By on January 24, 2009

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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42 Comments on “Capsule Review: Lexus LS600h L...”


  • avatar
    Rix

    Lexus gets trashed a lot on this site, but their cars are reliable, luxurious, well put together, and have generally quite adequate power. That being said, they are no bargain even for the amenities and quality offered.

    I do not believe this car will depreciate to the same extent as the Euro 12 cyl. flagships. The reputation for Lexus quality will bouy resale prices and residuals. I expect this will be an expensive car, well above $50k, on the used market even 10 years from now.

    That being said, I do not see what this offers Lexus. They won’t sell enough to cover the costs of production, even at six figure prices, and it isn’t worth bothering for the Toyota corporation. I see a lot of rich people driving around in my neighborhood and the tastes run more runabout than luxobarge these days. The ultra high end is fashion, and small is still in even though gas prices are down. Junior execs are running around in Escalades now; the real power set here seems to favor either Prius or Porsche. Maybe their wives drive these things to take their precious snowflakes to school.

  • avatar

    Rix :

    My tester was a yearling with less than 10k on the clock. It originally stickered for $115k. It’s gathering dust at eighty large.

    And Lexus gets the same treatment as any other manufacturer. We call ’em like we see ’em. Period.

  • avatar
    Rev Junkie

    I bet the CVT really smoothes out the power delivery, especially paired with the electric motor. It is a lot better suited to a luxury car than a constantly-shifting EIGHT-speed auto.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “I expect this will be an expensive car, well above $50k, on the used market even 10 years from now.”

    Not a chance. No Lexus has ever retained 40% of it’s when new price 10 years down the line. 1999 Lexus LS400s sell for around $10-$12k now. They sold for over $50k when new. So, they are selling for around 20% of their when-new price 10 years down the road. Granted a 10 year old Jaguar is down in the sub 15% range, but in either case the vast majority of the original purchase price has depreciated away.

    Back to the over $100k LS600h L of today … I would be surprised if it held any more than that benchmark 20% of its value by 2019. In other words, it will be under $20k ten years from now, not above $50k. In fact, typically the highly equipped version of a car looses almost all of its price premium over time and that “L” is likely to retain less than that paltry 20% number.

  • avatar
    tedward

    As a frequent detractor of the Prius and Toyota in general I’ll still admit to liking this car. It’s rwd/awd, extremely luxurious and has electric motors to aid torque delivery. Perfectly sensible use of a hybrid powertrain in my opinion. Put this system into every bentley, rolls and town car, all will be well, just keep it the hell away from the sporty compacts.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    Personally, I wouldn’t be able to sleep in the back of ANY car if I spent 80k on a luxury car, but I guess the target audience is vastly different. I’m pretty sure the target audience would prefer a more formal/charismatic style or something, though?

    I love the wood in Lexus cars. :) Always a step up from MB, BMW, etc.

  • avatar
    MBella

    This car is the most comfortable thing I’ve sat in. MB S-class, and BMW 7-series can’t compete. I have never drove, road in, or even sat in an A8, so I can’t comment on that, but the Lexus definitely beats the other two in comfort.

  • avatar
    seanx37

    I got to go for a ride in one a few months back. I see the appeal. IN fact, I wanted to move in. It may not be the most exciting thing, but it does its job very well. Really comfortable, really fast. Unbelievable stereo. Rode wonderfully on our shitty Detroit roads. Front seat was amazing. And the owner said he got mid-20s mpg. For a 5000lb luxury car. That he drives like a teenager.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I think the real selling point of this car (which the target deomgraphic wouldn’t bat an eye at) is that it avoids the gas guzzer tax, yet performs like one.

    I’ll bet the engine is spared a lot of stress under hard acceleration, too.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    RF has already told us why the car wont retain it’s value –

    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.

    Me, I’m going to figure out how to stuff all this into a ’32 highboy roadster.

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    Interesting that this site is the first that captures the essence of the 600h and really understands what is the one huge main advantage over regular V8’s and competing V12’s. I’ve driven all 3 german V12’s – supernice cars all of them. But none of them delivers this smooth, instant, noisless, hugely torquey contionous never stopping acceleration. No hesitation, no downshifting autobox, not revving the engine etc. Like driving a car with a nuclear power source :) Only a hybrid system with perfect CVT and powerful electric engines can achieve this. Not even one car magazine has made this comparison and comment about the 600h – respect Farago! :)

  • avatar

    As a disclaimer, I’m on my second 3-series and appreciate the excellent handling, stunning braking and maneuverability of a much smaller car than the LS-600h. Having said that, I’m also aware that for the majority of car buyers, there is far more “edge” to my 3-series than what they are looking for. My neighbor drives an ES350 and can’t understand why I’d pay $10k more for a smaller and less luxurious car.

