Exterior Design: ***1/2
First of all, the "Hybrid" badges on the doors are gauche, essentially meaningless and an utter afterthought. Talk about tacked on. And tacky. Lexus, the car costs over $100,000 — the kind of people that buy the LS600h L don't care what others think. Make that shouldn't care. Most likely, these folks will care the most. So I see the point. And the badgers are still awful. That said, at 0.3 inches longer than an Escalade (202.8 inches overall) this long-wheelbase baby cuts a pretty dapper rug. Ten times better looking than the fuddy-duddy previous gen big Lexus. We love the busy, jeweled headlights and dig the improved upon Bangle-butt. The trapezoidal tail pipes are a bit odd, though.
Interior Design: ***1/2
If we were only talking about the rear-seat the big Hybrid would score 5 stars, maybe more. The harsh light of reality insists that we have to include the front seat, too. At over 100 grand the wood shouldn't look fake, the buttons and switch gear shouldn't be shared with other, lesser models and the leather ought to be much more buttery. Also, there are just too many damn buttons. Either stick 'em all in the touchscreen or it's time to starting thinking about a Toyotafied iDrive. The backseat however, utterly rocks, and we didn't even have the full monty "Executive-Class" seating. It's hard to argue against heated/cooled reclining rear-seats. If you're wondering about how much space the long-wheelbase adds, I put a 6'5" inch friend in the rear and his knees were almost a full foot from the back of my seat.
At more than 2.5 tons, the 438 hp duet of engines has a heavy load to haul and it shows, especially coming off the line. The AWD doesn't help matters any. Still, 5.4 seconds to 60 mph was nearly unheard of for anything with 4-doors just a decade ago and quite respectable today. The LS600h L earns its blue chip once at speed, where burying the throttle converts the car from a nuclear submarine into a torpedo that's been fired from one. 100 mph happens so quickly it's startling. Dangerous to your driver's license, too. Some sad news: even with the traction and stability controls off, you can't do brake stands. We tried. Stupid supercomputer.
You'd never guess it, but the Cyber Barge might have the most powerful brakes in the entire world. Stomp on 'em and the car nearly does an endo. Then why only four stars? Because they also happen to be the least progressive brakes in the world. There isn't any pedal feel and woe unto the person who puts their foot into 'em at low speeds, because they will give themselves whiplash.
Yeah, this big sucka rides nice. Real nice. And with a ten foot wheelbase, it oughta. The air suspension makes the ride feel that much more supple, especially in comfort mode. We went over some of the worst earthquake damaged roads in LA (Stadium Way, anyone?) and the LS600h L just chewed up the smashed expansion joints and spit back butter. Veal fat butter. Please make sure your chauffer loads up on caffeine/amphetamines as all that smoothness (and silent leather) kept making us drowsy.
If you're behind the wheel, Sport mode is an absolute must. Even with the air suspension tightened the Cyber Barge don't dance. Or even wanna dance. True, long fast sleepers feel incredible especially when you are on the gas, but you can forget about any sort of narrow road with quick turns. Here's the tragic part: taking into account the Cyber Barge's Pequod like proportions, the hybrid limo actually has some moves, but the controls are either so numb (steering) or severe (brakes) that you can't take advantage of 'em. Or the computer cuts in and killjoys everything.
For instance, I was on my way to a party celebrating the publication of Basem Wasef's Legendary Motorcycles. The soirée was at a friend of Basem's named Allen. Only the invitation said, "Chez Allen." So, me being stupid, I was looking for a restaurant on a residential street. After not finding it five times, I got frustrated and flung the LS600h L around to go back for a sixth pass. Whoa. The car performed a perfect 180. Countersteered beautifully and everything. Trouble was, by the time the car was pointed in the new direction, the computer had all done all it could to stop the hooning short of powering down and phoning my mother.
Big, pleasant surprise here. You would have thought that the Lexus 8-speed slusher we semi-enjoyed on the brutish IS-F would have been enough for their top shelf product. But 8 is never enough. A machine like the Cyber Barge requires an infinite number of gears. Er, ratios. Before the LS600h L we hated all CVT trannies. After, we hate them all except one. If you've never driven one, CVTs annoy because they don't shift, which makes 'em feel odd. While the Cyber Barge doesn't shift either, you can't tell. Also, if you flop the stick into "Sport" mode you are presented with 8 faker gears that hold the CVT at particular ratios. This Sport setting really doesn't do much for accelerations, but for going down steep hills, it's a godsend, as it gets the engine(s) involved in slowing the car. One last thing — at 81 mph the engine spins at 1,100 rpm and the computer claims 28 mpg.
The Mark Levinson Reference Surround Sound Audio System is about as good it gets. About? It is as good as it gets. Totally tremendous. There's a built in hard drive that let's you record whatever you are listening to (or watching). There's a 6-disk in-dash DVD changer and a rear screen to watch movies on. Put the car in park, and you can watch the movie on the navigation screen. You can plug in your iPod, too. Though you can't control said iPod with the car.
It is a toy, a big toy. That said, the steering wheel is heated, as are all four seats. They're cooled, too. The rear seats have memory positions, which means they recline. The remote for the DVD player has 25 buttons on it. All five windows in the back get a sun shade. If you are sitting in the right rear seat, you can move the front passenger seat out of your way. Or just adjust the seatback angle. Let's not forget the chilled drink cooler, either.
There's the standard hybrid readout screen which lets you know how the car's behaving (running off the battery, off the engine, both, charging the battery, charging the battery and powering the engine, etc.). There's another screen that displays both your fuel consumption and energy regeneration in 5-minute increments. You can talk to the computer. Radar-guided cruise control. Backup camera. Air purifier. 4-zone clime control. It senses your body temperature and adjusts the cabin accordingly. If you start to doze off, it wakes you up. I mean, the damn thing can park itself! Well, in truth, we could never get it to actually park itself. But we did find the button to activate the self-parking (to the left of and underneath the steering wheel). Surely that counts for something?
Besides actual wads of cash money, the small trunk is the price you pay for having a hybrid. The batteries eat up about a third of the space. However, if you can afford the Cyber Barge, you can afford to pay someone with a minivan to haul your crap around.
Did I just give a $117,000 car three stars? My communist great-grandmother is going to start haunting me from the grave. But, here's my thinking. The LS600h L is pretty damn luxurious and insanely powerful. The competition all costs more, though the BMW 760Li (with an actual V12) is at least in the same ballpark. The Mercedes-Benz S600? Tens of thousands more. Also, we hooned the Cyber Barge as hard any press car and despite our worst Sport-mode efforts, the hybrid system still returned an overall number of 20.6 mpg over 710 miles. One more thing: as the engine is ULEV, you don't pay any gas guzzler tax.
I'm not going to kid you; the LS600h L is quite desirable. Every single person I stuck in the backseat was flabbergasted. The acceleration is mind-boggling, it has more whistles than a Raiders game and looks pretty sharp, too. Don't ask, but we wound up driving the LS600h L to Devon Aoki's house in Beverly Hills and it outclassed every Benz and Bimmer in the driveway, all five of 'em. Did I mention that women simply love the backseat? If you have the means...
[Photography by Amy Sampson]