leather door panels.
  • The exterior was also updated. The latest version of Lexus’ spindle grille was added. Body lines, head and taillights, and front and rear facia were all updated, too.
  • Safety tech like pedestrian and cyclist detection and traffic sign recognition systems were introduced.
2023 Lexus LS 500 -

2023 Lexus LS 500 – |  Shop Lexus LS 400 on

  • The 2020 model year saw a minor facelift with revisions front and rear.
  • A new 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen was added, dispensing with a touchpad interface that had been a notable weak point for an otherwise excellent car. Android Auto also became available starting with the 2020 model.
  • Today, the Lexus LS 500 offers high-end options like massaging rear seats, a 23-speaker Mark Levinson premium stereo system, and quad-zone climate control.
  • The Lexus Safety System+ comes standard with a broad array of tech and driver assistance features like blind spot warnings, lane departure warning, lane keep assistance, forward automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise.

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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