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2008 Lexus LS 600hL: at the boundaries of technoluxury

2008 Lexus LS 600hL: at the boundaries of technoluxury

Last Friday we sneaked past the guards at an event hosted by Lexus in honor of owners of its hybrid cars in the San Francisco Bay Area. While we own neither a Lexus RX 400h nor a Lexus GS 450h, we figured that we had spent enough time behind the wheel of both to justify a free ticket to the complementary mojitos and hors d'oeuvres on offer. The biggest treat for us, however, was an up-close look at the next member of Lexus's hybrid lineup: the 2008 LS 600hL, the long-wheel-base version of the LS 600h.

As the hybrid version of the 2007 LS 460, the LS 600h won't be officially unveiled until the L.A. auto show later this year, and the car on show last week was not a finished production model. Nevertheless, most of the interior tech features and appointments for the final car were installed, and we spent a giddy half-hour playing with what has to be the most technically advanced production car we have ever seen.

Externally, the LS 600hL has the same body and form factor as the 2007 LS 460L, which we test-drove a couple of weeks ago. While the official performance specs for the LS 600h have not been released yet, a Lexus rep told us that the car would feature three high-powered electric motors (one more than the startlingly swift GS 450h) to go with its 4.6-liter V-8, which can manage 380 horsepower without any electrical assistance. In place of the LS 460's 8-speed automatic transmission, the LS 600h will feature a dual-stage continuously variable transmission arrangement--we're not sure how this will work in practice, but we're looking forward to finding out. It will also be the first ever production car to feature LED headlights.

Inside, the LS 600h is as sumptuously equipped as the LS 460, with a few extra tech features. A touch-screen navigation system with integrated real-time traffic information enables drivers to see local congestion data at a glance and to get more information on particular areas by touching different warning icons. An addition to the LS 600h is the presence of a camera mounted on the steering column, focused on the driver's face: if the camera detects from the orientation of the driver's face that he or she is not looking directly ahead at the same time the car's radar system senses an obstacle in the road, the car will act to regain attention by sounding an alert and flashing a warning signal. If this has no effect, the car will begin braking on its own, while reprogramming the steering ratio (to make the wheel more responsive for when the driver finally regains interest in the road), activating the seat belt pretensioner, and preparing the brake system for impact. We are not making this up. For those who are not satisfied with this level of big brotherliness, the LS 600h features Lexus's Advanced Parking Guidance System, which means that, with a little help on the brakes from the driver, the car can park itself.

From the backseats, the view is much the same as that in the LS 460: a reclining ottoman-style rear right-hand seat in the long-wheel-base version comes equipped with built-in massage (we found the Shiatsu setting to be very much to our liking); a ceiling-mounted 3.0 VGA 9-inch wide-screen LCD for showing movies and a 19-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, are among the fabulous frippery.

Look for more info on the LS 600hL in our coverage of the Paris Auto Show starting next week.