Buying a Lexus LS400 1990-1994
 

So, you decided to get a Lexus LS400?  Here in this article I will try to give you details on which year to get to fit your budget, your driving style and your future goals for this wonderful ride.  Before I start, I would like to share some historic perspective on Lexus

August 1983
At a top-level, top-secret meeting, Toyota Chairman Eiji Toyoda determines the time is right to create a luxury vehicle to challenge the world's best

May 1985
A study team visits the U.S. to conduct focus groups while a design team moves to California to develop concepts.

July 1985
The first of the LS 400 running prototypes is built.

May 1986
Performance testing begins on the Autobahn in Germany.

September 1986
Extensive testing on American roads begins.

May 1987
Management approves the final design of the LS 400.

January 1989
The LS 400 and ES 250 are unveiled to the world at Detroit and Los Angeles auto shows.

September 1989
The LS 400 and ES 250 go on sale.

January 1990
The LS 400 is named a Car and Driver 10Best.

February 1990
The Motoring Press Association names the LS 400 Best Imported Car of the Year.

July 1990
Lexus first appears in a J.D. Power and Associates study, ranked as the #1 Carline in the Initial Quality Study.

May 1991
Lexus unveils the first new addition to its product line, the SC 400.

August 1991
The SC 300 is introduced.  Lexus sweeps the J.D. Power and Associates studies, topping the Customer Satisfaction Study as the #1 Carline, the Initial Quality Study as the Best Overall Carline, and the Sales Satisfaction Study as the Best Overall Carline.

September 1991
The ES 300 replaces the ES 250.

January 1992
The SC 400 and ES 300 are named Automobile Magazine All-Stars, and SC 400 a Car and Driver 10Best. Lexus outsells BMW and Mercedes-Benz to become the number-one luxury import.

March 1992
Motor Trend and the Motoring Press Association name the SC 400 Import Car of the Year.

July 1992
Lexus again tops the J.D. Power and Associates Customer Satisfaction Study as the #1 Carline, and the Sales Satisfaction Study as the Best Overall Carline.

September 1992
A freshened LS 400 appears with more than 50 changes, many as a direct response to dealer and customer requests.

January 1993
Lexus introduces its first luxury performance sedan, the GS 300. The SC 300 is named to the Car and Driver 10Best list and to Automobile Magazine's All-Star list.

June 1993
The LS 400 is named the Best Import Car for 1993 by The Robb Report.

July 1993
For the third year in a row, Lexus is ranked as the #1 Carline in the J.D. Power and Associates Customer Satisfaction Study.

February 1994
Lexus is ranked as the Best Overall Carline in the J.D. Power and Associates Vehicle Performance Study, reflecting satisfaction after three years of ownership.

May 1994
Lexus sweeps the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, with the Best Overall Carline ranking.

July 1994
Lexus is ranked as the #1 Carline in the J.D. Power and Associates Customer Satisfaction Study for the fourth straight year and as the Best Overall Carline in Sales Satisfaction for the third time in four years.

November 1994
The redesigned second-generation LS 400 goes on sale.

December 1994
The new LS 400 is designated Best of What's New by Popular Science.

The LS400 was launched in the UK in June 1990 as a one-specification model. It had a brand-new 4.0-litre V8 engine which set new levels for smoothness and refinement. All cars featured a state-of-the-art automatic transmission that made even the best Mercedes-Benz automatics seem suddenly second best.

There was a minor upgrade in October 1991, when the vanity mirrors were given illumination - believe it or not. A passenger airbag was fitted from January 1993 and this model also received a slightly remodelled grille.

The replacement second generation LS400 looked very similar, though it was an all-new car, and it arrived in October 1994. Neither car has sold in particularly high numbers, so finding a good selection of used examples may prove a little difficult.

In this article we are only going to focus on the first generation.  I believe the first generation Lexus LS400 is the most important of all Lexus Cars because it set the path for future models.  When I needed a family ride.  I chose a 1990 Lexus LS400 for its historic perspectives.  For 14 year old car, this beauty still ride like a brand new Camry.  Its smooth, its quiet and its fast.  Lexus LS400 also known as Silent Rocket.  Once you step on the gas pedal you look down the instrument cluster and the next thing you know you are cruising 50 mph.  Actually, the car feels slow because its so quiet and smooth.  You do not feel the bumps and vibrations, therefore you don't really feel the speed.  Lots of new owners get speeding tickets for this reasons.  So, drive slowly.

From the exterior view, the 1990 looks the same as the 1993, but there are few refinements.  For example, larger brakes and more reliable then its earlier siblings.

