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We preview the 2008 Lexus LS 600h

CNET Car Tech takes a first look at the 2008 Lexus LS 600h L hybrid luxury sedan.

Lexus uses a long wheel base for its luxury flagship.
Lexus uses a long wheel base for its luxury flagship.
CNET Networks

Do you have a private jet that you use to fly you and your dog around the world? Then how about a 65-foot sailing yacht that you take down to the Caribbean? These were a few of the images Lexus showed to indicate what kind of buyer the company has in mind for its 2008 Lexus LS 600h L, so if you answered no to the above questions, this car may not be for you.

Based on the LS 460 L, the LS 600h L is a big, luxury sedan with a hybrid powertrain, and Lexus is positioning the car as its flagship model. With a base price of $104,000 and projection of only 2,000 sales per year in the U.S., Lexus is obviously happy to keep this car exclusive.

Going into the preview for the car, we thought it would just be the LS 460 with hybrid powertrain, but we had a few surprises coming. First, Lexus is building the LS 600h in only a long wheel base, or L, version. With this body style, there is tremendous leg room in the backseat. Second, the engine is completely new. Instead of just putting a hybrid system on the LS 460's 4.6-liter V-8, Lexus put a 5-liter V-8 in the LS 600h L, and added the hybrid system to it. And for our third surprise, this powertrain turns all four wheels. The LS 600h L's all-wheel-drive system uses a limited slip differential to improve handling.

The interior of the LS 600h L uses luxurious materials.
The interior of the LS 600h L uses luxurious materials. CNET Networks

Lexus emphasizes four strengths with the LS 600h L: luxury, performance, fuel economy, and environmental responsibility. The car is certainly luxurious, from its interior amenities to its smooth and quiet ride. It has a 19-speaker Mark Levinson audio system that is one of the best we've heard. And the stereo lets you rip CDs to an internal hard disk, so you can keep a substantial library of music in the car. The car also has a navigation system that includes real-time traffic reporting. Even better, this traffic reporting is integrated with the route guidance. The car will suggest alternate routes to your destination if it finds bad traffic on the road ahead. An optional executive package equips the right rear seat with massage and a foot rest, along with a bank of controls for rear seat DVD and other comfort settings.

Luxury crosses over to performance in the way the big car moves. When we stepped on the gas, it didn't feel like we were rocketing forward, but a glance at the speedometer showed we were at 80mph. The LS 600h L gets up to 60mph in 5.5 seconds. Similarly, on some hard cornering the car felt exceedingly stable. We drove the car along the Angeles Crest highway in Pasadena, and had to really push the car near its limits on the corners to actually feel the sideways G-forces. The air suspension can be set to Sport and Comfort modes, and the continuously variable transmission also has a Sport mode.

For a car of this size, with this kind of power, it gets good mileage. Its EPA estimate, based on the EPA's new testing for 2008 model year cars, is 20mpg city and 22mpg highway. We were a little disappointed when we heard these numbers, as we had gotten 24mpg on the freeway in the LS 460 L. But the LS 600h L scores very well in the environmental department, with Lexus estimating it will get a SULEV rating from California's Air Resources Board, the same emissions as the 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid.

For more photos, view our slide show on the 2008 Lexus LS 600h L.