Lexus has finally joined its rivals with its revamped LS460 that comes with air suspension
Travel by air, on land If you are not too bothered by higher-than-average petrol bills, then take on the 4.6-litre Lexus LS460L -- PHOTO: LEE NIAN TJOE

You can tell the car market is in the doldrums by a couple of things. One, COE premiums have remained relatively sane despite a sizeable supply cut.

Two, some new cars are better equipped, yet not pricier than before. The facelifted Lexus LS460 is a prime example.

Lexus has thrown in every imaginable gadget into the flagship model, including features it had previously deemed unnecessary for the local market. But it has priced the limo some $7,000 less than when the model was launched three years ago.

With a new grille, new alloy rims and LED winkers in the wing mirrors, the big Lexus is smarter-looking now.

But the beneath-the-skin changes are more impressive. For instance, air suspension. For the longest time, Lexus did not think cars in Singapore - with its well- paved roads - needed this sophisticated and costly option, despite it being available in rival cars such as the Mercedes S-class and BMW 7-series.

Lexus relented when it introduced the petrol-electric LS600h two years ago.

The LS460L's ride quality is fabulous to begin with but with air suspension, the driver can select an even cushier damping. With another flick, he can make the car sportier with a somewhat firmer suspension, on the rare occasion he is tempted by a long and winding stretch.

As before, the LS resists dive and squats pretty well. And it is still the quietest and creamiest sedans this side of $1 million.

The facelifted model's seats are now more luxurious: Front seats come with active headrests and two rear seats come with massage functions (one more than before).

Now, the long-wheelbase car can seat five, compared to the pre-facelift variant which was strictly a four-seater, with a separate entertainment and air-conditioning panel now placed just aft of the centre console.

Those seated in the rear can still choose to watch a movie on a decent- sized screen while the driver keeps his ear out for traffic announcements on the radio.

The young-at-heart will be glad to know there is USB connectivity on board to listen to music with.

And golfers will have more space in the boot, now that the rear air-conditioning unit is tucked unobtrusively away. The LS' touchscreen controls for the hi-fi and air-conditioning are also friendlier to use now (thanks largely to the bigger display).

Another enticing gizmo is the self-parking system, which will slot the 5m-long car into a vertical or parallel lot. It is not as fuss-free as Volkswagen's system but it can still be pretty helpful for those who dread parking.

All these new features make the LS460L a lot more alluring, especially when they are free of charge, so to speak.

Perhaps the only thing it lacks now is a navigation system, which the Europeans offer as a matter of course.

But to me, the LS' unique proposition is still in the way it moves. The car is absolutely effortless to drive. Despite its stature, it has an incredible lightness of being. Whether taking off from the lights or picking up pace to pass others, power from its 4.6-litre V8 is summoned to the fore with the tiniest hint of pedal pressure.

And when it gets going, the car seems to have no rolling resistance, maintaining its speed for hundreds of metres without you touching the accelerator.

Often, it is possible to stay ahead of the pack while operating within the economy band. Here, it is worth mentioning that the car's Eco button is a tad more intrusive than before. It retards engine output as well as air-conditioning power and even then, the manufacturer's stated fuel consumption figure of 11.1 litres every 100km is too optimistic. The actual figure is double that during a brief test- drive in the city.

Truth be told, the car may be more than adequate when driven economically but it is most rewarding when its unflappable V8 is gunned enthusiastically. Having a selectable suspension system makes it even more tempting to do so.

Click here for full specifications and more information on Lexus LS460 Sport.