The Lexus brand showed up in 1989 with big aspirations. They had a tough crowd to face, to prove that their cars were just as good as big luxury brands like BMW, Mercedes, and Audi. As the luxury wing of Toyota, the recipe was simple. Lexus set out to make the most luxurious, reliable, and effortless cars in the world.
Three decades later, Lexus has worked hard to earn this reputation. No one can post an LS 400 on the internet without someone bringing up the old commercial with the champagne glasses. Haven’t seen it? What they did was stack a bunch of champagne glasses on the hood of an LS 400 and rev the motor to redline. The idea was that the car was so smooth that the glasses didn’t fall off, a testament to the ride quality, smoothness, and luxury that only a Lexus could provide.
But, it wasn’t just one car, Lexus has built plenty of cars over the years, all very reliable, but some much better than others. We put together a list of some of the best cars Lexus has ever made.
The GX 470 – Land Cruiser Lite
Let’s start with a smaller version of an off-roading legend. What North Americans know as the GX 470 is essentially a more luxurious and cushy version of the Japanese and Middle Eastern market Land Cruiser Prado. While the Prado still has “Land Cruiser” in the name, it was a smaller, narrower, and slightly lighter version of the Land Cruiser and Lexus LX. It was also cheaper, which means they sold way more of them than the big daddy truck of the brand.
The GX 470 started production in 2003 and the first generation model was produced through 2009. Power came from a 4.7-liter engine called the 2UZ-FE with 235 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque.
We here in the USA only got an automatic transmission, and later models got a Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, also called KDSS. This system was able to tweak the stabilizer bars and give the GX more articulation, making it even more capable off-road.
The GX also offered three rows of seating and was body-on-frame, so while it wasn’t as comfortable as a BMW X5, it was infinitely more reliable and capable for owners who had an interest in going off-road.
SUV’s are nice and all, but let’s move over to the flagship sedan, an area where Lexus started out strong.
The LS 430 – Car Guy’s S-Class
The LS has been through many generations now, but the one that was really tainted was the third generation car, the LS 430. The LS 430 was tainted because of its frumpy styling from 2001 to 2003, before the 2004 facelift actually sharpened up the styling to make for a handsome car.
It’s slab-sided design lost quite a few loyal LS customers, but there’s a lot to know about the trusty 430 that made it one of the best cars to ever come out of the Lexus factory. Lexus had many firsts with the LS 430, in the same way that most commonly seen Mercedes features started with the S-Class.
The full-size flagship offered an insane amount of high-tech features for its time, including things like soft-closing doors, massaging seats, and even a fridge in the rear console! Lexus even put radar-guided cruise control and forward collision warning in the LS 430, and the adaptive headlights that could bend left to right.
It never really got the recognition that the W220 S-Class of its era did, but the LS was a far better car. The 4.3-liter 3UZ V8 was extremely reliable, and they’re not known to burn oil or have any serious issues.
If you really want to stand out, look for the ultra-rare Ultra Luxury model that had extended leather everywhere, including the glove compartment and an Alcantara headliner. It had all the goodies available, including a cushy air suspension with adjustable damping, heated and cooled seats front and rear, and even power reclining rear seats.
But maybe you want a luxury sedan with a bit more performance to it.
The IS F – M3 Killer
The Lexus IS has always been a popular sedan since the sexy IS 300 changed the game in 2000. It was the car to have if you were a young professional, but it only ever had six-cylinder engines. Until 2007, when Lexus rolled up their sleeves and decided they wanted in on the M3 market, and to demolish the Audi S4.
The IS F was a 5-liter V8 monster with a 4.2-second 0-to-60 time and a top speed of 170 miles per hour. A serious machine, with an 8-speed automatic transmission and a fire-breathing exhaust note. If you haven’t heard a straight-piped IS F, you’re missing out.
And while the E90 M3 sedan was a really cool car that also had a V8, the IS F wasn’t riddled with any of the problems that the BMW had. Plus, the BMW world is filled with just as much toxicity as it is helpful members, while we’ve seen a slightly better attitude in the Lexus world.
The IS F is also going up in value slowly because it’s a compact sports sedan that’s both reliable and incredible to drive. People know what it is, and that it’s something they want.
