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Lexus parks itself - almost

Lexus's nifty feature will amaze your friends. Then you'll ignore it 'cause you know how to park a car.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer
2007_lexus_ls_420.01.jpg

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SECAUCUS, New Jersey (CNNMoney.com) -- Entering the U.S. market at the end of October, the Lexus LS brings a potpourri of amazing technology all wrapped in the usual Lexus goodness.

The ride is magic-carpet smooth. The wood trim looks as tasty as a box of Godiva cherries. In the long-wheelbase version, the back seats even give passengers a back rub worthy of a Swedish spa. (The long-wheelbase version will start at about $70,000, the regular LS at about $60,000.)

But the one feature that will no doubt get the most attention will be the "Lexus Park Assist." Plenty of luxury cars now have technology to help drivers with parking - the even-pricier S-class sedan, from Daimler-Chrysler's Mercedes-Benz, shows a rear video with lines indicating where the car is aimed - but the Lexus LS, by Toyota, is actually meant to park itself.

In theory, you would just pull up ahead of a space, make a few minor adjustments on a computer screen then slightly lift your foot off the brake. As you back up, the steering wheel turns this way and that way and there you are.

In practice, "Park Assist" really works only in ideal situations - basically, it helps only when help is needed least.

First of all, for parallel parking, you have to find a space about four feet larger than the car (hardly a tight spot).

You pull up next to and well ahead of the car in front of your intended parking space. Then you put the car in reverse and the review camera turns on. At the bottom of the screen are two choices. Would you like to parallel park or back-in park? (Back-in parking with the system was easier than parallel parking. But, then, back-in parking is always easier than parallel parking.)

If you select parallel park, a green box should appear outlining the potential space. A red box would indicate you can't fit.

You press some arrows in the screen to line up the green box with the area in which you'd like to actually place the car. If you were doing this in Manhattan you would, by this time, have watched someone in a Mini Cooper drive nose first into the space while you're poking at the arrows.

When it's all lined up, you press the box that says "OK."

Lift your foot off the brake just enough so that the car starts to creep gently backward.

Or maybe not. If you are on any sort of a downward incline, the system won't work. It operates only at the "creeping" speed attainable on level ground without using the gas pedal. And if you lift your foot off the brake pedal too much, the car starts going too fast and the system won't work.

Using Parking Assist, ironically, takes practice. If it all goes well, the steering wheel turns at just the right times and you get into the space.

Sort of. It doesn't really center the car in the space so you have to pull the car forward a bit. It also tends to leave the car a bit too far from the curb.

Perhaps the greatest irony, to me, about the Lexus Park Assist is that it's an option on a luxury car that costs $70,000.

People with that kind of cash to spend on a new car will probably already have the parking assist thing worked out. It's called a parking garage with valet service.

The rest of the new Lexus LS seems to have plenty to offer. But, when you're checking the option boxes, this is one bit of tech we'd leave off.

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