DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2008 Lexus LS600h L
For an automaker, a top-of-the-line premium luxury car is a statement of prowess in desirability, style, comfort, and technology. For an upscale European brand, that means a long-wheelbase V12-powered sedan built with the finest materials, and as much by the hands of skilled craftsmen as is possible in this mechanized age. Such cars showcase the most advanced engine and chassis technology, and the newest convenience and luxury features.
Before the debut of the fourth-generation Lexus LS for model year 2007, the Japanese did not compete in that class. When the newest LS was introduced, like its German and English competitors in both regular- and long-wheelbase models, it was announced that the flagship would be a little different.
It would be a hybrid.
And not with the customary V12, but with a new 5.0-liter V8 gasoline engine and the most advanced iteration of parent Toyota's full hybrid system. As the regular LS is a front-engined, rear-wheel drive car, the hybrid features full-time mechanical all-wheel drive, not the hybrid-front, electric-rear system used in the RX 400h and Toyota Highlander hybrids. There are two motor-generator (MG) units. MG1 serves as the starter motor, and also generates electricity to be stored in the 288-volt nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery pack. It can also power MG2, the traction motor, which in generator mode charges the battery pack and slows the car through regenerative braking. Being a full hybrid, the LS 600h L can also operate as an electric vehicle at low speeds and low rates of acceleration, such as are encountered when driving in slow traffic or in a parking lot. As in other Toyota family hybrids, gasoline engine and electric motor power gets to the wheels through a computer-controlled continuously-variable transmission. Here, it has eight software-programmed "speeds" in manual mode, for performance driving.
And performance driving is a distinct possibility. With a peak combined output of 438 horsepower, the LS600h L boasts performance on a par with the V12 competition, while using considerably less fuel. During my week with the car, I averaged 18 mpg around town, and 21 with 120 miles of highway travel added at real-world speeds. Not bad at all for a 5,000-pound luxury car that can also accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in a very sporty 5.5 seconds. Midrange acceleration, from 50 through 70 mph typical of American highway driving, is especially strong at about 3.5 seconds.
That shouldn't be a surprise, as torque is a necessity for quick acceleration, and an electric motor makes its maximum torque as soon as it starts to turn. MG2 adds is considerable but not-disclosed amount, and its 221 horsepower, to the 5.0-liter V8's 398 hp (at 6400 rpm) and 385 lb-ft (at 4000 rpm) when instant acceleration is required. A large contribution to the 600h's excellent fuel economy comes from its gearing - in "D" at 70 mph, the engine is barely working, at about 1500 rpm. Even then, in D, a sharp press on the right pedal results in strong acceleration, with no undue hesitation. Selecting the appropriate manual virtual gear brings the revs, and the engine power available, up even more. This is a seriously quick machine when such performance is required.
Being a hybrid and being a Lexus, a smooth, quiet driving experience is expected. And delivered, as with the engine off, in electric operation, there is no drivetrain noise at all. There is barely more with the engine running, except for a mellow and melodious V8 growl under full throttle. Transitions between gas, gas-electric hybrid, and electric modes are much less noticeable than in other Toyota-family hybrids. Throttle response is as close to that of a straight gasoline car as possible. There are three driver-selectable electronic throttle modes - "Snow", with decreased response to throttle inputs for easier driving in slippery conditions, normal hybrid, and "Power", which gives more throttle input for a given amount of pedal movement.
As in the non-hybrid long-wheelbase LS 460 L, the LS 600h has a fully-independent multilink suspension with electronically-controlled air springs. It's an active, multi-mode system, with soft "Comfort" mode for a traditional American feel, a default normal mode that is a touch firmer, and a European-oriented "Sport" mode. I kept it in Sport most of the time, with no lack of comfort. For the sport-oriented potential buyer, active stabilizer bars are available, to further reduce body roll when cornering in a spirited manner.
Added to the powerful but economical drivetrain and capable, comfortable chassis to make the LS 600h ideal for long-distance driving in style and comfort is the superb interior. Lexuses are already know for being quiet, and this one is the quietest yet. Materials, build quality, and craftsmanship are benchmarks, and, both inside and out, with plenty of skilled human hand assembly and inspection supplementing the robots. Anything that could conceivably be power-operated for assistance is, the leather and wood used for seating and trim are of the highest quality, and the design is relaxing. Gauges are electroluminescent "Optitron", easily visible in all light, and the information/navigation system/rearview and Advanced Parking Guidance System (APGS - yes, self-parking in the right conditions) screen is thin film transistor (TFT) for high resolution and brightness. LEDs are used for most interior illumination. Almost all comfort features, gizmos, and gadgets that are available in the premium luxury class are standard equipment, including the nav system, a Mark Levinson audio system, and a 60 GB hard disk for nav data and downloads from the CD player.
All of the long-wheelbase 4.72-inch stretch is in rear-seat legroom. If the standard three-place bench is not luxurious enough, there is the Premium Package, with heated and cooled twin rear power seats, rear side airbags, and APGS. Premium Package II adds four-zone climate control, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, power door sunshades (the better to watch movies...) and more wood trim. That was in my test car, for an extra Yaris, er $12,000. The ultimate in motoring decadence would be the Executive Package, with all of that above plus a right rear seat with power reclining to 45 degrees with a multifunction massager and leg rest plus wood-trimmed tray tables. Up to that point, no chauffeur required, as the LS 600h L is a wonderful car to drive. But with the back-seat spa, even I would leave the driving to someone else.
At least part of the time.
Lexus has arrived at the top in its own inimitable way.
2008 Lexus LS600h Specifications
Base Price $ 104,000
Price As Tested $ 117,119
Engine Type dual overhead cam 32-valve aluminum
alloy V8 with variable cam phasing
Engine Size 5.0 liters / 303 cu. in.
Horsepower 389 @ 6400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 385 @ 4000 rpm
Traction motor-generator liquid-cooled permanent magnet
650VDC, 221 hp maximum output
Maximum system power 438
Wheelbase / Length 121.7 in. / 202.8 in.
Curb Weight 5049 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 11.5
Fuel Capacity 22.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement unleaded premium gasoline
Tires P245/45 VR19 Bridgestone Turanza EL42
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc; ABS, ECB,
EBD, BA, VSC, TRAC integrated into
Suspension, front/rear independent double-joint multi-link
Drivetrain full-time all-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed 20 / 22 / 21
0 to 60 mph 5.5 sec (mfg)
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Premium Package II - includes:
Advanced Pre-Collision System, Advanced Parking Guidance
System, Lexus Link, rear heated/cooled power seats with
power recline and memory and rear-seat side airbags,
4-zone climate control, rear entertainment system,
rear cool box $12,000
Trunk mat 89
Premium floor mats $ 265
Delivery Charge $ 765
Source: 2008 Lexus LS600h L Review