Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Tom Berenger, July/Aug 2007
If you think of Lexus as the affordable luxury brand, a glance at the sticker on the new LS600h sedan might shock you. The Japanese automaker's top-line four-door commands a hefty $104,750, about triple what the original LS400 went for back in the early 1990s. Is it worth it? And does this "ultimate flagship" stand up to the best of the German luxury alternatives?
That depends on your concept of luxury. Last year's LS400 targeted the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S500, Audi A8 and BMW 745Li. With the new LS600h, Lexus is taking direct aim at the cream of the luxury crop, such as BMW's 760 and the Mercedes S600, both of which cost many thousands more. So the bank-busting sticker price should be no surprise.
Its rising tariff aside, the new Lexus is loaded with every sort of creature comfort and safety feature you might imagine. The centerpiece of the state-of-the-art "infotainment" system is a 19-speaker, 450-watt "reference" surround-sound unit from Mark Levinson. Infrared sensors in the climate control system make sure you're properly heated or cooled. The Advanced Pre-Collision System can spot obstacles as small as a dog at a distance, alert the driver and, if a crash is likely, automatically apply the brakes. It has so much technology that it took a Lexus presenter 90 minutes to go through everything during a recent background session.
Offered only in a long wheelbase, the LS600h is roomy, almost cavernous, with an exquisite blend of woods, metal and leather applied by select master craftsmen. As you'd expect, there's plenty of performance, the big sedan tearing from 0 to 60 in just 5.5 seconds.
Power is central to the appeal of premier sedans. For the Germans, that's meant 12 cylinders under the hood. The LS600h, however, starts out with the same basic power plant as the more plebian LS460, in this case, the engine bored out to a full 5.0 liters. What sets the LS600h apart is the newly designed hybrid-electric drive system, which, Lexus claims, delivers the sort of performance you'd expect from a 6-liter V-12. The gasoline-powered side of the power train pumps out 389 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque. The motor/generator produces 221 hp. In the curious hybrid equation, that works out to a combined 438 horsepower.
Significantly, the sedan delivers those figures in an environmentally friendly package. The LS600h's hybrid system has by far the lowest emissions in its segment, along with class-leading fuel economy, a combined-cycle 21 mpg—at least according to the press handout. The Environmental Protection Administration is, however, about to recalibrate mileage numbers, primarily due to its tests that tend to inaccurately inflate hybrid numbers. But even if the Lexus's gas mileage performance dips 20 percent, its number will still be respectable.
Does the LS600h meet the tough standards set by the Europeans? The sedan is comfortable, lavish, prestigious and surprisingly fun to drive. It still doesn't have quite the cachet of a V-12 Bimmer, but the hybrid system will undoubtedly attract a well-heeled group of green-minded buyers looking for their own variety of bragging rights.
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