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Lexus LS600h 2007 Road Test

Thu, 28 Jun 2007

“Waftastic” reads like a word Mike Myers may have invented to describe emissions from the F.B., or perhaps even a new Austin Powers cologne. But it also aptly describes an LS 600h L, the biggest, best and so far only hybrid limousine you can buy.

It has a new 294PS 5.0 litre V8 petrol engine, a 224PS regenerative electric motor, a battery of batteries, four-wheel drive and an epicyclic ‘CVT’ transmission.

And it is the only limousine in the world that can waft away from a kerb completely silently, emitting nothing whatsoever into city atmospheres, achieving everything Ken Livingstone apparently wants apart from an ostentatious display of hard-earned wealth.

The car arrives in the UK on 1st October and the order book for the 275 examples to reach the UK this year is already full.

Think about it for a moment. A two-and-a-half ton limo that can pull 60mph in 6 seconds, go on to an electronically limited 155mph, cruise at 112mph at just 2,000rpm, return 30.4mpg and steams in at just 219g/km CO2 so it’s also the only limo that doesn’t get hit with £400pa tax from next year.

The ‘Hybrid’ signs on the side clearly tell the public you care about the environment, perhaps not quite as much as a Prius owner, but at least you aren’t leaving everyone else to choke in your exhaust fumes.

And, in the long-wheelbase version, presuming you have a chauffeur, you can specify a “Relaxation Pack”.

This consists of what amounts to a Business Class reclining chair that at the press of a button also moves the front passenger seat forwards and out of the way so you can sleep, enjoy some champagne from the built in cooler, watch a DVD on a large built-in ceiling screen, have numerous different types of back massage, or perhaps even do some work.

At 100kmh the sound level inside the car is a mere 60db, the lowest of any car, anywhere ever. “At 60mph, the loudest noise you can hear in this new Lexus motor car is the sound of your own breathing.” (Apologies to the late David Ogilvy.)

But if you don’t like silence you can employ the standard 16 speaker Mark Levinson "Reference Surround" sound system.

Lexus has coined its own catchword for its attention to detail: “L Finesse”, which reads to me like the product of too many meetings. It also uses the expression, “The Pursuit of Perfection”. To me, “Pursuing Perfection” would have summed it up better, but perhaps that was rejected and once rejected could not be revived. However there is no doubt that listening to every criticism of its previous LS models has led to standards that border on the fanatical.

For example, during production, the paint is “water polished’ and any imperfection that may have existed is either eliminated, or the paint finish is rejected. There has been a lot of bad press recently for while paint, Glass’s Guide marking it down as worth £3,000 less to used buyers than black. Unfortunately that only takes account of past behaviour, because the LS600h is at its outstanding best in water-polished pure white. (The white car in the photos is the standard wheelbase version.)

Prior to driving there was some alarm at the electronically controlled electric steering, which is high ratio at low speeds, low ratio at high speeds, yet quickens up in “pre accident” scenarios. Some of us wondered if this would translate to “fear steer”.

Yet out on the road it offers a better impression of driver “feel” than any previous Lexus LS. It isn’t perfect because it isn’t linear. Electronics have taken over from castor and mechanical precision. But the car is aimed at drivers who might not happen to be as interested driving as the rest of us (mainly Americans), and the electric steering combined with the other chassis electronics might just save their lives together with anyone else’s that they might otherwise crash into. Even driving on simulated ice the car collects itself and stays under control. We certainly had no alarming moments, despite using the ferocious acceleration to the full on ordinary roads and maxing the car many times (when space and prudence allowed) on the autobahns.

I could go on and on about equipment levels. Thankfully there is no interpretation of i-drive. Instead, individual buttons control individual functions and you never get so locked into a menu you could crash into the car in front. But there is so much kit that to describe it all would take a book, so instead I’ll refer you to the equipment list below, laboriously transcribed on the plane.

To sum it up, despite the steering and the heavily intrusive ESP (of which only 30% can be switched off), this is a car I liked on all levels.

It works on logical argument for delivering 0-60 in 6 seconds, 155mph, 30mpg and 219g/km, which is almost V12 performance at V6 diesel economy.

But it’s also satisfying and so comfortable to drive. I reckon I could do 1,000 miles in a single stint without a twinge.

If my present little earner were to suddenly end, I might find myself asking, “do any potential LS600h owners need a chauffeur?”

(Video test by Martin Gurdon.) 

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