It's the biggest, most powerful, most efficient model that Lexus makes. It's also the most expensive Lexus that you can buy today. It is the prow of the flagship LS line and the tippy-top of the totem pole for the Japanese luxury brand. It is the 2013 Lexus LS 600h L.
But, at nearly $130,000 as tested, is this most ambitious Lexus too expensive for its own good? Does it justify its price tag or will it suffer the same fate as the equally impressive: its prospective buyers balking at a price that's "too high for a Lexus"?
Flying first-class at ground level
Our example of the LS 600h L was a long-wheelbase model (hence, the "L" suffix) and was equipped with a $7,555 Executive-Class Seating package, so perhaps the best seat in the house is in its second row. Let's start there.
The L is 5 inches longer than the standard LS chassis, all of which is dedicated to increasing the legroom for rear-seat passengers. Instead of a bench, our Executive model featured two spacious buckets separated by a wide center console and ample shoulder and elbow room. If you told me that these seats had been swiped from someone's private jet, I'd be inclined to believe you. Coupled with the LS' smooth ride, being chauffeured about in these thrones is a bit like flying first-class at ground level.
That console is home to a monochromatic display and a bank of controls that give the rear passengers command over the rear dual-zone climate control system (this LS features a total of four automatic temperature zones), the heating and ventilation controls for the rear seats, the vehicle's audio system and source, and the three rear window shades.
Pull a tab and a small center tabletop springs up and folds out from the console. Pull another tab and the armrest pops open to reveal a pair of remote controls -- one of which controls the rear-seat video entertainment system that folds down from the ceiling. Look over your shoulder and you'll find a wood panel that pops up to reveal a single-slot Blu-ray player, an SD card slot, and composite RCA video and audio inputs that feed the LCD with content. I'd like to see an HDMI input so that I could play back video stored on a smartphone with an HDMI output. If the Honda Odyssey can offer an HD input, so should this nearly-$130,000 uberluxe sedan.
The system comes with two pairs of IR wireless headphones for private listening, but passengers can also pipe the AV system's audio through the surround audio system or plug their own premium headphones into one of the two 3.5mm analog outputs.
Yes, the rear seats are a good place to be, but they are not equal. The rear right seat actually has a few unique tricks. At the touch of a button, the front passenger's seat can be moved forward and out of the way, further increasing the rear passenger's legroom and freeing the way for a fold-out ottoman to lift and cradle your tired feet and legs. This seat also reclines by a few degrees and, under the control of the second remote control in the rear console, features multifunction, multizone, programmable massage and vibration. Mmmmm.
Hybrid Synergy Drive
It's a hybrid, but that doesn't mean that the 2013 LS 600h L is a miserly slouch when it comes to power. Somewhere beneath the hood and the plastic engine bay covers, you'll find a 5.0 liter V-8 gasoline engine -- the largest available in the automaker's entire lineup -- that's mated to a high-output, permanent-magnet, electric-drive motor via Lexus/Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system. Total system output is 438 horsepower and an unspecified amount of torque. (The gasoline engine is responsible for 385 pound-feet before the electric motor's torque is factored in, so the actual number's gotta be pretty lofty.)
It's a powerful setup that delivers its thrust in a manner unique to the 600h. The sedan surges forward under the guidance of the accelerator pedal, nearly silent like an electric bus and transitioning seamlessly from full-electric to hybrid gasoline-plus-electric output and back.
The 600h's butter-smooth acceleration is thanks in part to the well-balanced and well-isolated gasoline engine, the silent operation of the electric motor, and the E-CVT that links them. Without set gear ratios to row through, the LS lacks the periodic interruption of power that standard transmissions exhibit when shifting. With all of that torque on hand, the engines can glide the sedan along without really breaking a sweat or raising the revs. However, the E-CVT does have a Sport program, which lets the power train stretch its gears for better acceleration, and a manual shift mode with virtual "gears."
After being multiplied by the E-CVT, torque heads to all four corners of the LS via the standard all-wheel-drive system with its Torsen limited-slip center differential.
There's a lot of power being generated by the LS 600h L's power train, but at least it's being managed relatively efficiently. According to the sticker on the window and the EPA, the 2013 LS 600h L will average 20 mpg combined, 19 mpg in the city, and up to 23 mpg on the highway -- not superimpressive in a world where 40 mpg is the magic number, but let's see you do better with a 438-horsepower luxu-barge that weighs well over 5,000 pounds. Go ahead; I'll wait.
On second thought, get back to me on that, because I'd rather discuss the plethora of drive modes that the LS offers to customize its performance. On the center console, you'll find a drive select knob that can be twisted and tapped to chose between six programs that affect the Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) system's output, the throttle mapping, the Adaptive Air Suspension firmness, and Variable Gear Ratio electronic power steering's responsiveness and weight.