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Lexus LS 600h L Part 3: Performance Review

With 438 hp on tap, this hybrid is right at home in the fast lane

By Emile Bouret   
Toyota is generally considered to be the leader in hybrid technology, thanks mostly to its first hybrid model, the Prius. But while efficiency is the main focus of the iconic Prius, that is not the case with the latest hybrid from the Japanese company's luxury division, the Lexus LS 600h L. This flagship Lexus sedan doesn't prioritize fuel economy over all else, instead it aims to offer the performance of a V12 with the fuel economy of a V8, or even a V6.

To this end, the LS 600h L - little "h" for hybrid, big "L" for long wheelbase - offers up a five-liter, 389 hp V8 augmented by not one, but two electric motors. One of those motors is used to start the engine and recharge the battery pack, while the other provides drive torque and regenerative charging. And while the electric motors' 221 hp added to the gas engine's 389 theoretically results in 610 hp, the actual output of the Lexus Hybrid Drive system is electronically limited to 438 hp.

But more important than the horsepower number is the instantaneously available torque. Electric motors, of course, produce maximum torque at zero rpm. Coupled with the healthy V8, the big LS doesn't so much accelerate as build massive forward momentum. In fact, if you were to play a jet-turbine soundtrack through the audio system, it would seem perfectly believable. Such is the surge of power that you feel as if you're in a jet streaking down the runway at takeoff.

The actual numbers? Zero to 60 takes 5.5 seconds and the quarter-mile goes by in 13.8 seconds. But it's the passing acceleration that really feels impressive. Going from 50 to 70, for example, seems to take no more than the blink of an eye. Here, the electronically controlled Constantly Variable Transmission, or CVT for short, comes into play as you floor the throttle and watch the revs rise and hold at around 6000 rpm while the car just moves.

The CVT has eight steps, or "shift profiles", designed to simulate gear changes. But most of the time the engine is at the lower end of the tach and shares propulsion duties with the electric motor, so you don't really feel these artificial shifts.

The LS 600h L exudes this super relaxed and composed attitude at all times. It can cruise slowly on electric power only - shutting the engine off until you request more from the engine room. With the engine dormant, the car is almost eerily quiet. But even as the engine kicks in - which is barely noticeable - the car remains nearly silent. It is one of the most luxurious aspects of the entire experience to be honest: near absolute silence.

On the handling side, the LS 600h L features a good dose of technology as well, including active anti-roll bars and speed sensitive steering. There is also adaptive variable air suspension with three modes: comfort, normal and sport. I chose sport most of the time and I thought it was the best setting all around as the car remained comfortable while offering the best body control.

Still, the big Lexus isn't a sport sedan, nor does it pretend to be. Hustling it isn't really on the menu, although a semi-brisk pace will impress you with its lack of drama - especially for a car weighing 5200 lbs. Some of the credit for its composure goes to its AWD system, which is rear-biased with 60 percent drive to the rear axle, although it can send a maximum of 70 percent front or rear. But again, this Lexus is a luxury flagship LS, not a tire-burning IS-F, and as such it isn't into swerving around little orange cones.

Bringing things to a halt are electrohydraulic regenerative brakes that - like the rest of the dynamically-focused technology on the LS 600h L - are controlled by the Vehicle Dynamics Management system. They're very effective at slowing the car, but occasionally they'll make a strange noise or two that remind you there is more at work behind the push of that pedal than you may be used to.

As the first Lexus with a six-figure sticker, the LS 600h L offers all of the technology that its creators can muster up. Its Lexus Hybrid Drive system may put performance above economy, but it still provides enough of both to satisfy the power-hungry and the environmentally conscious. As a worthy competitor to the big-engined Mercedes-Benz S-class, BMW 7 series and Audi A8L, the Lexus LS 600h L is a technological tour de force for the wealthy tech geeks of the world.

Watch the video
Read Part 1: Design
Read Part 2: Interior & User Experience

Lexus LS 600h L

Performance
- Acceleration: Seamless surge feels like an executive jet at take-off - passing acceleration most impressive
- Handling: Given its size, pretty darn good - doesn't like to transition from side to side however
- Braking: Strange noises from regenerative system at times - still, very effective

Design
- Exterior: Lexus design language finally evident in LS sedan - still a bit anonymous
- Interior: No breakthroughs in design, but amazing tech spec and fit and finish

Utility
- Comfort: Your favorite arm chair cruising down the road - not a bad seat in the house
- Space: MASSIVE rear accommodations, only slightly less spacious in the front - trunk loses space to battery pack

Safety
- Dynamics: Better than you might expect, but it won't be mistaken for a sports sedan (or a BMW 7-series)
- Technology: Quite possibly the industry's technology flagship

Value
- Price: Without any real competitors, looks to be well priced against its nearest rivals - Lexus residuals always strong
- Mileage: No Prius, still about 10% better than other large, executive sedans

Emotional Appeal
- Heart thumpin' factor: Not really, unless you're a tech-geek
- Fun to spank: Come on now...

SPECIFICATIONS

Layout: Front engine / All-wheel drive
Engine: 5.0 liter, V8†w/high-output, permanent magnet, electric-drive motor
Power (SAE): 438 (total system)
Torque: n/a
Gearbox: CVT
Curb Weight: 5,049 lbs.
0-60 mph: 5.5 sec.
1/4 mile: 13.8 sec. @ 106 mph
Top Speed: 130 mph†(electronically limited)
Mileage: 20 city / 22 highway
Base Price: $104,900
Competitors: Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic, Audi A8L, BMW 760Li

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