Common Problems:
1. Climate Control LCD turn black: After 10-14 years the LCD starts to bleed and the temperature/climate display turn black.  The repair cost is about $200-$300
2. Rear View Mirror: Same as above mechanism
3. Power Steering: Very common, if the previous owner did not change it.  Its time to change it after you acquire the new ride.  Repair cost is about $250-$300
4. Trac Light: For some reasons, this is very common.  I have read a lot about it.  Its most likely be the speed sensors.  Repair cost is about $800.
5. Bushings and Cushions:  They are can be repair for about $400-500

Things to avoid:
1. 1990-1992 LS400: Due to smaller brakes
2. Air Suspension Shocks:  This was an expensive options and its an expensive option to fix.  Each shock is about $1,000 and you will need to replace all four.  However, recently we have replacement shocks for 1/4 of the price.

My Recommendation:
1. Get a 1993-1994:  Bigger tires and brakes
2. Standard Suspension:  No expensive Air Suspension Replacement
3. No Traction Control:  Avoid Trac Light
4. Pearl White:  Its a timeless color.

However, if you are tight on budget, than the 1990-1992 are very good price.  You can get a nice 1990 LS400 in good running shape for about $4,000-$5,000, but do plan to spend about $2,000 for the repairs I mentioned earlier.

Below are pretty standard futures adopted from www.familycar.com

Model year differences
  • 1990 The first Lexus LS400
  • 1991 There is a slight refinement in the front brakes to provide better pedal feel.
  • 1992 No changes
  • 1993 Larger tires and brakes, Passenger side air bag added, CFC free air conditioning with a pollen filter, Automatic headlamps, styling touch-ups and several interior refinements. ( '93 also rates as the most reliable of this reliable group.  This is the year to look for.)
  • 1994 No changes,  Same as '93

 Specifications  

Engine Type 4.0-liter DOHC 32-valve 90 V8, Cast aluminum block and heads
Horsepower 250 @ 5,600 RPM
Torque 260 @ 4,400 RPM
Fuel Recommended Premium Unleaded
Transmission Four Speed Automatic Electronically Controlled with intelligence
Tires 1990-1992: Goodyear Eagle GA P205/65VR15
1993-1994: Goodyear Invicta GA P225/60VR16
Overall Length 196.7"
Width 72"
Turning Diameter 36.1 ft Curb to Curb
Max. Towing Capacity 2000 lbs.
Curb Weight 3,858
Fuel Tank 22.5 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon EPA city 18, hwy 23.  Observed during aprox. 1000 miles of road testing, 19 MPG
Acceleration 0 to 60 7.9 seconds
Standard Equipment
  • 4.0-liter DOHC 32-valve V8 Engine
  • Four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with intelligence
  • 4-wheel independent double wishbone suspension
  • Speed sensing, progressive power rack and pinion steering
  • Four-wheel disc antilock brakes
  • Driver side air bag 1990-1992,  Driver and front passenger air bags 1993 and later
  • Vehicle and audio Theft Deterrent System
  • Automatic air conditioning. (CFC free with filter only on '93 and later.)
  • Automatic headlamps ('93 and later)
  • Fog lamps
  • Dual power heated outside mirrors
  • Liquid crystal day/night inside rearview mirror
  • Power windows and door locks
  • Leather  seats and door panels (earlier models had a cloth seat option.) California Walnut wood trim
  • '90 - '92, 8 way power seat for driver, 4 way power for passenger,  '93 and later, both seats were 8 way power.
  • Tilt and telescoping steering column with automatic tilt-away when exiting car.
  • AM/FM stereo cassette high output audio system with 7 speakers including sub-woofer
  • Tool kit and first aid kit.
  • Outside temperature gauge ('93 and later)

Major Available Options
This is a list of the major options that were available on these cars when they were new along with a guide on how to recognize whether the car that you are considering has that option.

Option

How to recognize it

  • Memory seat system
Look for buttons marked 1, 2 and Set by the drivers door handle
  • Traction control system & Heated seats
Look for a Trac off button and two seat heater buttons marked L and R just below the radio and above the ash tray
  • Power tilt and slide moonroof
Big hole with a glass cover in the roof
  • Trunk mounted 6-disk CD changer
Located in the right wall of the trunk.  Make sure there is at least one 6-disk magazine included.  Additional magazines are available from Pioneer or Lexus.
  • Built in cellular phone
In center console, factory unit has a switch marked 1, 2, 3 attached to the left side of the steering wheel
  • Electronic Air Suspension with ride control

 

There are 3 rocker switches next to the transmission shifter instead of 1 rocker switch. They are marked Sport/Normal, Height  and ECT Pwr/Norm
  • Nakamichi Premium 280 watt sound system
Look for the Nakamichi name on the radio face.
Note:  The first 3 items were popular options and found on most used LS400's. The last 2 were expensive options when new and may be hard to find. Lexus service managers tell me that these options do not affect the excellent reliability of these cars, so if you can find cars with them, don't be afraid to buy them.
Of course, it is up to you to have any prospective car checked out thoroughly by a professional mechanic familiar with that model before you buy it.