Car reviews - Lexus - LS - LS600hL sedan
Excellent fuel consumption, serene interior, high comfort levels, good build quality, lots of features
Room for improvement
Performance not as impressive as expected, only marginally more fuel efficient than Audi's diesel A8, hefty weight, tiny boot
12 Nov 2007
THE LS600hL is a fascinating car. In many ways it is a brilliant engineering feat, loaded with an amazing array of luxury features, but it is also seriously compromised.
The range-topping Lexus showcases both the pros and cons of hybrid technology.
The pros include a six-cylinder fuel consumption figure, silent low-speed running and green bragging rights.
Then there are the cons, including 250kg extra weight and its associated acceleration penalty, plus a boot that is 145 litres smaller than that of a Toyota Yaris sedan.
There is indeed nothing like the hybrid petrol-electric V8 Lexus limo. That said, an Audi V8 diesel delivers both similar acceleration and uses a similar amount of fuel, while maintaining all of its boot-space.
Many potential customers of the Lexus will be drawn by the multitude of luxury features such as the incredibly comfortable reclining Ottoman rear seat with massage function in the $240,000 version, the LED headlights, adaptive cruise control and the climate-control system that can sense your inner core and adjust the climate accordingly.
Then there are the luxury items like the boot that automatically opens and closes, the rear DVD screen and Mark Levinson sound system, the adaptive headlights, variable-ratio steering and automatic sunshades.
Don’t forget the system that enables the car park itself, while the driver just has to control the brakes.
It works well, but is it neccessary? If you can’t carry-out the simple task of parking, then why are you in control of something worth as much as a small house?
Of course, some people will appreciate it, but the system is largely about bragging rights.
When another fellow at the yacht club goes on about his fingerprint recognition system in his Audi A8 and those Mercedes and BMW owners discuss their night-vision systems, the Lexus customer needs something to come back with.
LS600hL owners will be well-armed with the previous list of techno features, but the trumpcard is likely to be the hybrid powertrain.
As Lexus says, there is nothing like it in the world. Lexus and its parent company Toyota really are leading the world in hybrids.
Who would have dreamt that the technology at the heart of the cuddly Prius would be used to propel a giant opulent luxury limo forward at considerable pace by assisting its big V8 engine?
The LS600hL achieves eye-opening economy for such a large car.
Indeed, a test drive from Sydney to the Blue Mountains saw the big Lexus use around 10L/100km dropping to around 9.4 after some highway work.
Drivers of similar petrol long-wheelbase offerings from the Germans would not dream of coming close to that figure.
However, the Audi A8 diesel, though not long-wheelbase, could be expected to match or better that figure.
The combination of a potent V8 and electric powertrain in the Lexus is tantalizing.
“How fast is this thing going to go?” is the question that comes to mind when you slide into the cabin.
The answer: not as fast as you expect.
A 0-100km/h run of 6.3 seconds is quick enough in isolation - and quick for such a large vehicle - but starts to look a bit pedestrian when you compare it to rivals, which dip down into the four or five-second bracket, while the diesel Audi is 0.4 seconds quicker than the Lexus.
Such a comparison is not really fair, but Lexus raised many of these as rivals, as well as a Bentley and Rolls-Royce Phantom, in order to point out how much cheaper its car is.
It has a point, but we will get to that later.
Lexus also sells a shorter LS460, which only has a V8 engine that propels it to 100km/h 0.6 seconds quicker. That's something that won't go down well at the yacht club.
The acceleration of the new Lexus range-topper is disappointing because there is an expectation that the combination of a 5.0-litre V8 and an electric motor would sling-shot the car forward at a furious pace.
The electrified LS would no doubt achieve blistering acceleration if not for its bulk. At 2430kg, the four-seat LS600hL is 335kg heavier than the short-wheelbase LS460 and only 125kg lighter than the petrol Toyota LandCruiser.
The big LS is 180kg heavier than the 12-cyliner long-wheelbase Mercedes S65 AMG, the heaviest of its serious German rivals which mostly have the added weight of extra cylinders.
The hybrid components add 250kg to the weight of the LS, while the rest of the difference is made up of its increased size, all-wheel-drive system and the large amount of extra features.
The advantage a conventional front-mounted petrol engine has over a hybrid is that it doesn’t cut into boot-space, which is a serious issue for the LS.
Lexus says it can still hold three golf bags or two big suitcases in there, but it would be a tight fit to say the least.
The interior space is very good and the comfort levels are fantastic. As you would expect from Lexus, build and materials quality is near to perfect. A vibrating glovebox lid was out of character, but the rest was very impressive.
Your eyes are met with wood or leather almost everywhere you look in the Lexus. Its leather-lined dashboard, soft leather seats and Alcantara roof lining feel fantastic.
That can also be said of the wonderful sound system which is assisted by great sound suppression. The serenity of the LS600hL interior is something to admire.
Very little road noise gets in and you can only hear a slight V8 burble when you are hard on the gas, which sounds nice.
Lexus has got a bit of a reputation for truly isolating the driver, to the point where there is not much feel for what is going on.
It is the same with the mega-LS, with little feel through the steering wheel. The car handles very well considering its weight and size, but it is not an engaging drive.
Of course that matters little if you are lying back on the Ottoman seat enjoying a shiatsu massage.
When it comes to value, the long-wheelbase Lexus looks pretty good at $233,000 for the five-seat model.
It is far cheaper than comparable models from BMW and Mercedes-Benz and a similar price to a long-wheelbase Audi A8 petrol V8, which it didn’t mention during its presentation.
The LS600hL is an intriguing example of hybrid technology. While hybrids are ‘in’ at the moment, exalted by the Al Gore-crowd, the LS600hL doesn’t land a knockout punch on all the other engine technologies.
The Lexus hybrid does make petrol V12s and big V8s appear wasteful even if it gives up some pace in a comparison, but the elephant in the room is the V8 diesel A8 from Audi.
It is a shorter vehicle and has far less gear, but is considerably cheaper, has similar brand-cred, a cavernous boot, slightly better performance and uses only slightly more fuel.
While the two cars are not directly comparable, Audi’s diesel does enough to raise the question of whether hybrid technology is the best solution for such a vehicle just yet.
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