Lexus has gone green. That’s right. The Japanese luxury automaker’s website encourages actual and potential customers to explore eco-design and hybrid living. Meditative Asian music and beautiful nature photographs accompany the explanation: “Hybrid Living explores new ideas of how we can experience our lives in such a way that minimizes our impact on earth without sacrificing comfort and luxury.” Kinda makes me want to fire-up an incense stick, slip on some sandals and go for a slow Sunday afternoon drive in an ecologically-tuned Lexus. But my inner cynic won’t let me enjoy the ride. Despite Lexus’ posturing, the two-and-a-half ton LS600hL doesn’t run on herbal tea and happy thoughts.
The LS600hL is Abel to the LS460L’s Cain. Only the dashing “Hybrid”-embossed chrome swooshes across the door panel bottoms indicate the hL’s relative virtue. The LS remains a deeply anodyne design whose size and stance are the only indication that something expensive this way cometh. Still, bonus points for not following BMW into flame surfaced Hell, and the LS’ integrated exhaust pipes are plenty wikkid.
The “L” bookending the model designation indicates that this not so mean green machine is 4.8” longer than a standard LS460. The benefits are best appreciated in the back, where there’s enough leg room for environmentally conscious passengers to roll out their yoga mats and contort themselves into relaxation poses. Not really. But close. And while we’re back here, sybarites are advised to order the Executive-Class Seating Package ($12,500) and enjoy a Sharper Image-style chair massage.
In an echo of the late, unlamented VW Phaeton W12, the hL’s center rear seat is replaced with a fixed console. The middle bit contains controls for the rear quarters of the sedan’s four-zone climate control system. It also conceals a handy wood-trimmed table and a rear seat cool box, suitable for chilling the finest beverages. Of course, all of these features are also be found on the Earth-ravaging LS460L. But it’s worth noting that hybrid drivers need surrender naught in the way of creature comforts in their endless pursuit of good karma.
If LS600hL hybrid intenders were worried about battery whine or a rough ride, they may rest easy, safe in the knowledge that the hL entombs its passengers in an automotive mausoleum. There are hunter killer submarines that generate more internal decibels than an hL at speed. Occupants who consider “road feel” as desirable as herpes will be delighted with the hL’s suspension. The discriminating buttocks of Lexus-born bluebloods need never fear champagne-spilling jolts from impudent potholes or impolite speed bumps– until emergency maneuvering is required or an ill-bred hooligan gets behind the wheel.
Put the world’s most expensive gas – electric hybrid through its paces and you’ll awaken bad manners you wouldn’t expect from a conveyance with a six-figure price tag. Pull your foot off the go-pedal and the hL’s over-exuberant hybrid drive train continues to deliver accelerative boost for a few inopportune moments. Stomp on the brakes and you induce unrefined and poorly modulated retardation from the regenerative braking system.
While the hL is a sub-six second to sixty luxobarge, the hybrid's handling is hampered by the fact that it’s a heavy old thing. The all wheel-drive hL adds 717 pounds of hybrid heft to the rear wheel-drive equation; weighing-in at 5049 pounds in all. Throw in the marshmallow suspenders, add a bit of over-sharp steering response, and you’re left with a car that’s almost as corner-aversive as a Swiss skiing chalet. The optional $3k Active Power Stabilizer will quell some of the nautical motions, but there’s only one cure for the hybrid’s spastic throttle and braking response: buy another car.
TTAC’s Jay Shoemaker astutely observed that Lexus makes cars for people who hate to drive. For car-haters who think the base LS460L isn’t expensive enough, the LS600hL will separate them from an additional $32,500 of their money. Mileage in town theoretically improves from 16mpg to 20mpg. But on the highway, the LS460L out-economizes the pseudo-green machine by two miles per gallon.
At the risk of sounding churlishly non-PC, let’s think about the hL’s economics for a moment. If an owner drove 15k miles a year– all of them in the city– he would save 187.5 gallons of gasoline a year. At $3.00 a gallon, it would take him 57 years and nine months to recoup the LS600hL’s “hybrid premium.”
The LS600hL’s real payoff is, of course, psychological. For one thing, car-haters won’t have to listen to the faint purring of a vulgar internal combustion engine– or at least not as often. For another, owners can say they drive a hybrid. But none of this will stop the globe from warming. In the final analysis, the only point of the LS600hL is to assuage the guilt of shallow, label-conscious snobs. That’s an expensive cure for a senseless affliction. In that sense, the ‘h’ in the model’s name might as well stand for hypocrite.