August 20, 2007

Photo Gallery: 2008 Lexus LS 600h L

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I’m not sure what I like more about this wildly decadent and wholly otherworldly luxury automobile — the fact that it has V12-like power with small-block V6 fuel consumption, or the fact its Executive Package option is $450 more than a brand new Honda Civic Hybrid.

With one 208.8-inch long fell swoop, Lexus has set a new standard in the prestige luxury class with the 2008 LS600h L. Strike that. Toyota’s luxury division has re-invented the uber-executive category with this long wheelbase model, thanks to state-of-the-art hybrid technology and, in those infamous words of Lady Black, an extravagance that knows no bounds. More about that ingenious power plant and drive train later. First, the goodies:

That aforementioned Executive Package — a cool $26,700 — is enough to make a grown CEO weep. (Considering the LS600h’s base price is $132,000, the CFO might shed a tear or two also).

I’m loathe to run a grocery list of available features when I write a new car review (ranks right down there with the use of the words ‘brightwork’ and ‘stump-pulling’), but given the nature of this package, I’ll make an exception and let the words do the talking.

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To wit: rear seat DVD player, rear seat DVD entertainment system, audio and DVD remote control, two sets of wireless headphones for RSA/RSE, nine-inch Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) rear monitor, four-zone independent automatic climate control, infrared body temperature sensor, milli-wave radar cruise system, rear seat fold-out table, rear side window auto sunshade, pre collision system, ottoman seat cushion airbag, driver monitoring system, obstacle detection system, premium leather seat surfaces, rear seat armrest with 12V supply, right rear seat retractable ottoman, rear seat massage settings, shiatsu massage seat, four passenger seating, Escaine roof head lining, leather covered instrument panel and doors, all season P235/50R18 radials and 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

Apparently, the ottoman took up too much space and there was no room for the kitchen sink.

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All that creature comfort confection is fairly self-explanatory, though I can’t let it pass without a mention of the multi-function shiatsu massage feature. Developed in conjunction with a Japanese medical institute, the massage experience is produced by eight small airbags powered by a compressor located in the trunk. Is that moron in front of you weaving from lane to lane getting to you? Hit the massage button, and before you can say, “calm, blue ocean” you’ll forget all about his deficient driving skills.

And if you’re leaving the driving to someone else and kicking back in the rear seats with your feet on the ottoman, you can relax and be safe with the thoughts that even the ottoman in this super car has its own airbag (for a total of 11).

The 2008 LS600h L is essentially a hybrid version of the 2007 LS460 L, the Lexus luxury sedan flagship, and itself arguably one of the most desirable rides in the country club parking lot. The LS460 L is in turn the long wheelbase version of the LS460, the fourth generation LS. For comparison’s sake, a 2007 LS460 L with the Executive Package is $122,700, some $35,000 less than the 2008 hybrid version reviewed here.

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Don’t think that $35,000 difference equates to something as simple as a hybrid system over a conventional power plant. Unlike its rear-wheel drive stable mates, the LS600h L features an all-wheel drive system beyond compare.

And whereas the LS460 L pumps out an impressive 380 ponies — a noticeable 102 horses over the third-generation LS — the LS600h L’s hybrid power plant delivers 438 horsepower and 385 lb-ft of torque. That it produces these V12-like performance numbers with V6-like fuel consumption figures, and perhaps more importantly reduced emissions, bears witness to the hybrid technology Lexus parent Toyota has developed to date. Official Energuide fuel consumption figures are 10.6 L/100km (27 mpg) City, and 9.1 L/100km (31 mpg) Highway.

At the heart of the LS600h L’s propulsion system is an all-new 5.0-litre V8 gasoline engine working in unison with high output electric motors and a newly designed large capacity battery pack as part of the so-called Lexus Hybrid System.

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The new LS460 features the world’s first eight-speed automatic transmission, but instead of adopting that advanced transmission technology in the LS600h L, Lexus engineers designed an all-new dual stage electronically continuously variable transmission (ECVT). Such a drive-train system is employed in all Lexus hybrids, though the LS600h L’s is the most technologically advanced so far.

