You glide along, serene and immensely comfortable
in a space separated from that around it. Rather like being in a detached
bubble, in fact.
The road may be imperfect; you don’t feel it.
There may be the noise of trucks and cranes and
aeroplanes; you don’t hear them.
There is a sense of being in something other than
a car, in being moved by a new form of transport. The refinement is simply
staggering, the comfort extraordinary.
Yes, here in Australia you’ll pay a quarter of a
million dollars for the privilege, but you’ll also be getting one of the most
amazing cars to ever roll down a road. The Lexus LS600hL redefines the whole
concept of a car.
Lest you think that latter statement is simply
The Lexus has a state-of-the-art 290kW 5-litre V8
– and also a 650 volt electric motor developing 165kW. Combined, the peak power
is 327kW - and the driveline has simply enormous torque. The 600hL uses an
electronically continuously variable transmission (with a manual over-ride
giving eight ratios) and a Torsen differential all-wheel-drive system.
If that isn’t the most sophisticated automotive
driveline in the world, we don’t know what is.
It has LED low beam headlights that steer with the
front wheels, a radar proximity cruise control that – especially with the
regenerative braking possible with the electric system – makes keeping station
with other traffic an effortless doddle. It has adaptive air suspension,
variable ratio electric steering and a suite of safety features as long as your
In the four seat version (as tested), it even has
a rear seat that reclines, extends, and massages your back.
Oh, and performance? This 2.4 tonne vehicle can
accelerate to 100 km/h in a claimed 6.3 seconds and yet has a government tested
fuel economy of 9.3 litres/100km. On a country drive it can easily do better
But the LS600hL also has some glaring
The steering is bizarrely light and the ratio
around centre soporific. The entertainment and navigation electronics seem more
fitted to a car of a quarter of the price, and for the market being chased,
there are some amazing omissions. The boot is ridiculously small – in fact,
smaller than many cars of half the size – and some of the standard features
cross the boundary from being effective to being gimmicks.
So let’s see how the car works as an integrated,
(Note: the LS600hL is such a complex car and is
equipped with so many features that this story does not attempt to cover them
all. Please see the download at the end of this story for the complete Lexus
press release on the LS600hL – all 18,000 words of it.)
Step into the car and pull the door shut – and
well, you don’t have to actually do that. If the door – or boot – is on only the
first latch, it will electrically close itself. The point? Little, we
Like most of the other Lexus and Toyota hybrids, the
LS600hL is started with a pushbutton – you need only have the ‘key’ in your
pocket. In many starting conditions (eg if the petrol engine is warm) the petrol
engine will stay off – but electric power is immediately available. The car will
drive through carparks and the like on electric power alone, but put your foot
down and the V8 starts. In urban conditions the petrol engine switches itself
off a lot – but as it is literally impossible to tell from within the car
whether the V8 is running or stopped, it matters little to the driver how the
propulsion is being provided.
Accelerate hard and there’s an unexpectedly
brilliant V8 growl – normally inaudible, the engine comes to life as it hurls
the huge car down the road. Acceleration in all but one condition is strong: the
variable transmission and massive on-tap torque giving a fantastically long
shove in the back.
But – and it’s an important deficiency –
acceleration off the line is initially quite weak. In fact, plant your foot from
a standstill and you can count ‘one-and-two’ before the car really gets going.
It’s a sufficient impediment that quick turns across traffic, or selecting a
short left-hand lane at traffic lights, are best not done.
Less obvious but still present is another
hesitancy – this time when you sharply lift the throttle. In that situation, a
slight ‘dash-pot’ effect can be felt.
With a car of this mass and power, fuel economy is
highly dependent on driving style. In typical heavy traffic Sydney conditions,
air conditioning running and the car being driven as you might expect when
chauffeuring, it got 12.3 litres/100km. On a drive that included a mix of city
and freeway conditions, it returned 9.5 litres/100km. And, finally, on a long
country road trip that included climbing (and descending) the Blue Mountains, it
returned 8.4 litres/100km.
Those figures are in the order of 20 per cent
better than would be achieved by a petrol engine car of similar size and
performance; a diesel might do as well but no current diesel in this class has
However, for us the greatest benefit of the hybrid
system was not the performance/economy compromise.
As alluded to earlier, the regenerative braking
works superbly at progressively slowing the car, especially when the radar
cruise control is switched on. When braking manually, the huge ventilated discs
(357 x 34mm at the front with four-piston callipers, and 335x 22mm disks with
two pot callipers) and regen braking (we saw a peak of 50kW on the dashboard
instantaneous power read-out) are matched to a pedal with excellent feel. The
level of retardation – helped of course by the huge 245/45 tyres – is never in
The other enormous benefit of the hybrid system is
the instant torque availability. Except for that pause off the line, the 300Nm
available from the electric motor and the 520Nm peak from the petrol V8 result
in absolutely effortless, wafting performance.
