EAST PALO ALTO, CA – Compared with new ES and GS models now on the market, the Lexus LS large sedan, last redesigned in ’07, has been looking a little tired.

So for ’13, Lexus is giving its flagship sedan some of the same updates as its lower-priced models, notably the brand’s new signature spindle grille and a modernized interior, plus all the techie bells and whistles buyers have come to expect from a potential 6-figure price tag.

The heavily refreshed LS, on sale in November and built in Toyota’s award-winning Tahara, Japan, plant, is a better car thanks to the new Lexus family face, a reworked air-suspension system with new 4-wheel linked control and improved safety technology, such as the advanced pre-collision system that now can bring the LS to a full stop automatically if needed.

While the almost entirely new interior is a step up from the outgoing model’s cabin, it trails the German competition in materials and aesthetics.

For ’13, Lexus still offers the LS 460 or LS 460 L long-wheelbase model, both with rear- or all-wheel drive, as well as the LS 600h L AWD hybrid.

But the biggest news is the LS 460 F Sport (offered with either RWD or AWD), designed to shed the sedan’s stodgy image and help Lexus appeal to younger, mostly male, buyers who favor a sportier look and disposition.

The LS F Sport has unique front and rear bumpers, and a larger front lower opening for improved cooling. It also gets 19-in. forged aluminum wheels with a dark gray metallic finish, round light-emitting-diode fog lamps and special F Sport badging. Aluminum trim is featured on the dash in lieu of wood and seats are bigger, with added bolstering.

Performance enhancements include the addition of Brembo brakes, with bigger ventilated front and rear rotors, and a 0.4-in. (1-cm) lower ride height Lexus officials say also improves the car’s road presence.

The F-Sport’s 8-speed automatic transmission can be shifted manually via steering-wheel-mounted paddles. Drivers have the option to select and hold a specific gear, except in certain circumstances, such as when transmission fluid temperature is less than ideal.

The performance sedan’s transmission also holds lower gears automatically when the car is accelerating out of a corner. In addition, the Driving Response and Acceleration Management System optimizes torque output from the 4.6L V-8 based on throttle input, Lexus says.

All models feature a largely carryover 4.6L DOHC V-8, but improved airflow and fuel-injection timing have allowed Lexus to squeeze an additional 6 hp out of the engine for RWD models (386 hp) and 2 hp more for AWD cars (359 hp).

The V-8’s output outperforms the more fuel-efficient ’13 Audi A8’s 333-hp, 3.0L direct-injected and turbocharged V-6 but falls short of Mercedes-Benz’s 429-hp 4.6L bi-turbo V-8 in the ’12 S550. Illustrating just how much the market has changed since the LS debuted 20 years ago, the 4.6L also falls considerably shy of the 421-hp, 5.0L DI V-8 in the Hyundai Equus.

Instead of independent control, the Lexus LS air-suspension system now regulates all four wheels simultaneously to minimize bounce, pitch and roll based on input from vertical G-sensors. The setup is performance-tuned for the F Sport.

The RWD F Sport’s Torsen limited slip differential keeps the car on course in straight-line driving. Engine braking torque is funneled more to the outside wheel during corning to enhance stability.

A road test here of a RWD F Sport in Silicon Valley proves invigorating, which is saying a lot given the LS’s “boaty-and-floaty” reputation. Ride and handling compares favorably with the athletic $85,995 ’13 Audi A8L 3.0T with quattro WardsAuto tested earlier.

The F Sport throttle tip-in is aggressive and shifts are fast – Lexus says upshifts occur in 0.3 seconds and downshifts in 0.2 seconds.

Fuel economy over a 40-mile (64-km) route around Palo Alto reaches 18.8 mpg (12.5 L/100 km), slightly less than the estimated average of 19 mpg. A somewhat better 20 mpg (11.8 L/km) is observed before a stop-and-go jaunt through the Stanford University campus and downtown Palo Alto.

Sport S and Sport S+ drive modes are added for F Sport models equipped with air suspensions, in addition to Eco, Comfort and Normal. The biggest differences are felt at extremes: throttle response lags in Eco mode and is more eager in Sport S+. Steering is less assisted and heavier-feeling in Sport S+.

On Michigan’s pock-marked and patched roads, a definite benefit is seen with the Comfort setting, which easily absorbs bumps.

Time spent in the LS 600h tester in California is brief, but the 20 mpg stated average is bested by 5 mpg (2.1 L/100 km) over 30 miles (48 km) of low-speed driving.

The hybrid system, making a combined 438 hp from its 389-hp 5.0L V-8 and 165-kW (221-hp) electric motor, carries over for ’13. However, the ’13 LS 600h gets improved regenerative braking that captures more energy.

True-to-form for the segment, the ’13 LS offers a long list of pricey optional technology.

That includes the more advanced pre-collision system that now can bring the sedan to a full stop from speeds up to 25 mph (40 km/h), proven to work as billed in a parking-lot test here.

The new model also can be had with massaging rear seats but, regrettably, lacks the massaging driver’s seat available in the A8 and S550. No OEM gets the controls just right for these types of seats, but the many tiny buttons in the LS are overwhelming and need paring down.

The sedan’s interior design language is busier and less soothing than what’s found in the competitive set.

Swooping lines on door panels are overwrought. The seam-heavy instrument panel and a utilitarian latch and keyhole on the glove box distract from the rest of the interior.

Heavily lacquered wood trim used in interiors of the test cars is dated, but fortunately Lexus offers a beautiful matte Ashburl trim as well.

Even Lexus acknowledges the large luxury sedan sector isn’t what it used to be.

Lexus sold 42,806 LSs in 1990. Last year it moved just 9,568 units. More competition in the segment doesn’t help, but Baby-Boomer buyers downsizing to smaller-but-still-luxurious mid-large or midsize sedans such the GS and ES may be the bigger culprit in the large luxury sedan’s decline.

Still, the LS is critical to Lexus’ identity, and Toyota’s investment in the flagship sedan is worth the effort. Bolstering the car’s case in the market is the F Sport grade, which should help the brand regain some ground lost to the Germans, as well as Hyundai and Jaguar.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com

’13 Lexus LS F-Sport RWD
Vehicle type 5-passenger, rear-wheel-drive large luxury sedan
Engine 4.6L DOHC V-8, dual VVT with intelligence, electrically-controlled intake
Power (SAE net) 386 hp @ 6,400 rpm
Torque 367 lb.-ft. (498 Nm) @ 4,100 rpm
Bore x stroke (mm) 94.0 x 83.0
Compression ratio 11.8:1
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase 116.9 ins. (297 cm)
Overall length 200.0 ins. (509 cm)
Overall width 73.8 ins. (188 cm)
Overall height 57.3 ins. (146 cm)
Curb weight 4,365 lbs. (1,980 kg)
Base price TBA
Fuel economy 16/24 mpg (14.7/9.8 L/100 km) city/highway
Competition Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Hyundai Equus, Jaguar XF, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Porsche Panamera
Pros Cons
Winning exterior look Interior busy
Sporty ride Powertrain largely carryover
Advanced safety tech HP, MPG lag competitors