2009 Lexus LS600hL

Comfort without compromise

2009 Lexus LS600hL

FAST FACTS

1. The LS 600hL utilizes the Lexus Hybrid Drive system for performance claimed to equal that of a 6.0L V12, but offers the fuel efficiency and emissions of a 3.5L V6.

2. Even in gas mode, the LS 600h L is able to achieve fuel economy of 20 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway.

3. Optional items include reclining rear seats with fold-out ottomans and a massage function.

4. The LS Hybrid is sold only as an extended wheelbase model, with three more inches between the axles, meaning plenty more room in the luxurious back seat.

While the drastic spike in fuel prices last summer may have driven some people to downsize to gas-sipping econo-boxes or scooters, some were less eager to jump on the Al Gore bandwagon. Those who have managed to keep a little extra change jingling around in their pockets despite the impending recession were fortunate enough to forgo such knee-jerk reactions. That being said, there are places most of us would rather spend our money than at the pumps. Whether you shudder at the thought of forking over your hard-earned dineros to oil companies, or just want to reduce your personal impact on the environment, there are several vehicle options out there that will allow you to continue a lavish existence while being able to sleep with a clear conscience.

Lexus has been leading the pack in the premium hybrid market by offering hybrid powerplants in existing models that offer improved fuel mileage without compromising style, comfort or performance. In addition to saving money on fuel, which offsets the increased initial purchase price, comes the peace of mind associated with reducing your carbon footprint. Reducing fuel consumption without having to endure an econobox should be reason enough to check out one of the three luxury hybrids Lexus is currently producing, based on the LS, GS and RX platforms.

V12 POWER WITH V6 FUEL ECONOMY

Of those three, the LS 600hL stands as the unrivaled flagship of the Lexus lineup (hybrid or otherwise). The hybrid LS uses the Lexus Hybrid Drive system for performance claimed to equal to that of a 6.0L V12, but offers the fuel efficiency and emissions of a 3.5-liter V6. Power delivery is silky smooth, handling is supple but precise and braking is surprisingly efficient considering the car weighs a robust 5,049 lbs.

Thanks to its diplomatic road manners, the 600hL never feels as large or heavy as its specification sheet suggests. The driver can also choose among three driving modes including power, hybrid and snow. The standard Adaptive Variable Suspension also offers three choices; Comfort, Normal and Sport, that regulate the dampening of the air shocks. This system also allows the 600’s height to be adjusted by a “Height Switch” if you happen to be driving over speed bumps or large pot holes.

THE EPITOME OF OPULANCE

In addition to the technology required to efficiently propel the largest LS, this two tonne sedan’s weight is comprised of many features that are the epitome of opulence. While the driver has such convenient features as a hard drive based navigation system, heated steering wheel, auto-park with Obstacle Detection System and a back up camera at their fingers tips, rear passengers are able to enjoy a 19-speaker Mark Levinson 450-watt sound system, a DVD entertainment system with a 9-inch LCD monitor with remote control and wireless headphones. Comfort is advanced by the aid of heated, massaging reclining rear seats with retractable ottomans, a four-zone climate control system that utilizes a dust, pollen and deodorizing air filter, as well as rear and side sunshades. This is no ordinary hybrid.

Until recently, the fuel savings enjoyed by hybrid vehicles was simply not enough to offset the increased purchase price of a vehicle that looked as though it should be owned by the Jetsons. (Yes, I’m talking to you Prius and first generation Insight!)

Aside from the discreet badges, the 600hL provides few hints of its hybrid alter ego. The only real compromise is the reduction in trunk space in order to house the added technology. Transition between gas engine and electric motor would be undetectable by driver and passengers alike were it not for the dash mounted monitor keeping you up to speed on what mode the car is in.

HYBRID TECHNOLOGY

Another element working against hybrid vehicles is that the technology is largely misunderstood by the general population. In the automotive sense, the term hybrid refers to the mating of electric motors and large storage batteries to an internal combustion engine. This technology has been created to reduce the inefficient use of the gasoline engine during conditions where the vehicle is decelerating or idling. Far from a solution to our society’s reliance on fossil fuel, hybrids simply create an opportunity for efficiency meant to bridge the gap between fuel consumption and driving pleasure. Hybrid systems themselves differ among companies and tend to vary between what are called partial hybrid or full hybrid systems. Partial hybrids use batteries and electric motors to run things like lighting, air conditioning, heat or the radio while the engine is in shut off mode. Full hybrids, such as the one in the 600hL, work in a similar fashion but are also capable of propelling the vehicle. EV (Electric Vehicle) mode allows the LS to run with only electric power under certain conditions.

438HP AND 20 MPG IN THE CITY

While many hybrids use anaemic four-cylinder powerplants as the basis for their propulsion, the LS boasts a 5.0-liter V8 putting out a total of 438 net power and up to 385 ft-lbs of torque. Even in gas mode, the LS 600hL is able to achieve fuel economy of 20 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway. Under everyday, real-world driving conditions, the fuel savings will range from minimal to significant, depending on a number of variables. This can include everything from extreme grade changes, weather conditions, proper tire inflation, traffic impediments, driving conditions and your right foot. The truth of the matter is that how you drive affects fuel mileage just as much as what you drive.

THE VERDICT

While the Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu and Toyota Camry are all available in hybrid form and excellent family sedans in their own right, they still leave much to be desired for the affluent. The 600hL allows its owner decent gas mileage while experiencing the ultimate in driving decadence. Whether you are planting your right foot while piloting the LS from the driver’s seat or are being chauffeured around town while you enjoy the heated reclining and massaging rear seats, you won’t be disappointed by the performance, comfort and refinement that this lavish luxury sedan provides. The fact that you won’t have to cash in your portfolio at the gas pumps is just an added bonus. As it turns out, going green doesn’t have to make you blue.

While the automotive market is currently being bombarded by new and less visually offensive hybrid models than ever before, they still account for a very insignificant percentage of vehicles sold. Even fewer still appeal to the luxury market since those who buy premium cars traditionally don’t hold fuel economy as top priority. This will slowly begin to change as manufacturers have invested in modern technology and broadened their hybrid model ranges to include vehicles that don’t actually drive, (or more importantly look), like hybrids.

The LS600hL received a lot of bad publicity when it first came out, with critics saying that it was really just a farce and that anyone concerned with the environment wouldn’t own such a vehicle. And yet, the LS600hL, like so many Lexus models before it, has started a trend as we now see BMW and Mercedes set to offer hybrid versions of the 7 Series and S-Class. To some it may just be a token offering to mother earth, but it’s a pretty big deal when you consider the alternative vehicle might be a gas-sucking twin-turbo V12.

POSITVE

Luxurious comfort
Agility despite large proportions
Silky smooth road manners

NEGATIVE

Huge dimensions
Questionable efficiency under spirited driving conditions
Price tag