Drivers who like to have a little more input into the performance set-up will like this car, as in addition to the typical luxury car ‘dashboard adjustments’ which can be made by the driver — shock setting, ride height — this Lexus offers a driver-controlled powertrain. With the flip of a centre console switch, the powertrain can be placed in one of three settings as driving conditions warrant — optimized, maximum performance and maximum control, the latter for snow and ice driving.

Driving impressions? Quick, sure-footed and extremely responsive under speed don’t even come close to describing the feedback this chassis conveys. It’s fitting that the LS600h L is partly powered by electricity, as a push of the accelerator gives the impression of voltage rather than combustion. Smooth and quiet to the point that you often think the big car has stalled, the hybrid engine performs much like your garden variety hybrid in that, at a red light, the gas engine will shut off and only engage again upon hard acceleration, and when decelerating the on-board batteries take charge.

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Just as the engine is advanced, so too is pretty much every feature on the LS600h L, including the braking system, the suspension system, safety systems and even the crankshaft. To reduce unwanted engine noise and vibration, the crankshaft is polished to a mirror finish to minimize friction between pistons and the shaft.

That kind of attention to detail may border on the obsessive, but the combined result of all that noise and vibration dampening is a passenger cabin as quiet as the proverbial cabin in the woods. Only in the case of the LS600h L’s cabin, you can scream along at 150 km/h and barely get a sense of any noise. It is truly remarkable, and yet another reminder that while it is true that rich and poor each put their trousers on one leg at a time, being the former sure doesn’t suck.

If you’re the type who can’t stand the sound of silence, flip on the Mark Levinson Reference Surround Sound Audio System, featuring AM/FM/CD player with MP3/WMA capability, in-dash 6-CD audio changer, audio auxiliary input jack, automatic sound levelizer system (ASL), Bluetooth capability, and a Sound Library Music System. Elegantly tucked away in corners and on the roof are 19 speakers producing concert hall quality audio. With 450-watts, the arena rock isn’t so bad either.

It is very hard to find fault with this car, and that’s not something I’ve said in reviewing over 400 new vehicles in the past seven years.

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Standard features are a feast for the hedonistic senses, and so, again, a list: 16-way adjustable powered driver’s seat; 12-way adjustable powered front passenger’s seat; power assist doors; an automatic powered opening and closing trunk; wallet sized smart card key and push button start; a hard-disc based navigation system with voice recognition; power rear window sunshade and rear side window auto sunshades; a clearance and back-up sensor and back-up camera; accessory power outlets and LED map lamps; and four-zone independent front and rear climate control with air purification, soft-touch heater controls, and rear seat heater ducts.

The only real flaw is a surprisingly small trunk, a result of the large battery pack tucked under the rear seats. Two sets of golf clubs will fit, as will two or three pieces of luggage. Still, an expectation of lots of room both in the cabin and in the trunk is inherent in the executive class.

A final thought — not only does the LS600h L, as stated, raise the bar in the luxury executive category on so many different levels, it also takes hybrid technology to a place it hasn’t been before.

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While it is probably true that an LS600h L buyer isn’t too concerned about fuel economy (That old saw, “If you can afford the car you can afford the gas.”), they will be totally sold on the hybrid engine for its whisper quiet performance. The fact they might save a few bucks on fuel is a bonus.

Hybrids were said to be a partial answer to the emission and consumption problems facing motorists and society in general.

The 2008 Lexus LS600h L proves that hybrid technology can also be used to further refine and enhance luxury automobiles. And that is the biggest surprise of all in this most surprising automobile.

Pricing: 2008 Lexus LS600 h L

Base price: $132,000

Options: $ 26,700 (Executive Package)

Freight $ 1,775

A/C tax $ 100

Prics as tested: $160,575

Manufacturer’s web site

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