    I suspect the object of Toyota’s marketing at these elevated price levels is just that. They’re simply not marketing to me. When I bought my 335, I cross-shopped the GS-350 and G-35; the Lexus has it all over the BMW for the majority of car buyers; more room, more luxury, plenty of power and decent performance.

    Any of the big sedans include almost breathtaking depreciation with the purchase, so the Lexus is not alone here. All are far heavier than they need to be. Yet if one is buying a bit of conspicuous consumption, this is a great car and fills out a field of already great cars, each for its own reasons. The Big BMW, MB, Audi and Lexus are all a little different take on the same theme, and each does its job differently.

    I’d guess, however, that the ten-year old Lexus will not require shop visits with the frequency of any of its German brethren.

  • avatar

    LET ME COMPARE FOR YOU, THE 750, the LS and the S550.

    When I went to actually purchase a car, I tested all of these against each other to find the best choice.

    S550
    #1 Largest interior space for bigger drivers
    #2 Most impressive technology suit: massage chairs up front, auto bolstering front seats adaptive cruise control slows to stop and speeds up automaticaly, heated/cooled/ventilated seats feel perfect

    750
    #1 Best handling of all 3
    #2 highly adjustable seats for comfort
    #3 fastest acceleration of the 3

    LS -L
    #1 large rear passenger space
    #2 simpler controls than the others
    #3 fast acceleration (slower than S550 to 60mph)

    The LS’s automatic park system is FUBAR and its driver spacing isn’t as good for bigger drivers.
    The 750 had the same problem.

    I choose the S550 because it was the largest and most comfortable.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    In an ealier review, Farago (or maybe it was Lieberman) wrote that “the power comes on like a subway train.” The delivery of power can be a compelling feature, even in a luxury car.

    But I think an equally important part of this review is Sasha’s comment, “Because I can sleep in the back.” That’s another thing a luxury car should do for the passengers, make them comfortable. I think Sasha’s comment is an important endorsement.

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    S550’s auto bolstering seats are FUBAR as much Lexus’s auto park system. This function with S550’s seats is an interesting feature, you use it couple of times, in few months it feels silly, in 3 months it feels stupid and becomes annoing and you’ll never use it again.

  • avatar

    Lexus proves that the hybrid can work – if you treat it like an electric supercharger. Honestly I would like to see more cars in this vein – normal to big engines with extra motivation from an electric system, which has the bonus of improving economy. I would sooner buy that (Accord V6 Hybrid excepted) than a wheezy hybrid with a weeny gasoline engine that serves as little more than a backup to the electric motor. The last ride I had in a Prius reminded me how much I hate that formula – groaning, raucous little mill that struggles to move the car, and the electric engine never once kicked in because it was minus 15 celcius outside (the gas engine is needed to run the heating system, and the battery wouldn’t charge up enough to assist much, probably also due to the bitter cold).

  • avatar

    MBella

    “comfort” is subjective.

    I would say that the S550 is way more comfortable than the LS460 – but, I’d also say the BMW 7 has the best seats.

  • avatar
    golf4me

    Of all the Lexuses (Lexi?), the LS in its current form, and the previous generation less so, have been the only ones I’ve ever liked. “They are what we thought they were” in the voice of Denny Green. I’d still probably take an A8 over this, but if reliability were higher on my list, it’d be very close. Nice review.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    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.

    Grouping the Audi and MB V12s does the motors from Stuttgart a tremendous disservice, as every 12 pack they have produced since 2003 has a pair of pinwheels in the exhaust stream that catapults them into a different league from Audi (and BMW). They can do 0-60 in 5.5 just like the Lexus…..but at half throttle.

    If you haven’t sampled an twin turbo MB S600, or better yet, an S65 AMG from 60-130….you REALLY should.

  • avatar

    Personaly, I don’t believe in “Quality” under $100,000 because now that globalization has caused car manufacturers to get alot of their parts from the same bins as other manufacturers and all those manufacturers are eating from China/Japan or Korea’s troughs… I just can’t personally accept that one vehicle is automatically better than another.

    Especially considering the Japanese history of bribery.

    They buy alot of these car review magazines and they fill them with pro-Japanese auto rhetoric and attack other makers.

    I’ll never forget when one of their magazines compared the LS to a PHANTOM !

