This year we traded in our safety sub-rating, which wasn't something we could honestly test, for a design sub-rating, our one chance to inject some aesthetic opinions into our overall rating. And while the LS 600h is a very handsome, refined-looking car, has easy-to-use cabin electronics, and wonderful interior space, our consensus opinion was that it just doesn't have the beauty to push it over the top. To get a top score in our design sub-rating, a car has to be a real head-turner.
In all other respects, the LS 600h blows away our rating system. Although much more expensive than the LS 460 L, it justifies its price with more power, superior handling, and lower tailpipe emissions. Instead of making the LS 600h merely a hybrid version of the LS 460 L, Lexus added rather than subtracted, increasing the size of the gas engine from 4.6-liters to 5-liters, and coupling that to a 165-kilowatt motor. And all that power gets to the road through an all-wheel-drive system.
Similarly, the LS 600h gets all the cabin gadgets from the LS 460 L then adds a couple more. On the LS 460 L, we were stunned by the audio quality and loved the in-dash hard drive for storing music. The live traffic alerts feature the best integration with a navigation system we've seen on a factory-install. Then there are the cutting-edge features, such as automatic parallel parking and adaptive cruise control.
Test the tech: Man versus machine parking
We're no strangers to competitive parking, having previously put a Mini Cooper S into a curbside space of decreasing size. Because our LS 600h had the Advanced Parking Guidance System, we decided to pit CNET editors Wayne Cunningham and Kevin Massy against it. Our plan: we'd pick a standard parallel parking space and give the editors, and then the car, a shot at completing the task. The car and the editors would be timed, and we would also count the number of maneuvers it took to get in the spot.
Cunningham went second, backing into the same parallel parking spot. The LS 600h also has a park-distance warning, which sounded as Cunningham moved the car too close to one parked behind the spot. Cunningham made one correction forward, ending up 1 inch from the curb in 44.9 seconds. Massy then took the wheel. Once he was finally in the space, he had made a total of two adjustments, getting the car 8 inches from the curb in 44.6 seconds.
Massy got into the parking space in the least amount of time, but had to make the most adjustments. Cunningham was closest to the curb, but was second place in time and number of adjustments. The car took the longest, and was furthest from the curb, but made no adjustments.
While the parking system isn't perfect, in the right conditions it can work very well, and can save inexperienced parkers big headaches. Along with parallel parking, the car can back into perpendicular parking spaces, a feature that is generally easier to set up than parallel parking.
In the cabin
One thing you notice, or actually don't notice, after a long drive in the LS 600h is any discomfort. After spending many hours in the driver's seat, we found none of the usual aches or stiffness we get from other cars. The suspension and the seats combine to reduce fatigue for the driver. All of the cabin materials, from the leather seats to the Alcantara headliner, have a high-quality feel. Likewise, the switchgear feels solid.
You can control the car's systems through the touchscreen LCD, an interface that may not be as unique as BMW's iDrive or Audi's MMI, but is much more practical. There is also a voice command system that works well for entering destinations, controlling the stereo, and making phone calls. The Lexus voice command system is the second best we've used, just behind the system found in the Honda Accord.
We really liked the route guidance on the Lexus' navigation system as well. The system displays in a split screen, shows graphics for complex freeway junctions, and generally times its voice guidance well. But the most advanced part of the system is that, in conjunction with the system's live traffic reporting, it will suggest detours when your route takes you through slow traffic or an incident. During normal operation, the live traffic reporting--sent through an XM satellite radio channel--shows how fast traffic is moving on major roads and displays icons for incidents, such as an accident or roadwork.