Am I really this stupid?
I readied myself for my fifth attempt at using the Lexus LS 460's advanced parking guidance system. I'm the sort of person who prides myself on being able to hop in a car, pop in a videogame, or turn on a computer and be able to engage all the basic features without rummaging around for an ill-translated instruction manual.
But with the Lexus parking system, I appeared to have met my match.
Damn, I touched the steering wheel.
''Guidance interrupted,'' said the anthropomorphized Lexus in a soothing feminine voice.
Man, I should have listened when the guy offered to give me a demonstration.
Despite the appearances of television advertisements, the top-of-the-line Lexus LS does not actually park itself -- although without exception, every person to whom I mentioned the car said, ''Oh, is that the one that parks itself?'' Apparently, the Lexus marketing and engineering teams need to occasionally schedule a lunch together.
What the Lexus features is a ''guidance'' system. You target the desired space in which you wish to parallel park by manipulating a two-dimensional wire-frame on the dashboard video screen -- the car's cameras scope out the scene for you. Once set, you issue the command and, presto!, you're parked.
Uh-oh, I'm going too fast, hit the brakes!
As the system works, you're not to touch the steering wheel but you do have to maintain pressure on the brakes to keep from moving too quickly. Kind of like patting your head and rubbing your tummy, it can be a little challenging until you get the hang of it.
Once I did get the hang of it, the Lexus parking assistance worked pretty well, deftly backing itself into spots along my low-traffic street. Still, the idea of trying to engage the system, say, on a busy downtown street makes me blanch -- it may work well, but it doesn't work particularly fast.
The LS is the Lexus flagship, appropriate given its land-yacht size. The version I drove was the 460 L, a slightly extended model that provides more room for the back seat passengers. Lots more room, in fact, bordering on small-limousine territory. I could think of all sorts of ways to make use of that much space, but I didn't implement any of them because a) I didn't want to pay the cleaning bill and b) I'm married.
With appropriate options, back seat passengers are also treated to their own individually operated climate-control features, as well as sun shades and audio controls.
Up front in the driver's seat, things are as luxurious and well-appointed as you would expect for an $80,000 sedan. We're not talking Bentley or Maybach levels here, but the Lexus LS is a sedan that easily makes you feel far more important than you probably are. How else would you feel when you're enjoying a 19-speaker audio system?
I can't even think where I would put 19 speakers in my house.
The LS offers a beautifully comfortable ride, transforming the feel of bumpy roads and highways into something more metaphorical -- it's like you're driving on the idea of a road, not the road itself. Not the feeling you'd want if you're into making like a race-car driver, but if it's creature comforts that appeal to you then the ride is mighty fine.
The vaunted Lexus quiet is on full display here, muting outside noise to the point where you could drive through a convention of plastic-bucket percussionists and hear nary a thump. It's a cocoon-like driving experience that, again, if you like having such things as road feel and handling feedback, you might not like.
But if a quiet, stately and eminently comfortable luxury ride are what you desire, then the Lexus has got you covered.
Just be sure to let the nice man demonstrate the parking system for you.