Editor's note: In the first annual CultureMap Auto Awards, automotive writers Nic Philllps 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 everyday.
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 their driving experience, but that has all changed for 2013.
Lexus has embarked on "an entirely new pursuit" and we're taking notice from styling that is now centered around a strong "spindle grill" theme yet still conservative enough to draw loyalist buyer, to a whole new interior vocabulary that is thoroughly modern with a level of fit and finish to rival interiors leader Audi. It's the new interior finishes that sealed the award for the LS with Lexus going 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.
For the past five years the LS, and Lexus for that matter, has been about as forgettable as their driving experience, but that has all changed for 2013.
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 is further refined to "perfection" 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
While our time with the Ghost this year was short, it only takes about 10 seconds to know this car is in a completely different league. Consider that it's slightly larger, and mind you 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 with touches from an asymmetrically positioned, glass covered analog clock inlaid in the hand polished wood dash, to the hand-stitched leather leather seats and cashmere-blend headliner. A discretely integrated version of parent company BMW's iDrive electronics, heads up display, night vision, a panoramic sunroof, rearward opening rear doors and, best of all, a 563-horsepower, direct injected V-12 mated to a ZF sourced 8-speed automatic transmission make the Ghost thoroughly modern.
The Crawleys of Downton would undeniably approve.