    I loved a critic who replied: whent that LS is rotting in a junkyark omewhere, this Rolls Royce will be sitting in a vehicle showroom of some tycoon.

    I actually know workers for Toyota and Honda who will attest that they don’t always document every single problem their vehicles experience.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    By FAR, one of the best looking cars on the road today.

    Simply stunning.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    flashpoint, “I’ll never forget when one of their magazines compared the LS to a PHANTOM !”

    I didn’t see that but I can believe it. Luxury cars are sensory and evaluating them can be objective. It’s not impossible for Lexus to hit the same marks at Rolls. They just must want to do it.

    Same with Cadillac. Any danger of someone comparing a Cadillac to a Rolls? If Cadillac wants to survive, they must work to make that happen.

    flashpoint, “I loved a critic who replied: whent that LS is rotting in a junkyark omewhere, this Rolls Royce will be sitting in a vehicle showroom of some tycoon.”

    Well, actually, I can’t argue this, either. The Rolls name alone means something that the Lexus name does not (yet, anyway). At some point, each car will need a repair greater than what it’s worth to the owner and it’s hi-ho for the crusher.

    The Rolls badge on the front will keep the Rolls in the game longer. Unless Lexus catches up in prestige.

    Well, I must add, if the Lexus is less expensive to repair, that would give it an edge in survivability.

  • avatar
    50merc

    For cars in this class, the comfort of back seat occupants is very important. Heck, until the late 30’s chauffeurs of limousines often didn’t even have a roof over their head.

    Brock_Landers: “No hesitation, no downshifting autobox, not revving the engine etc. Like driving a car with a nuclear power source :) Only a hybrid system with perfect CVT and powerful electric engines can achieve this.”

    Well, to be picky, there is one other motive power system that achieves that: a steam engine. Full torque at any RPM; no shifting except to back up. Unfortunately, you may have to wait a while on a cold morning to experience it. And yeah, throwing logs into a firebox isn’t much fun.

    I don’t expect Stanley to rise again, but I do wonder whether steam would be widely used today if it had gotten as much R&D effort as has been devoted to ICE, automatic transmissions and hybrid systems with electric motors.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    50merc, “I do wonder whether steam would be widely used today if it had gotten as much R&D effort as has been devoted to ICE, automatic transmissions and hybrid systems with electric motors.”

    One of my old curmudgeon-y friends used to say that, often. :-) He was a huge fan of steam.

    Steam has daunting problems in managing the water; inescapable physics problems. I think you could throw absolutely massive resources at it for years and still not get a vehicle as convenient as a Ford Focus.

  • avatar
    mcs

    I don’t expect Stanley to rise again, but I do wonder whether steam would be widely used today if it had gotten as much R&D effort as has been devoted to ICE, automatic transmissions and hybrid systems with electric motors.

    In the locomotive world, steam lost out to Diesel engines driving electric motors. Maybe the automotive world is heading in the same direction.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “I loved a critic who replied: whent that LS is rotting in a junkyark omewhere, this Rolls Royce will be sitting in a vehicle showroom of some tycoon.”

    Hardly the truth. Older used Rolls Royces are a dime a dozen and do not attract any tycoons. You can have a red one for $6000 right now:

    http://sfbay.craigslist.org/eby/cto/1003747215.html

  • avatar
    dejalma

    “Older used Rolls Royces are a dime a dozen and do not attract any tycoons.”

    so true. My neighbor has one from the 60s. I do not live in a tycoon neighborhood.

    Here’s one in the Boston Area

    http://boston.craigslist.org/bmw/cto/1001604862.html

    The owner in the link is a bit wrong though. Jet engines and cars went their separate ways in 1973. Just like Volvo cars and trucks went their separate ways.

  • avatar
    davey49

    Corvettes are the only cars that are worth something years down the road.
    “The LS600h L is everything I don’t like about a car: huge, heavy, amorphous, numb, floaty-drifty and over-complicated”
    It’s probably the best of all those attributes.

  • avatar

    as an FYI on the building of this HYBRID luxobarge, here are some stats (MJ = Million Joules)

    Energy to make 1kg Steel: 30MJ/kg
    Energy to make 1kg Plastic: 160MJ/kg

    2008 Prius Mass: 1,332 kg
    Energy to make and assemble Prius; 26,640 MJ

    2009 Lexus LS600h L Mass 2,295 kg
    Energy to make and assemble Lexus; 45,900 MJ

    Difference between Lexus and Prius = 19,260 MJ of energy

  • avatar

    thewedishtiger

    I totally agree with your energy ratings. Where did you find them?

