Capsule Review: Lexus LS600h L

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
capsule review lexus ls600h l

Driving Lexus’ top-of-the-line luxobarge, I couldn’t figure out why I liked it. Seriously. The LS600h L is everything I don’t like about a car: huge, heavy, amorphous, numb, floaty-drifty and over-complicated. And yet… there was something subconsciously seductive about the big rig. I asked my step-daughter Sasha why she’d taken a shine to the world’s most expensive hybrid. “Because I can sleep in the back,” she replied. Three minutes later she was sheltering in the arms of Morpheus. Narcoleptic Lexus meme confirmed. So I amped-up the critical analysis and noticed a slightly crashy edge to the suspension and some wind noise on the driver’s window. Ha! The Big L isn’t even a perfect, four-wheeled slug of Ambien CR. To reality check my impressions, I floored it. And backed off. And pressed a couple of buttons. And floored it. And backed off. And then it hit me: the LS600h L has the world’s finest automobile engine.

Ever since the old man rolled up in a 300SEL 6.3, I’ve been a big fan of naturally-aspirated OMG engines. The current version of Mercedes’ legendary powerplant (6.2-liters but who’s counting) is both certified and certifiable; those 500+ horses generate the enough come to Jesus moments to populate a dozen mega-churches. But in every application I’ve sampled, the mighty Mercedes powerplant hesitates slightly before pinning your head to the padded whiplash preventer. In contrast, the Lexus LS600h L’s battery-augmented 5.0-liter V8 engine behaves like a proper V12– only much, much smoother. Lexus says the LS600h L’s mechanical motivation is equivalent to a 6.0-liter V12; hence the model designation. I’m not going to argue the point. From any speed to any speed, the Lexian limo– for that it what it is– just GOES.

I’m sure there are Audi and Mercedes fans who’ll say that Germany’s V12s are still the ne plus ultra of riens non plus. That I would argue. The big ass hybrid Lexus holsters a 240-cell pack of nickel/metal-hydride batteries with 288 nominal volts, stepped up to 650 volts DC, then converted to alternating current by an inverter to power the motor/generator units. More to the point, the batteries offer all their torque at zero rpm. So, again, flex your foot and the car accelerates like a friction toy. Push the three-position toggle switch into “hybrid power” and the LS600h L accelerates like a friction toy with rocket boosters. We’re torquing a 5,219 lbs. sedan that oozes from zero to sixty in 5.2 seconds.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot not to like about the LS600h L. But the engine/engines aren’t one/two of them. Imagine driving at 80mph at 1000rpm with nothing but power underfoot. If (when?) Lexus puts this electric – gas powertrain into a normal wheelbase LS, fit it with a sports suspension, lose the four wheel-drive, drop the sillier options and price it around the LS460’s $63k, they’ll blow BMW and Mercedes’ full-size V8-powered sedans out of the water. As it is, the LS600h L is destined to be one of those hugely depreciating, unintentionally limited edition cars that will one day become a highly sought-after collector’s piece. Meanwhile, big engine lovers, the LS600h L is the future. Props to Lexus? Props to Lexus.

[Jonny Lieberman’s full review here. William C. Montgomery’s here.]

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2 of 42 comments
  • Doctorv8 Doctorv8 on Jan 27, 2009

    Agreed, the MB V12's would be much more enjoyable with AWD. But after a while, you get used to rolling into the throttle a bit, and you are then rewarded with truly stunning acceleration. Yes, the car reaches supralegal speeds with incredible ease....but then again, what high performance car built in the last ten years doesn't?

  • PeteMoran PeteMoran on Jan 27, 2009

    @ Mbella and 50merc BMW was trying to develop a Gasoline/Steam Hybrid where the water would be heated by the exhaust of the gasoline engine. The water would have been recirculated. Otherwise known as "Combined Cycle", but BMW called it Turbosteamer (groan) and I think they've stopped. Weight is not your friend in car sized applications. CarnotCycle would like it....

  • Tassos ask me if I care.
  • ToolGuy • Nice vehicle, reasonable price, good writeup. I like your ALL CAPS. 🙂"my mid-trim EX tester is saddled with dummy buttons for a function that’s not there"• If you press the Dummy button, does a narcissist show up spouting grandiose comments? Lol.
  • MaintenanceCosts These are everywhere around here. I'm not sure the extra power over a CR-V hybrid is worth the fragile interior materials and the Kia dealership experience.
  • MaintenanceCosts It's such a shame about the unusable ergonomics. I kind of like the looks of this Camaro and by all accounts it's the best-driving of the current generation of ponycars. A manual 2SS would be a really fun toy if only I could see out of it enough to drive safely.
  • ToolGuy Gut feel: It won't sell all that well as a new vehicle, but will be wildly popular in the used market 12.5 years from now.(See FJ Cruiser)