For our latest review we took the Lexus flagship for a spin. The 2013 Lexus LS 600h is the most powerful hybrid in the segment, more than enough reason for us to see what it is like to drive!
The Lexus LS 600h is positioned towards the top end of the luxury limo market. It competes with cars such as the Jaguar XJR, the Mercedes-Benz S 63, Audi S8 and the BMW 760Li. US markets have typically been more receptive to the Lexus LS series cars, as such, Lexus sells the majority of these models over the pond. Yet there is a demand for the car in Europe
Many will know that the Lexus is subsidiary of Japan’s highly popular Toyota brand. It began life in the late 1980’s at a time when Japanese brands were gaining popularity. Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda and Subaru had all experienced heavy growth, particularly in their export markets. While Japanese brands were gaining a following, many considered them to be reliable, affordable and efficient, none were particularly revered for being particularly high-end.
In 1986, with the birth of Acura, the Japanese industry suddenly realised that the market might react positively to a Japanese luxury brand. Spurred on by the success of Acura, Honda’s pioneering luxury brand, both Toyota and Nissan launched their own luxury car brands in 1989; Lexus and Infiniti respectively. By the end of the year Lexus had a two-model range and had sold 16,392 cars in the US alone
The new Lexus brand’s first car was the Lexus LS400, a luxury limousine fitted with a 400 hp V8 and rear wheel drive. It was marketed with particular emphasis on quietness, its ergonomic interior, engine performance, build quality, fuel economy and value. Perhaps the most notable event during the companies freshman year involved a product recall for the entire 8,000-car Lexus. The company acheived the recall within 20-days, sending technicians to pick up, repair, and return cars to customers free of charge, even in the remotest of areas.
The brand quickly gained a reputation for customer service to add to the LS400’s considerable repertoire. It is fair to say that the Lexus brand hit the ground running.
Fast forward to 2013 and we have the direct successor to the Lexus LS400 sitting in our parking garage. The Lexus brand has grown considerably since 1989. The range now includes a luxury hatchback, the Lexus CT, a small luxury saloon, the Lexus IS, a mid-size luxury saloon, the Lexus GS, an SUV, the Lexus RX and a complete Lexus LS range. Moreover, the success of Toyota’s Prius model has led Lexus to become an early advocate of the performance-oriented hybrid drive system.
With the history lesson behind us, we took a look around the Lexus LS 600h to see what we had.
The Lexus LS series consists of two models, the Lexus LS 460 is the entry-level model, if such a word can be used to describe a Lexus LS. It doesn’t have the high-tech hybrid system of the LS 600h. It features a 4.6 litre petrol engine producing around 382 hp. We suspect that customers might prefer this option for the simple fact that it isn’t nearly as complex as its bigger brother.
The engine is clearly one of the Lexus LS 600h’s biggest marketing points. The LS 600h first appeared in 2007 and has been mildly updated for the current model year. The power comes from a 5.0 litre V8 powerplant supplemented by two electronic motors which combine for a 650 volt rating. When the LS 600h first hit the market, Lexus engineers were quoted saying that the combination of the two motors makes the V8 engine feel as though it has the performance of a V12.
The V8 is a Toyota designed unit with the model designation 2UR-FSE, designed exclusively for the LS 600h with a raft of weight reductions which include a set of magnesium alloy cylinder heads. It produces 389 hp with features Toyota describe as VVT-iE; Variable Valve Timing with intelligence and Electrically controlled intake cam.
The first electric motor is named MG1 and it is used to start the V8 when the whole system is working together as a motor. Once it has fulfilled this role it aids the second motor, MG2, by producing energy to recharge the 288 volt nickel metal hydride battery. The second motor, MG2, which essentially covers the electric drive, provides 221 hp. It is possible to drive the car on the electric motor alone, although only for short periods in the city and residential areas.
Of course, both petrol and electric motors are rarely running simultaneously so the benefit is evident more through the efficiency ratings, although the instantaneous torque of the electric motor does benefit the acceleration figures somewhat! The total output of the petrol engine and electric system combined is 438 hp.
It is Euro V compliant but doesn’t quite reach next year’s Euro VI compliance criteria yet. On a combined cycle, the Lexus LS 600h will emit 199 Co2 g/km. Lexus quote a European fuel consumption figure of 32.8 mpg, yet we didn’t quite manage to achieve this during our week with the car. Perhaps the biggest advantage the Lexus LS 600h presents is for taxation purposes as many countries offer tax discounts or subsidies for hybrid vehicles.
Chassis & Performance
An important part of any luxury limo is the ride quality. The Lexus LS 600h is based on the long-wheelbase LS 460 L. It shares the same basic structure except in a number of key areas which make the ride more refined.
Much of the chassis structure is machined from aluminium whilst the body panels are a blend of high-strength steel alloy and ultra-high strength sheet metal. As you would expect, these properties ensure the car carries a hefty weight (2,320 kg).
Lexus fits a multi-link, double-joint suspension system for the LS600h. They switched to a progressive rebound spring design with adaptive variable air suspension. As you would expect for a heavier car with some vague sense of sporting credentials, the bushes in the multi-link suspension have been stiffened to reduce roll. A new drive select system provides five different modes (EV, Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport, Sport +).