    Car & Driver proved that Prius is more damaging to the environment than an Ferrari.

    Top Gear showed a M3 get higher MPG on their track than Prius.

    Prius is bullshit.

  • avatar

    A PDF I saved last year is the source of the energy used to manufacture materials.

    I would like to point out that one litre of petrol (gas) is 40MJ, which if you do the math, using $1.79 per US Gallon as the average price, the total savings on building the Prius, in terms of gas is $127.

    The bigger deal is that the Prius does somewhere between 35 to 45mpg whilst the Lexus does 20 mpg. The use of the word ‘Hybrid’ on a Lexus is somewhat akin to putting the word ‘Lite’ on a packet of pork rinds

  • avatar
    Michael Ayoub

    Flashpoint, you’re joking, right?

    “Top Gear showed an M3 get higher MPG on their track than Prius.”

    Of course, you neglected to mention that the Prius was being driven full throttle and the M3 only hard enough to keep up.

    Any car driven full throttle is going to get terrible gas mileage.

  • avatar

    That car in the picture isn’t a Lexus…its a Hyundai Genesis.

    …oh, wait…

  • avatar

    Michael Ayoub

    Any car driven full throttle is going to get terrible gas mileage.======

    – right… and the M3 did better :P

  • avatar
    MBella

    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. I don’t know what ever happened to this program. It does however, seem like a decent idea when the majority of heat energy from the burning of gasoline is wasted through the exhaust.

    Flashpoint,
    Comfort is subjective, and I said my opinion. You might disagree. That’s why some people like a soft mattress, and some like a hard one. It’s the reason they can sell those Sleep Number beds for such ridiculous sums of money.

    The M3 wasn’t at full throttle, the Prius was, and the M3 was just keeping up.

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    quote: Car & Driver proved that Prius is more damaging to the environment than an Ferrari.

    Top Gear showed a M3 get higher MPG on their track than Prius.

    Flashpoint did you even watch how they achieved this in Top Gear and did you even read the Car and Driver article? Serious car enthusiast shouldn’t even consider making any conlusions from those kind of sources(methods of testing and collecting/analyzing information).

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    My 2002 LS430 has been trouble-free since new, something I couldn’t say if I would have bought an A8L, 745iL, XJ8, or S500. Lexus’s problem is that I don’t really see a reason to upgrade to a newer LS considering I’ve only tapped maybe half of it’s life expectancy.

    These cars are quiet. With my Radio Shack sound meter, the car barely pegs 60dbA at 70mph. which is what my previous 89 Galant did at idle, and less than what my 98 Camry does at 50 mph. I test drove a new E350 and S80, and they’re not in the same league for sound proofing, though the Genesis is very close.

    I learned never to buy RWD in Canada again (even though it has various levels of ESP/Traction control aggressiveness depending on whether you put it in snow/power modes), the HID headlights don’t have much range, the air purifier wastes 3 cubic feet of trunk space, and I prefer the softer ride of my friend’s 04 Chevy Impala.

    On the other hand, I love the waftable torque, the wicked Mark Levinson stereo (which gets wasted playing self-help tapes), and the surprise I get from seniors in subcompacts when someone half their age drives their ideal retirement car (maybe that should tell me something about this car’s image).

  • avatar

    Much smoother than a V12? Is that even possible?

    I can understand smoother than the AMG mill, since the priority with that V8 is on performance. But the MB and BMW V12s have smoothness at the top of the list. I’ve never sampled MB’s turbo V12. But the BMW mill certainly excels at low-end oomph with virtually no drama.

    Flashpoint–not that Prius vs. Hummer study again. We’ve buried it a couple times here at TTAC. Or so I thought.

    TrueDelta has no reliability info on the LS yet. Not too far off the minimum sample size, though.

    http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    I’ve never sampled MB’s turbo V12.

    Man you have to drive one. No other luxo V12 is even close…as eveidenced by near 120 mph trap speeds in the quarter mile, bone stock.

    But the BMW mill certainly excels at low-end oomph with virtually no drama.

    The BMW has decent thrust, as does this Lexus….but the MB mill (even the non AMG 5.5L version) excels at turning rear tires into smoldering piles of goo.

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    Thats the point. S600 and S65 only come with rwd layout. ASR light is ON (not flicking, but ON) at any speed when you floor it until about 80-90mph. After that the car starts hooking and you can start using all that power. There is only one country in the world where you can legally use and enjoy such kind of power in a luxurious rwd sedan – Germany. RWD car with too much power is not the definition of smooth ultra luxury transportation.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    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?

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ 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….

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