Quiet, Composed, and Nearly Flagship Worthy
The stairs leading to the entrance of the Getty Center — perched above Los Angeles’ perpetually gridlocked 405 highway – are long and flat, forcing visitors to slow down and enjoy their rich surroundings. That’s what the 2011 Lexus LS 600h L attempts to do in the automotive world. If you want a stimulating luxury flagship car, try a BMW 7 Series or Jaguar XJ. The Lexus LS 600h L wants nothing to do with fast-paced excitement, and that’s why it excels.
Lexus wants to play in the full-size luxury sedan class above $100,000, where V-12 powered Mercedes-Benz S-Classes and BMW 7 Series sedans dominate. What distinguishes the Lexus from competitors is its single-minded pursuit of isolating passengers from the outside world. The automaker says the car is one of the quietest automobiles ever built, and we have no reason to doubt that claim. Even in the sporty version of the 2011 Lexus LS 460 that finished fourth of seven cars in a recent comparison, we noted the car’s “serene isolation.”
The automaker tries to take that relaxing isolation a step forward with the hybrid version of the LS flagship sedan. Instead of building an LS with a V-12 to match the category leaders, Lexus went with a V-8 hybrid. We aren’t completely sold on this powertrain. It doesn’t have the power to take on the V-12s, and its mpg rating, while better than its 12-cylinder-powered foils, isn’t exactly stellar considering its hybrid credentials.
When it comes to the performance numbers game, the L in the LS 600h L stands for Lagging, as in lagging behind the competition. The V-12 engines in the BMW 760Li and Mercedes-Benz S600 each produce more than 500 horsepower, while the all-wheel-drive Lexus has “only” 438 total system horsepower. Using a 5.0-liter V-8 engine, a CVT, two electric motors, and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack behind the rear seats, the Lexus LS 600h L sprinted from 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds during our testing, on to a quarter mile time of 14.2 seconds at 101.3 mph. The 2011 LS 460 is just two ticks slower to 60 mph, while BMW claims a 4.7-4.8-second time in the ActiveHybrid 750Li. For comparison, a 2010 BMW 760Li accelerated from 0-60 mph in 4.1 seconds and through the quarter mile in 12.4 seconds at 115.3 mph. Braking on the LS 600h L from 60-0 mph was 17 feet longer than the BMW 760Li.
Unless you’re discussing decibels and mpg, the Lexus really isn’t a numbers car. That’s probably not going to comfort those who paid the $123,219 as-tested price of our test car (base price is $112,225). Lexus’ pricing strategy places the hybrid LS far above the standard car, yet still the equivalent of a new Toyota or Lexus cheaper than the BMW and Mercedes-Benz competition. The BMW ActiveHybrid 750Li, in contrast, is in the same price range as the Lexus LS 600h L. We’d argue that Lexus has a good idea in need of refining.
Any vehicle with a six-figure price tag shouldn’t make its owner compromise, but one glance beneath the power-operated trunk lid reveals the area in which the LS 600h L falls shortest. Because of the battery pack, trunk space on this extended wheelbase four-door is a pitiful 10.1 cubic feet. In other words, not enough space for the car’s owners and another couple to store luggage for a three-day weekend getaway. Non-hybrid LS sedans have 15.5 to 18.0 cubic feet of cargo space.
Lexus is selling the idea of a responsible flagship sedan, something best presented in hybrid or all-electric form. Fuel economy for the BMW 760Li and Mercedes-Benz S600 is 15 and 14 mpg combined, respectively. The admittedly slower Lexus LS 600h L is far more efficient, with a 20 mpg combined rating, 2 mpg higher than an LS 460 L AWD. Plus, the Lexus is certified as a Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle II. We got about 20 mpg in mixed driving when the LS 600h L was in our care. What you won’t find on the Lexus LS 600h L — unlike the V-12 Mercedes-Benz and BMW competition — is a gas-guzzler tax.
