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 Lexus LFA supercar: 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.
Twist clockwise once to select Sport; twist in the same direction again to access Sport+. These modes give increasing levels of firmness to the suspension, weight up the steering, and remap the throttle pedal's sensitivity to boost the responsiveness of the LS' acceleration and handling, livening the big ol' sedan up a bit.
Twist counterclockwise to access the Comfort program, which softens the suspension for a smoother, more isolated ride, boosts the steering assist for a lighter feel, and sets the throttle and output maps to their default, efficient settings. Twist again to activate the Eco mode, which is the anti-Sport setting, remapping the throttle pedal's sensitivity and the HSD's output for maximum fuel efficiency. If you're looking to take it easy, this is the mode for you.
The final two modes are Normal, which is the baseline setting of all vehicle systems, accessible by pushing the drive selector like a button, and EV, which uses only battery electric power and is accessible via a separate console button. Drive too quickly, accelerate too hard, or deplete the battery below a certain level and the EV mode will deactivate, reverting back to hybrid operation. It's no Chevy Volt or plug-in Prius in this respect, but being able to go whisper-silent for the last mile or so through your neighborhood or up a long driveway is nice.
Lexus Remote Touch infotainment
The LS 600h L is the top of the Lexus luxury heap, so nearly all of the styling and tech upgrades at the automaker's disposal are standard features here. (At an asking price of $119K, they'd better be.) That includes Blind Spot Monitoring with Cross Traffic Alert; a standard rearview camera; the Mark Levinson 19-speaker, 450-watt Surround Sound Audio System; LED headlamps that steer with the front wheels and feature intelligent automatic high beams; and a handful of other upgrades over the standard LS.
The LS' standard cabin tech package consists of a hard-drive-based navigation system with NavTraffic, NavWeather, Fuel Prices, Sports, and Stocks from SiriusXM, Lexus' Enform connectivity suite (an enhanced, but essentially rebranded version of Toyota's Entune system), standard Bluetooth for hands-free calling and audio streaming, and a full suite of digital audio sources, including USB, HD Radio, SiriusXM radio, DVD optical media playback, and an analog audio input. A giant 12.3-inch ultrawide display resides on the center of the dashboard and displays all of the infotainment data and doubles as a display for the standard rearview camera when reversing.
All of this tech is controlled by Lexus' Remote Touch controller. This joystick-trackball combo controller has always been a weird one, but for the most part, I've liked using the Remote Touch controller and its haptic feedback in previous Lexus models. However, the new generation of Lexus infotainment that ships in the 2013 LS switches to a wide, split-screen configuration that seems to take two steps forward in the amount of information displayed and a step backward in ease of use. The controller that previously used absolute positioning when moving the cursor around the screen now jumps around under your fingers as it repositions the cursor when passing across the screen split. Add to that an interface that relies too heavily on using home screen to switch modes rather than giving quickly accessible shortcuts to the different hubs for navigation and media, for example. You get used to it, but I found the constant repositioning of the cursor and controller to be confusing at first and a bit overwhelming.
The Lexus' cabin is, on the other hand, chock-full of nice tech and convenience touches. For example, the heated and ventilated seats and heated steering wheel can be set to cooperate with the climate control system, automatically cooling your undercarriage on hot days to ease the load on the air conditioner or warming your body and hands on an icy morning while you wait for the heater core to warm up.
The analog clock on the dashboard is tied in to the GPS system and automatically sets itself forward or backward as you drive across time zones. The wood that trims the cabin is a matte-finish bamboo, fitting in with the vehicle's eco image. Discovering these little touches made sitting in the driver's seat a joy.
The standard safety tech loadout includes the aforementioned blind-spot monitoring and rearview camera, as well as the Safety Connect telematic system, which adds features such as stolen-vehicle location, enhanced roadside assistance, and automatic collision and emergency notification.
For an additional $6,500 you can add even more active safety features in a package that includes Advanced Pre-Collision avoidance, pedestrian detection, Radar Guided Adaptive Cruise Control, Active Lane Keep Assist, and Driver Alertness Monitoring. Our vehicle was not so equipped.
Pricing and packages
At the top of the Lexus hierarchy, this tech tour de force starts at $119,910 -- and at that price it includes pretty much every single amenity, gadget, bell, and whistle at the automaker's disposal and its most high-tech power train and chassis technology. We've also added $7,555 for the Executive-Class Seating package, which transforms the rear-seat experience into something rivaling that of a first-class flight, $64 for a cargo net, and $105 for a trunk mat. As tested and with $895 in destination charges, our 2013 LS 600h L weighs in at $128,529. And we're not even fully loaded at that point; you may as well go on and add the Active Safety Package and just cruise on by the $130K mark.
The Lexus is loaded, luxurious, and remarkably potent, but is that too much? The answer depends on how much value you assign to the Lexus badge. The LS 600h L is better equipped, more powerful, and just as efficient as a fully loaded $122,000 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid. The BMW ActiveHybrid 7 Series is 100 horsepower short of the Lexus LS' 438-pony mark, but it's also over $20,000 less expensive than the Lexus when both vehicles are fully loaded. The argument can be made that you get more for your money with the LS 600h L, but if you're the sort of owner who assigns more value to "premium" brands than specs and tech, then the Tri-star and Roundel badges might be looking pretty tempting about now...
Perhaps the fiercest competitor is the Audi A8 L which, when loaded up and equipped with its 4.0 TFSI engine, matches the Lexus for power and efficiency, and is comparable for safety and dashboard tech, but bottom-lines at about $17,000 less.
Remember when Lexus was the less expensive alternative? Now, it's the most expensive competitor in this class.
|Model||2013 Lexus LS|
|Trim||600h L with Executive-Class Seating package|
|Power train||5.0-liter V-8 Hybrid Synergy Drive, E-CVT, AWD with Torsen center LSD|
|EPA fuel economy||19 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, 20 combined mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||n/a|
|Navigation||standard with traffic, weather, and fuel prices by SiriusXM|
|Bluetooth phone support||standard for hands-free calling and audio streaming|
|Disc player||single-slot DVD|
|MP3 player support||standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection|
|Other digital audio||SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio, Entune apps featuring Pandora, rear SD card slot, rear Blu-ray/DVD player|
|Audio system||19-speaker, 450-watt Mark Levinson surround system|
|Driver aids||standard rear camera, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert|
|Price as tested||$128,529|