But not all of us obsess over performance sedans! Who remembers that Lexus actually once built a supercar?
The LFA – Halo Car
Some dream about Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and McLarens, but those who have a real taste for the finer things, the obscure and unobtainable, know that one of the dreamiest cars of all time has a Lexus badge on the hood. The LFA was the second car to come out of Lexus’s “F” performance division, after the legendary IS F. It’s also the only Lexus ever to be produced with more than eight cylinders.
It had a 4.8-liter V10 with 563 horsepower and a screaming redline of 9,000 RPM. The 72-degree bank angle V10 was a naturally-aspirated screamer that was actually lighter than the brand’s current 3.5-liter V6. It sounded like a Formula One car, and was easily the most refined supercars ever created.
The LFA may also be the most reliable supercar ever created, and will never depreciate. An even rarer take on this rare supercar is the LFA Nurburgring Edition, which had a production run of 64, and a slight power bump.
The LFA will always be a mid-six-figure car, and we’ve seen some even change hands for $500,000. But, since not all of us can afford that, there’s still another grand tourer that may fit your budget.
The LC 500 – Reliable Aston Martin
Lexus brought us the LC 500 in 2017, in both gas and hybrid forms. It’s every bit the V8 grand tourer that the current Aston Martin DB11 wishes it was. The LC 500 is likely the last application of Lexus’s scrumptious 5.0-liter naturally-aspirated V8 with over 400 horsepower on tap and a 10-speed automatic sending power to only the rear wheels. The LC isn’t just looks.
But man, it’s a beauty to look at. The more mainstream models like the RX don’t go as well with the current design language, but it suits the LC so perfectly. The long flowing lines go well with the perfect proportions. And colors like Nori Green, a deep metallic dark green, give the LC uniqueness in a world that’s filled with silver and grey.
The LC 500h hybrid isn’t quite as good, with a clumsy powertrain and a focus on efficiency rather than grand touring with a screaming V8. It’s not the one we’d recommend, but the gas version is. There’s no doubt in our minds that the LC 500 is definitely going to be a car that becomes a future classic.
If you’re an enthusiast that needs four doors but doesn’t want to give up any of the big V8 performance, look no further than the next car on our list.
The GS F – Understated Muscle Sedan
The GS F is one of the most forgotten Lexus performance cars, and it’s a shame, because it’s one of the most recent ones. They started with the GS luxury sedan and cranked things up a notch. A naturally-aspirated V8, 8-speed automatic transmission, and power sent straight to the rear wheels, the GS F compromised very little of Lexus’s luxury to get to the level of performance it offered.
Starting in 2016, the GS F got all of the performance bits available in the Lexus portfolio. And while it lacked a manual transmission, it was a legitimate and understated alternative to the likes of the BMW 550i and Audi S6. Both of the alternatives offered boosted V8’s that started having serious issues as they aged, while the Lexus stayed bulletproof.
And of course, there’s the one Lexus that nobody can ever forget.
The LS 400 – The One That Started It All
You really can’t talk about Lexus’s success without throwing it back to the car that started a revolution, the LS 400. The LS 400 was the car that put the brand on the map, with unreal standards for refinement and reliability. It’s also one of the cheapest ways to get a reliable old luxury sedan now, if you know how to look.
The LS 400 was produced over two generations from 1989 through 2000, where the model was given a nifty Millennium Edition before being replaced with the LS 430 in 2001. All models got a 1UZ 4-liter V8, and the second generation in 1998 replaced the 4-speed automatic with a 5-speed box.
Every touch point inside the LS 400 was covered in either leather, wood, or high-quality plastic. It’s a car that may not have been all that flashy to look at, especially compared to the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class of its time, but it has this timeless elegance to it.
Owners are blessed with the reliability expected from a Lexus, with the luxury of a flagship. Even today, when the early models have pushed the 30-year mark, there are always plenty of LS’s to be seen around with an absurd amount of mileage on them. Our friends over at The Smoking Tire actually bought a somewhat-clean LS 400 with about 900,000 miles on it and had a blast taking it past the million-mile mark.
And there’s no way that it’s the only LS 400 that went past that milestone, there are plenty more out there where that came from.
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