The Ultimate Lexus (Hybrid)
Steve Schaefer, Fri, 20 Jun 2008 08:00:00 PDT
You may think of hybrids as clean, green, little cars that get great gas mileage, but the Lexus LS 600h L is not one of those. The official EPA ratings for this car are 20 mpg City, 22 mpg Highway. I averaged 20.5 mpg. For comparison, the non-hybrid LS 600 L is rated at 16 City, 24 Highway. That's not a compelling difference.
No, the LS 600h L is a big, beautiful, powerful car. The two-and-a-half-ton sedan stretches nearly 17 feet long. At first, my Verdigris Mica test car made me feel unworthy, this surely is the ride choice of CEOs and rich people, not me. But the LS turned out to be as tractable as a Toyota Camry.
The first Lexus vehicles looked like Mercedes-Benzes, but today, the L-finesse styling template gives us distinctive, compelling shapes with muscular haunches, complex surface detail, and extras like projector headlamps with blue crystal rings. The goal is to stand out, but not too much, a delicate balance that appears to be working for the brand so far.
Inside, luxury abounds. Leather is "semi-aniline," which must mean "top quality." Leather not only covers the heated and cooled seats and lower part of the heated steering wheel, but it spreads onto the instrument panel, upper front doors, door armrests, first aid kit, key fob, and owner's manual cover. The headliner is made from Alcantara, convincing looking artificial suede. The shifter combines chrome and real wood.
Being an "L" model, the LS 600h L has five extra inches of legroom that give the car a limousine feel. Those lucky rear passengers also get heated seats and their own power sunshade. Everyone enjoys incredible quietness.
With its 5.0-liter V8 gas engine, two electric motors, and all-wheel drive, this car puts out an astounding 438 horsepower, all the better to move from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 5.5 seconds. It's sort of a Corvette for five.
The LS can move along on pure electricity. I got it up to 25 mph in a level neighborhood one evening without using a drop of gas. Crawling commutes can also be fuelless. If you want to ensure a pure electric function, you can select the EV drive switch to specifically request electric power only, for a short distance at a slow speed. The car shuts down at stoplights, too.
The LS 600h L has a continuously variable automatic transmission for maximum efficiency. However, if you set the transmission in the "S" position (sport), it provides stirring gearlike bursts of acceleration and deceleration.
The non-hybrid LS 460 L earns EPA Green Vehicle ratings of 7 for Air Pollution and 6 for Greenhouse Gases. The hybrid version boosts the Air Pollution numbers to 9 and boasts a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) EPA rating.
As the corporate icon, the LS 600h L contains some very special features. You can order the Advanced Pre-Collision System (APCS), which my tester had as part of the Premium Package II. APCS detects pedestrians in the car's way using two small front-mounted cameras and radar. A third camera on the steering column keeps track of the driver. If he or she isn't looking ahead for more than a few seconds and the car is approaching an obstacle, APCS rings a warning chime and flashes a light. Then, it gradually starts braking the car and gets the seatbelts ready for possible impact. It even reprograms the steering ratio for extra quick response.
With the Advanced Parking Guidance System, once you've placed the car in the right place, it will park itself, with you controlling the speed by using the brakes. I did not test this feature, but you've seen it on TV.
The LS 600h L features a standard 19-speaker, 450-watt Mark Levinson Reference Surround Sound audio system. Perhaps some of the money you save by listening to music in your car instead of going to a concert hall will help pay the bill for this amazing vehicle.
The sticker on this beauty is startlingly high. The base price is $104,000, and by the time you add in the Premium Package II, a couple of premium floor mats and shipping, you're looking at $117,119. Whew! For that you could buy everyone in your family their own Prius!
Seriously, though, if you see the LS 600h L as showpiece for everything Lexus can do (and there's plenty more that I haven't described here), it makes more sense. This ultimate Lexus is ultra big, supremely comfortable, very powerful, extremely well crafted, and, just for a cherry on top, is a hybrid too.