PASADENA, California - Toyota has largely paved the way for acceptance of hybrid powertrains in U.S. automobiles, starting with the popular Prius. So has Lexus, Toyota's luxury division, which already offers two hybrid models: the GS 400h sedan and RX 400h sport-utility vehicle.
Another Lexus hybrid goes on sale this summer, taking a big step in a different direction. Dubbed the LS 600h L, it's the first total-luxury full-size sedan with a gasoline/electric powertrain. Priced at a whopping $104,000, it also will be the most expensive hybrid vehicle to reach dealerships.
Obviously, for this class of buyer, fuel costs aren't a big concern. Still, driving home an LS hybrid gives the luxury-sedan buyer a bit of a "green" image and a sense of contributing, however modestly, to the welfare of our planet. Lexus claims that the LS 600h L delivers the performance of a big sedan with a V-12 gasoline engine, coupled with the fuel economy of a V-8. Though the principle is the same, that's not exactly the same result as a gas-sipping Toyota Prius or Honda Civic hybrid with a mild-mannered four-cylinder engine under the hood.
Based upon the LS 460 sedan that debuted as a 2007 model, which itself is jam-packed with technological marvels, the new hybrid sedan shuns that conventional LS's eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-drive layout. Instead, the LS hybrid uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT), coupled to all-wheel drive. Lexus notes that this isn't the type of CVT that operates with belts or pulleys, as in other hybrid automobiles. Instead, it contains a pair of planetary gearsets.
Everything about the LS600h L is silken-smooth. In around-town driving, you have to concerntrate hard to discern that the V-8 engine has shut off at a stoplight. Some hybrid powertrains change mode with a bit of a "bump," but it's virtually imperceptible in the LS.
On the highway, power bursts take place so smoothly that you hardly realize the LS is when you push down on the gas pedal. On well-surfaced roads, at least, the ride approaches sheer perfection. Steering feel is superior, too: amply assisted but not excessively helpful. Mountain curves are absorbed as neatly and trouble-free as light urban corners. The LS hybrid is unfazed by any terrain, and helps you along without making you feel that it's taking away any control. Manual mode in the transmission is helpful when easing down long grades, and the transition between ranges is barely perceptible.
Like the regular LS 460, this LS is overloaded with technology. Still, most of it is reasonably logical and comprehensible. Or, if it isn't, it's the type of technology that you don't have to do anything about. So, just let the systems take care of themselves.
If equipped with the Executive Seating Package, which substitutes separate seats for two in the rear for the usual three-across setup, spread-out space is immense. Rear side glass is huge, too, a function of the extended-wheelbase design.
Attention Editors: The complete 2008 Lexus LS 600h L review is available now for your publication. Please contact us at JF@tirekick.com for details.