The car comes equipped with a Torsen all-wheel drive system which aids in putting the power to the ground efficiently. Performance figures include a 0 to 100 km/h time of just 5.5 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph.
The Lexus LS series was last updated back in 2009 for the 2010 model year as a mid-life facelift. The design dates back to 2006 and it is beginning to show, particularly when you compare it to the competition. Having said this, the LS 600h does appeal to a certain class of owner.
The design is incredibly reserved. It looks modern, yet the traditional, slab sided shape of the classic LS series is still very much visible. The exterior doesn’t shout about its luxury status, with the exception of the front grille, chrome details are kept to a minimum and our test car featured a conventional wheel design.
At the front, the spindle design front grille makes it an obvious Lexus. There is also a consistent styling line that runs from front to rear. As a result, the LS looks quite long, large and tall compared to other cars in this segments. Even the rear looks conventional with a with an uncluttered look and a set of mildly styled tailpipe covers.
From a design perspective then, the Lexus doesn’t cut itself a controversial shape. It is instead designed to appeal to a more mature, conservative audience. From the outside it does this well.
At this point it also seems worthwhile taking a look at how Lexus construct the LS series cars. They are assembled at Toyota’s Tahara plant in Japan, more or less to order. Each stage of the build is overseen by one of 10 Takumi, or “Master Craftsmen.” There are individual experts dedicated to each task; engine casting, engine machining, engine assembly, plastics molding, plastics painting, vehicle assembly, body painting, welding, stamping, and final inspection/quality control. The result is an impeccable build quality.
To enter the Lexus LS 600h you simply need to keep hold of the key. The car features keyless entry so when you move within a certain distance of the car, the doors unlock and grant you access. Once inside, there is plenty of leather as you would expect. Lexus opt for aniline leather with wood grain accents. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel particulary modern compared to some of its German competitors.
The front drivers seat is a particular highlight with 16-way electric adjustments. The passengers seat features 12-way adjustment too. Stitching detail is near perfect and rear seat passengers get the advantage of footrests and massage functions. The LS 600h is geared more towards comfort than it is towards style. We felt to interior appointments would be more attractive to the older generation, rather than the younger.
It seems ergonomics have moved on considerably since the current model made its debut in the 2007. The button layout is a bit of a headache compared to some competitors. For starters, there are too many of them! The controls for the air conditioning takes centre stage on the dashboard. Dual climate control is adjusted each side by buttons, there is a button to circulate air, heat the mirrors, increase the fan speed, decrease the fan speed, change to blower settings; all this on a small panel.
The centre console features a 12.3-inch multi media screen with the ability to split functions across the screen. The audio system is provided for by Mark Levinson. It is a beautiful system featuring a 7.1-channel surround sound with 19 well-placed high-quality speakers. The system features Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity, an auxiliary input and USB port for use with iPhones and other smartphone devices.
Customers can add a rear entertainment package with a 9 inch screen mounted to the roof, there is an advanced airbag system to spec too, plus a seatbelt warning system as well as a front seatbelt system designed to reduce the impact of whiplash. Lexus offer a night view camera for an extra fee.
Having spoken at length about the features of this car, it feels a little redundant to now talk about what its actually like to drive. We suspect the majority of owners employ someone to drive them around. The Lexus makes perfect sense in that regard what with its hybrid credentials and (relatively) unassuming image.
We drove the car on a variety of different surfaces in a range of different situations during our two-week test drive. If anything, it taught us that the Lexus isn’t particularly special as a drivers car. The steering can be vague at times and it doesn’t take as well to sharp cornering as some of its German rivals might perhaps do. Still, it does excel in certain areas.
For one, the ride is fairly well sorted. It is a very comfortable place to be on a long motorway cruise with the cruise control on and your favourite song on the CD player. Most owners will enjoy it because of this, perhaps with another weekend car in the garage for those days when they want excitement. With the cluttered dash and the above mentioned lack of handling precision, we were led to the conclusion that the Lexus LS 600h is very much a car to chauffered in rather than to drive yourself.
The fact that so much of the engineering updates this car features relate to comfort and excluding external noises suggests that we might have hit the nail on the head. The refinements, the comfort and lack of road noise seem geared more towards the passenger than the driver. Furthermore, the Lexus is disadvantaged in the power stakes too when compared to its rivals, more or less confirming its lack of performance credentials.
The Lexus LS 600h is very vanilla which will complement the lifestyles of the target market Lexus is trying to attract. It doesn’t immediately attract the attention and it is almost stealth in the way it goes about business.
The Lexus LS 600h is a comfortable long distance limousine. The new Lexus signature front design gives it a fresh appearance and distinguishes it from the competition. On the inside however the overload of buttons and components that seem to come from a 90’s Subaru show where Lexus has some catching up to do to its European competitors. That being said, there is a definite appeal to the Lexus LS 600h. Many will buy it for the eco-friendly hybrid image and won’t be dissapointed when they find out it scores highly on comfort too!