The hybrid powertrain also contributes to the impression that this is one quiet car, especially when you pull away from a traffic light on electric-only power. If you can develop a light foot on the gas pedal, the Lexus will use electric power at low speeds and in stop-and-go traffic. Throttle response is actually very good, making the car seem faster than it is, though on a couple occasions, the brakes were more forceful than expected. The steering doesn’t transmit much of anything back to the driver, acceptable in a car like this. Take it easy in this 203.9-inch Lexus and you won’t experience the “pigheaded understeer” we described in a comparison test featuring a 2008 model (the Active Stabilizer Suspension system was discontinued this year).
Why would you be in such a hurry, anyway? The interior is a great place to spend some time, from the front or back seats. The model we tested had Lexus’ Executive Class Seating Package, which eschews the normal five-seat layout for two rear seats, with the right rear seat including an ottoman, butterfly rear headrests, a rear air purifier, extra air ducts for the backseat passengers, a rear-seat entertainment system using a 9-inch screen, power rear window and rear windshield sunshades, heated and cooled rear seats with memory, and a rear passenger seat that reclines up to 45 degrees and has an excellent massaging function as well as controls for the front passenger seat. We could continue all day — this car can be loaded with almost any luxury feature you can imagine. (Almost.)
More than two decades after Lexus hit the luxury scene, the brand has made serious progress in finding respect and prestige, but the segment is always moving forward. Hyundai‘s Equus doesn’t appear to be suffering the fate of the U.S.-market Volkswagen Phaeton, and environmentally conscious luxury sedan buyers will soon have the option of purchasing the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid and Tesla Model S electric car, not to mention the BMW ActiveHybrid 750Li and its Lexus-matching fuel economy. Staying ahead of the others should start with L-Select. In Japan, L-Select is Lexus’ way of offering exclusive and bold interior trim options when the regular Alcantara headliner and semi-aniline leather in the regular LS 600h L won’t do. Eye-catching wood trim options as well as colorful seats, door trim pieces, Alcantara, a headliner, and stitching are available, but L-Select isn’t offered in the U.S. Yet. A Lexus representative tells us that U.S. customers are not likely to wait the 4-5 months necessary before taking delivery of an L-Select LS or be willing to pay the large premium.
What shouldn’t change are the interior controls. In the Lexus LS 600h L, you don’t need to COMAND your iDrive system to do anything. Just take your hand and move it toward the center stack, and without too much trouble you’ll find what you need. The only exception is Lexus’ gee-whiz parking assist technology, which was one of the first in the industry to take control of the car – as long as you use the brakes and gas pedal – to guide it into a parking space. Years after the feature’s introduction, it’s still not easy to use and should be axed or significantly improved.
We’d like to suggest a reimagined front grille, as well. The bolder grille only appears on the hybrid LS, along with badges with blue accents and low-beam LED headlights. Otherwise, the LS 600h L is the same understated bodystyle that was refreshed for the 2010 model year and has aged well since the original model debuted. Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has full crash test results for this car, but we expect this luxury flagship will take care of its owners.
The Lexus LS 600h L has found a niche in the full-size luxury sedan market that we can understand: a more responsible flagship luxury experience for the executive who can’t be seen in the same Lexus LS 460 or BMW 740i as mid-level employees. Lexus’ LS 600h L is an astoundingly quiet and smooth-riding sedan, though there’s still room for improvement. This status-mobile may have the same basic engine technology you can find inside a $30,000 Toyota, but few cars are as relaxing to drive as the LS 600h L. By the time the price of gas hits $5 a gallon, we’ll be surprised if Lexus isn’t preparing a new LS flagship sedan that could finally place the brand on the same level as BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
|2011 Lexus LS 600h L|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$123,219|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||5.0L/389-hp/385-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8 plus 221-hp electric motor; 438-hp comb|
|TRANSMISSION||cont. variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||5324 lb (51/49%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||203.9 x 73.8 x 58.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.8 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.2 sec @ 101.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||124 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.80 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.2 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||19/23 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||177/147 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.94 lb/mile|