Lexus has jumped the gun on the 2008 automotive year with the launch of its LS600h L hybrid, which puts Toyota’s luxury brand solidly in the ultra-premium luxury market.
For a sticker price that can run well in excess of $100,000 with options, the buyer will get an automobile that has pushed the envelope for opulent creature comforts and tops the charts in terms of applied technology. The car will be available in the summer.
For the first time, Lexus targets consumers at the pinnacle of the economic pyramid and aims to compete with V-12 sedan offerings from BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Let’s deconstruct the brand name LS600h L as informative exercise. First, the initials LS refer to luxury sedan and have been attached to the Lexus flagship since the LS400 was introduced in 1989. The number 600 is an oblique allusion to power displacement, as if the car was powered by a massive 6-liter, V-12 engine.
But it is not. Rather, Lexus contends that it will deliver power and performance on a par with modern 12-cylinder engines. The letter h, of course, stands for hybrid.
The idea here is that the combination of hybrid technology and an advanced V-8 engine will deliver the power of a V-12 and yet deliver superior fuel efficiency and the last word in low emissions. In terms of power delivery, Lexus claims zero to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds and 50 to 70 mph in 3.5 seconds.
This acceleration can become addictive, as I found during the test period. Although I loved the fact that I was getting 20 miles per gallon in mixed driving, I just couldn’t keep myself from flooring the accelerator to experience firsthand the huge power burst that was available at any reasonable speed.
And finally, the letter L denotes a stretched wheelbase to deliver an additional 5 inches of rear legroom. Long wheelbase luxury sedans are designed around the needs and comfort of rear-seat passengers. And yes, if you ride in the new sedan’s rear seat, you will feel like the chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company or the heir of a very large trust fund.
The Lexus hybrid system combines an all-new 5-liter V-8 gasoline engine with two electric motors and a newly designed large-capacity battery pack that is light and quiet.
The emissions challenge in starting a cold engine has been an ongoing concern. Typically, cold engines spew excessive hydrocarbons and other noxious gases compared with an engine that has reached thermal efficiency. A new hydrocarbon adsorber and catalyst, or HCAC, system is linked to the exhaust to help prevent hydrocarbons contained in the exhaust from being released into the atmosphere during cold starts when the catalysts are not up to temperature.
The hybrid powertrain uses two motor generators, termed MG1 and MG2. Each motor performs specific functions and can operate as either a motor or an electric generator, although MG1 is used as a starter motor and provides no motive force.
The engine-driven generator can charge the battery pack or provide additional power to the drive motor, MG2, as needed. Additionally, the LS hybrid utilizes regenerative braking, which means that it captures deceleration force during braking and turns it into electric energy to charge the batteries.
But what I find most impressive is that the Lexus hybrid can run for an amount of time on only electric power. This, of course, delivers the last word in a quiet ride and can help save the air when creeping along in August on a bad air day in New York. By pushing a switch, power reverts to full electric mode for short distance, slow traffic situations.
Whether most of its owners will know or care about the technology is an open question. But from a luxury and performance standpoint, the LS600h L certainly delivers.
Its ride is sumptuous and my first impression is that the standard all-wheel-drive system has substantially improved handling versus any of its predecessors.
Cordell Koland is an automotive journalist based in California’s central coast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lexus LS600h L Hybrid Sedan
Price as tested: $104,000.
Type: 5-liter V-8/permanent-magnet electric motor.
Torque: Not available.
Fuel economy, automatic transmission:
City: 20 mpg.
Highway: 22 mpg.
Curb weight: Not available.