Editor's note: In the first annual CultureMap Auto Awards, automotive writers Nic Phillips and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top 2012 cars and trucks and explain why they're deserving of a good, hard look. Now for our sixth award:
Luxury Car of the Year: 2013 Lexus LS
Lexus began its "relentless pursuit of perfection" 23 years ago when it unveiled the LS400 flagship. Seminal images of wine glasses stacked undisturbed on the hood of a V-8 engine proved a level of refinement had been achieved and, unlike the German or American offerings at that time, it proved to start every day.
The luxury sedan category was forever changed. For the past five years, the LS — and Lexus, for that matter — has been about as forgettable as its driving experience. But that has all changed for 2013.
For the past five years, the LS — and Lexus, for that matter — has been about as forgettable as its driving experience. But that has all changed for 2013.
Lexus has embarked on "an entirely new pursuit," and we're taking notice, from the styling centered around a strong "spindle grill" theme yet still conservative enough to draw loyalist buyer, to a whole new interior vocabulary that has a level of fit and finish to rival interiors leader Audi. It's the new interior finishes that sealed the award for the LS; Lexus went so far as to invent a whole new wood veneer for the LS called Shimamoku, which takes some 38 days and 67 manufacturing steps to make.
A beautiful, matte-finished bamboo trim is standard in the range-topping 600h hybrid and, not to be outdone by the Hyundai Equus, all long-wheel-base LSes now have a business class-like rear seat option.
Mechanically much of the LS is a carryover from the previous generation, but it is further refined. And a performance-oriented F-Sport model has been introduced, delivering driving dynamics closer to that of German rivals all while maintaining industry leading reliability. Starting at $72,000 — $78,000 for long wheel base and nearly $120,000 for the 600h hybrid — the LS remains competitively priced against the A8, 7-series and S-Class and paper-plated examples are showing up everywhere now.
See how Lexus spends 38 days making the Shimamoku veneer:
Luxury Car of the Year Runner-up: Rolls Royce Ghost
Although our time with the Ghost this year was short, it only takes about 10 seconds to know this car is in a different league. Consider that its slightly larger and elder brother, "the" Phantom, starts at around $400,000; the Ghost is the entry-level Rolls Royce at $256,000 to $296,000.
It's simply the most beautifully appointed road car, from the asymmetrically positioned, glass-covered analog clock inlaid in the hand-polished wood dash to the hand-stitched leather leather seats and cashmere-blend headliner. Plus it is thoroughly modern, with a discretely integrated version of parent company BMW's iDrive electronics; heads up display; night vision; a panoramic sunroof; rearward opening rear doors; and 563-horsepower, direct-injected V-12 mated to a ZF sourced 8-speed automatic transmission.
The Crawleys of Downton would undeniably approve.