Since its debut in 2007, I’ve preferred Lexus’s flagship LS460 to its more expensive rivals. The mild-mannered LS460 is more reliable and arguably more comfortable than its Mercedes, Audi and BMW counterparts. The Lexus costs thousands less too. But on the autobahn, or even the Interstate, the German rivals outpace the Lexus in performance and precision driving.
Lexus has upped the ante with the LS600h. The “600” nomenclature is car code for 6.0 liter, as in a 6.0 liter V-12 to compete with the monster V-12 engines available in the German rivals. (To explain the taxonomy, the LS460 is a 4.6 liter V-8). In typical Lexus fashion, the “600h” produces the 438 horsepower power of a V-12 without using a V-12 and while delivering the gas mileage of a V-6.
That’s because the LS600h is the world’s first ever full-size luxury hybrid. It has a 5.0 liter V-8 under the hood. That engine teams with massive electric motors (hence the “h” for hybrid) hidden between the backseat and the trunk. The end result is an all-wheel-drive V-12 driving experience with V-8 gas mileage: 20 mpg city/22 highway. The Lexus’ only luxury hybrid, Mercedes’ brand-new S400 BlueHybrid, earns a similar 19/26 mpg.
So why do your pals at the Country Club still bother with V-12 Mercedes, BMW and Audi sedans? In one word: soul. The new LS600 produces the power of a V-12 on paper, but it’s no track car.
If you want sports car handling from a massive luxury sled, you should skip the Lexus altogether and go straight to the Audi S8 or Mercedes AMG. That said, none of these massive cars are all that great on the track. If you’re looking for a real gem to drive around town, the Lexus tops the list (and it’ll you save nearly enough to buy a real sports car for the track).
In the Ritz Carlton suite -- er cockpit -- of the LS600h, you start by dialing in the 16-way adjustable electronic seat (of course you’ll select hot or cold air to emanate from the perforated leather). Next, simply push the start button and the dash comes to life. The dash is the most noticeable thing because the 438-horsepower gas and electric motors are silent—quite literally silent. You’ll know the LS is running though, because the vents gently breathe cool (or warm) air into the cabin.
Such is life in the LS600h, where everything outside the windows is silent and nearly surreal. If you’re seeking daily comfort, coupled with long-term reliability and the sensation that you’re driving on a sea of glass, the LS600h (or non-hybrid 460) is your car. Lexus’s overly-smooth steering feels insulated from the road, which is exactly how most Lexus drivers like it. Driving enthusiasts may find that as the only fault in a nearly perfect luxury sedan.
Personally, I preferred the $104,000 LS600h to the $136,000 BMW 760i I drove a few months ago. Then again, I preferred the $78,000 Lexus LS 460 to either of those.
So what would a professional auto reviewer buy? I’d pass on the V-12 variants altogether and buy the standard LS460 (the performance difference is nominal). Then I’d invest the $25,000 to $50,000 I saved – or buy a second car.
The LS’s ergonomic interior borders on brilliance. This car knows where you’re going to
reach and when—proving to be an almost euphorically comfortable cockpit.
* Each month John Dickerson tests a worthy car. From smoking teenagers at stoplights to cramming groceries and small appliances into the trunk, Dickerson examines the features you actually care about, like how well a spilled mocha cleans off the upholstery. Dickerson was raised on industrial pollution, deer venison and American steel in Detroit, Michigan. His co-workers often find him in a trance, slumped over his keyboard, uttering words like “torque steer, horsepower-to-displacement ratio” and “nav system.”