It might have been too obvious if Toyota Motor Corp.'s luxury division held its press preview for the fourth-generation Lexus LS 460 sedan in the industrial city of Stuttgart, home of arch-rival DaimlerChrysler AG's luxury car division, Mercedes-Benz.

Instead, the Lexus event is staged in the venerable Tyrolean city of Salzburg, Austria, which is just 189 miles (302 km) from Mercedes' headquarters; close enough to get the point across. The '07 LS 460 flagship is intended to make waves in the marketplace and take aim at the competition, especially Mercedes.

Moreover, Lexus executives say holding the preview in Austria shows the Japanese luxury car maker's determination to increase its global presence — including, ironically on its home turf, Japan, a market Lexus entered only last year, where it faces a fair amount of competition from, yes, Mercedes, as well as BMW AG. Before then, Lexus models were sold under the Toyota brand name in Japan.

The new flagship LS 460 sedan is intended to move the Lexus brand further upmarket to the high-end prestige segment, where vehicle prices start at about $70,000.

Lexus debuted in the U.S. 17 years ago, positioned as a brand appealing to “new-value” buyers generally less interested in status and more concerned with quality, dependability and comfort.

Today, Lexus leads the mainstream luxury segment, part of an overall premium market that accounts for 1.9 million unit sales in the U.S.

Lexus is setting the bar pretty high with its all-new LS models, including the LS 600h hybrid, which debuts in spring of 2007 as an '08 model after the LS 460 goes on sale this month.

The LS 460 comes in a standard-wheelbase model, but also, for the first time, in a long-wheelbase version and will tout an 8-speed automatic transmission. Detractors question the need for an 8-speed transmission, but it is remarkably smooth and eager to show off its wide range.

The LS features a new 4.6L V-8 that produces 380 hp, 102 hp more than its 4.3L predecessor. Even so, Lexus powertrain engineers insist the LS 460 has the fuel economy of a 3.5L V-6. Power delivery is instantaneous. Likewise, handling is nimble for a 4,245-lb. (1,849-kg) car.

The car's exterior styling is the latest rendition (following ES, GS and IS sedans) of the L-finesse styling philosophy, which contrasts simplicity and elegance.

Inside, the cabin is plush, without being overly cushy. The interior is quiet, without feeling like a sensory-deprivation tank. The craftsmanship is impeccable.

The LS 460 has the most airbags in its class (eight standard, 11 when equipped with the executive-class 4-seat package).

Lexus predicts LS 460 sales of about 30,000 annually in the U.S. Less than 30% of deliveries likely will be the long-wheelbase version.

A clever but dubious option is an advanced parking-guidance system. When programmed, by setting coordinates on the navigation screen to “target” a parking space, the vehicle parallel parks on its own, a talent many drivers have failed to master.

But the system is hardly intuitive. Every parking maneuver needs to be set up, and that's relatively time consuming, especially if a driver is holding up traffic while pushing navigation-screen buttons.

Perhaps it becomes easier with practice. But it might be less complicated for a driver to learn how to parallel park.

The current average transactional price of the LS 430 predecessor is $62,000-$63,000 — $73,000 fully optioned.

Pricing had not been announced as of press time.

’07 Lexus 460
Vehicle type Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, 5-passenger 4-door sedan
Engine 4.6L (4,609 cc) DOHC V-8, aluminum block/aluminum heads
Power (SAE net) 380 hp @ 6,400 rpm
Torque 367 lb.-ft. (498 Nm) @ 4,100 rpm
Compression ratio 11.8:1
Bore x stroke (mm) 94 x 83
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase 116.9 ins. (297 cm)
Overall length 198 ins. (503 cm)
Overall width 73.8 ins. (187 cm)
Overall height 58.1 ins. (148 cm)
Curb weight 4,245 lbs. (1,926 kg)
EPA fuel economy, city/highway (mpg) 19/27
Market competition Audi A8; BMW 7-Series; Jaguar XJ; Mercedes-Benz S-Class