Finally, especially in slow conditions, the hybrid
system helps provide an unparalleled level of refinement, principally in the
lack of noise. Driving down a narrow, quiet lane, we came up behind a family
walking down the middle of the road. Running on electric power alone, the
LS600hL was so silent that despite the car being only five or so metres behind
the group, it took many seconds before they realised there was a car
Ride quality is supremely good. Three adjustable
damping levels are provided but in most driving conditions, we left the control
set to ‘normal’. The seats have numerous adjustments and are wonderfully
comfortable. The air suspension uses a host of active controls that result in
the car having little dive, squat or roll. Turn into a corner and the Lexus
grips very well; exceed the high levels and the stability control intervenes,
its action indicated by beeping from the instrument panel. Throw the car around
like a sports machine and we’re sure that the limits would more easily be
reached – but who would buy this car to do that? In short, the grip, handling
and ride are all well up to the required levels.
But the same can’t be said about the steering.
Eerily light, it lacks feel and around straight-ahead can be disconcertingly
bad. Watching a new driver at the wheel on a freeway it was interesting to see
their unsure, constant small applications of steering lock – it’s hard to tell
where you are on the road and that’s certainly not good in what is a very large
car. Get onto a tight, heavily trafficked suburban road and panic can start to
intrude – more than once we used the immense power to accelerate away from
trouble rather than steer through it. We can’t see any driver liking the
steering, but if Lexus engineers believe it to be right, then at least a
dashboard button that varies the weight and ratio of the steering should be
Unlike some systems, the continuously variable
transmission (intrinsic with the hybrid approach taken by Toyota / Lexus) works
with seamless brilliance. Typically (when running!) the petrol V8 is operating
at less than 2000 rpm – and is often at 1000 rpm. Eight manual over-ride ratios
are provided, but for most drivers, we can’t see these ever being used. Often, a
manual over-ride is used to engine brake, but with the automatic regen braking
that occurs when the cruise control is in operation, even this potential use is
But in many respects, the interior is
disappointing. No, not the trim or the space, but the features. A large colour
LCD screen is positioned mid-dash and this can display navigation, over-ride
controls for the climate control and audio systems, and detailed fuel economy
statistics. A rear drop-down LCD screen is also fitted. But none of these
systems really live up to the promise of a quarter of a million dollars.
The navigation system – a Lexus generic system –
is poor. The voice instructions are repetitious and often contradictory (an
actual example: “The freeway is on the left” followed without pause by
“The freeway is on the right”); the interface is not intuitive and prevents the
input of any data (even by the passenger) when the car is moving; and the
navigation system can be quite slow to react.
The DVD system does not allow front seat
passengers to listen to a separate audio source while the rear seat occupants
watch a DVD on the rear screen and listen on earphones – something common in
aftermarket systems costing (in relative terms) nearly nothing. The front screen
cannot be used for on-the-move monitoring of the rear screen DVD, so for example
a front seat passenger cannot easily insert a DVD and get it running for the
rear passengers – and since the DVD slot is in the front, the rear passengers
can’t do it for themselves.
There is no web access at all – something that
surely any business person would want and expect in a car of this cost. In fact,
in terms of a chauffeured rear seat business person, the facilities are poor.
There’s no fold-down table for a lap-top or even on which to write notes (a
small, poorly placed folding table is provided - it’s of near zero use); the DVD
screen cannot be used as an extension screen for a lap-top; there’s no in-car
PC; there’s not even TV reception.
Given the extraordinary sophistication of other
parts of the car, you’d expect the Lexus to be leading in this area of in-car
electronics, not trailing the aftermarket.
The switch-gear in the cabin also looks
unexpectedly cheap. The rear vision mirror controls, for example, appear to be
straight out of a Corolla. Yes, they work fine and are well labelled, but surely
in a car of this expense you expect bespoke, integrated switches?
The fuel gauge is also poorly designed - it's rotated so that when the needle appears to be at the half-way point, it’s
actually at about one-quarter. This design glitch really intrudes because the
rest of the instruments – including the LCD in the centre of the instrument
panel – are so clear.
So what to make of this amazing machine?
We think that in the areas that are the most
difficult to achieve, Lexus has produced an extraordinary car. It has probably
the world’s best cabin refinement, superb performance and – in the context of
such a large, powerful car – amazing fuel economy. Its ride and handling are
both excellent, and the build quality is almost beyond criticism.
However, the boot (just 330 litres!) is tiny, and
the in-cabin electronic features need a major upgrade.
But overall, this is simply a stupendous car of
breathtaking on-road competence.
Lexus LS600hL was provided for this test by Lexus Australia.