I disagree with every review of the Lexus LS600hL ever written. Categorically. To a man, my colleagues misinterpret the most expensive Lexus as a misguided planet-saver that doesn't deliver enough mpg to justify its sky-high price tag. I view the ultimate hybrid as better driving through science. In fact, despite the dorky "hybrid" badges uglifying the LS600hL's flanks, Lexus didn't build this beast to sip fuel. They built it to go toe-to-toe with 12-cylinder Germans.
The LS600hL is no design statement, like the 760Li. It doesn't announce, "I have a huge wallet" like a Mercedes S600. The LS design is much more Audi A8 W12, only without the goatee. The restrained yet handsome lines strike the same chord as VW's Phaeton. Only this time they're brand correct.
The LS600hL is a handsome package. At a distance, the big four-door appears clean and reserved. It's only when you pull up next to (and dwarf) anything else on the road that the long-wheelbase Japanese pseudo limo makes aesthetic sense. In a word: presence. In two: killer headlights.
Inside the LS600hL offers a hilarious split between grasping at straws luxury and techno overkill. You've never seen so many buttons. Lexus engineers loaded a shotgun with 'em and blasted away. The last LS I drove-complete with the mid-level rear-seat overkill option-boasted 166 buttons. This time out, the car was down to about 130 pieces of Camry-quality plastic to press. Still, you'll go crazy. And you'll never even notice the gaudily lacquered wood or hand stitched yet still not that rich leather because your attention will 100 percent focused on the AFS button. Whatever that is.
A toggle switch below the gear lever controls the LS600hL's throttle response. In the "Hybrid" setting, the first 10 percent-ish of peddle travel only engages the car's electric motor. "Snow" ups that to an almost undrivable level. Seeing as how this was my second fling with the LS600hL, I knew to stick it in "Sport" (about 3 percent pedal motion) before I pushed the start button. And that was that.
"That" means about 10 mpg around town. Terrible, yes. In both my and the car's defense, the massive, battering-ram acceleration from the 5.0-liter V8 plus the 221 hp electric motor is so addictive that I was forced to bury the pedal every chance I got. But here's the thing — after 300 miles the computer let me know that I had averaged 24.8 mpg. Say what?
As you may have guessed, there's a bit of ideal circumstances involved. The first piece of the puzzle is a lot of open road. The next is the radar cruise control, which does perform impressively (slowing the car down to a stop and setting off again in traffic). Forget the radar part. Just set the cruise to 80 mph and watch in sheer amazement as the tachometer registers a paltry 1,100 rpm and the computer claims 40 mpg.
I briefly mentioned the rocket sled-esque forward thrust but it merits repeating. Holy runaway train, Batman! This 5,219 monster flies like a Bentley. Rumor has it that Lexus can't quite figure out how much torque the car produces. They claim "just" 385 ft-lb of the stuff. However, the IS-F kicks out 371 ft-lb and it's the same (gas) engine. And the electric motor offers up 100 percent of what it's got at any rpm. Based on the seat of my pants, I say they're severely underrating the twist.
In his review, Mr. Montgomery described the following as bad manners; when you lift your foot off the gas, the electric mill provides an extra dollop of shove. I find it reassuring. And fun. You think that sounds dangerous? Perhaps, but Lexus did see fit to (uh) fit the LS600hL with some of the most serious stoppers in the luxo-barge biz.
The world's biggest hybrid weighs more than Oprah in her heavier years, but stretches over 17 feet. Which means the handling is about what you'd imagine. To be fair, the world's most expensive hybrid handles commendably. But you'd never know, as gauze-wrapped steering and active anti-roll bars dial out all sensation. Good or otherwise. Of course, you can't hear either engine, the CVT (literally — no whine), the wind, rocket attacks or anything.
So, should you buy one? Yes, absolutely. Look, it ain't going to save the earth or your checking account. But the LS600hL does get appreciably better mileage than the competition. And goes like a jet plane with a silencer.