I picked up the Cyber Barge— aka my very own for a week Lexus LS600h L — in Gardena, CA near Redondo Beach. It was about 1:30 pm. I had to be home by 5:00 pm because I am the only person in my circle of friends with the NFL Network and you of course remember how big the Dallas/Green Bay game was. But that left me several hours to kill. Since I was in the neighborhood, I popped on over to the Hustler Casino to try my luck at a little $100-$300 No Limit Hold 'Em.. What else do you do with a $117,000 ride that's quite seriously the most technically advanced car in the world? After a few folds I called from the BB with an A5 off suit and tried to hide my glee as the flop came 234. "Check," I said. Walking out with a nicely fattened wallet there was my new toy, valet parked up front with the rest of the high rollers — Range Rovers, Maseratis and Benzes, Benzes, Benzes. The Cyber Barge did not look out of place. Top of the world ma. After a comfortable, AC-seated hour of Los Angeles' best bumper-to-bumper traffic (where I averaged 20.2 mpg) and filling the teeny, battery-consumed trunk up with beer, I was home in time for the game. My perfect day was nearly complete. That's when I realized that I left the house keys in my WRX.
At 5:20 pm there I am, watching as David Lovering attempted to cut the padlock off my garage door with his Sawzall. Meanwhile, our buddy Luis, a big Cowboys fan, is shaking his head in disgust. I am truly a moron. And the Sawzall ain't doing nuthin'. What would Batman do? To the Cyber Barge! Why not right? The back seat will easily and comfortably sit three grown men. We could watch the game on the fold down screen. Perfect! But that would be too much like a Lexus commercial to actually happen. Not only does the LS600h L not have the NFL Network, but OEMs hate it when you smoke in press cars. So, for the next hour the three of us were standing in the street next to the Cyber Barge, all of its windows down, sunroof open and blasting the 10 billion watt Mark Levinson Reference system for all it's worth. As Luis commented, "Best sounding AM I've ever heard." Indeed.
Absurd. I've wracked and re-wracked by brain concerning how to best explain the world's biggest and most expensive hybrid. You all have Google, and therefore you all have the ability to read that the LS600h L has the power of a V12 (438 hp, exactly the same as a BMW 760Li in fact) but the economy of a V8 (about 20 mpg, all said and done). You'll have no trouble finding all the reviews filled with four-hour long fake-rage erections screaming, "But, but, it's not really saving the environment! Lexus just built it to appease Al Gore!" And of course the internet nearly suffered a breakdown when the reports started flowing in that, "The auto parallel parking feature doesn't work very well... ARGH!!!!!!!!!!" But they've all missing the point. The Lexus LS600h L is joyfully, wonderfully absurd.
Just picture it: Rain falls in Los Angeles for the first time since 2006. I have the Cyber Barge is on the I-5 and am enjoying the greatest heated seats in all the world. I just figured out how to trick the radar cruise control into working (jam it up to 90 mph, set the cruise and relax as it speeds and slows with the traffic). At 81 mph the tachometer is registering a barely breathing 1,100 rpm. I can see the rain being whisked off the glass by the impressive auto-wipers, but I can't hear it falling. Of course the Lexus is beyond reasonably quiet, but I'm not paying attention to the silence. Instead, I have my iPod connected to the Cyber Barge's brain on shuffle and, for lack of a better cliché, am simply rocking out. Then the magic happens. The first chords of Neil Diamond's I Am... I Said trickle out of all 9,572 speakers:
LA's fine, sunshine most of the time
The feeling is laid back
Palm trees grow and the rents are low
But you know I keep thinking about
Making my way back
Only it's not Neil Diamond. It's Killdozer covering Neil Diamond!! I crank it, and start singing along:
BUT I GOT AN EMPTINESS DEEP INSIDE
AND I'VE TRIED BUT IT WON'T LET ME GO
AND I'M NOT A MAN WHO LIKES TO SWEAR
BUT I'VE NEVER CARED FOR THE SOUND OF BEING ALONE
I AM I SAID!!!
Why am I laughing like such an idiot? Seriously, my cheeks hurt from grinning. Well, the reason why is that I've died and gone to Heaven, if only for five minutes or so. I've had pure automotive moments before. A Porsche Boxster on Decker Canyon. A Miata at 6:00 am Sunday morning on Angeles Crest. A Mustang in the desert. A Se7en on the Dragon. This, screaming along with one of my favorite bands with both feet off the pedals suspended in perfect leather-soaked isolation, ranks right up there. What? Why? Because I was doing exactly exactly what the car has been designed to do. Man in harmony with machine, all 5,219 porky, absurd pounds of it.
You can best think of the LS600h L as engineers gone wild. Your car has one engine but the Cyber Barge has two, both the slightly re-tuned 5.0-liter V8 shared with the IS-F and an electric mill. Instead of gears, the LS600h L sports the world's best CVT, a three-mode unit, which unlike every other CVT I've ever driven doesn't annoy you to death with constant non-shifts. This guy isn't shifting either, but the standard Lexus sound proofing shields you from the feeling of coitus interruptus. The Barge packs AWD, too. And sensors to monitor if you're dozing off (beep beep!) or if your skin is warming/cooling, the car will automatically adjust the climate control.
Let's talk buttons. I counted 166 pieces of plastic to press, click or pull inside the big Lexus. This is not counting the air vents, ashtrays, cup holders, cubbyholes and vanity mirrors (four of them) that can all be, well, fingered. Fine, one of the buttons is the auto-close in the trunk and another 25 are on the DVD remote. However, I didn't include the touchscreen, which would effectively triple the number of bells you or your passengers could make whistle. And man, are there some ringing bells.
Let's say you are watching a DVD in the commodious rear seat. You've got all five sunshades up (just press a couple buttons) but there's still some glare coming from the moonroof making the picture less than ideal. Now, in a normal car you could reach forward and adjust the angle of the screen. Not in the Cyber Barge! Yep, there's actually a toggle switch (on the remote) to adjust the rake of the monitor. Just think what would happen to your doubles game if you threw out your shoulder. Though it needs to be mentioned that getting into the cooled drink compartment between the rear seats can't be good for your tennis elbow.
Out of those 166 buttons, there are but two the driver is interested in. The first one adjusts the computer controlled air-suspension. In default mode the Cyber Barge almost earns the latter part of its appellation. Switch it into "Comfort" and the LS600h L sports more waft than a Malaise Era Caddy and even managed to make a few backseat passengers seasick. Forget both of those, because thankfully there is a "Sport" setting that tightens things up nicely. Suddenly the Barge feels like a speedboat. But you're still piloting a watercraft. A "Super Sport" mode is just what the doctor of automotive journalism ordered, but sadly doesn't get.
The other button worth caring about controls the throttle response vis-a-vis the hybrid drive. When in the default "Hybrid" mode and in the interest of fuel economy (ha ha) the first 10% or so of pedal travel does nothing more than make the electric motor spin. You have to semi-put your foot into it to get the LS600h L to even think about breaking a sweat. If you switch it into "Snow" mode, the situation gets worse. Luckily, there is a "Power" setting which drops that 10% figure down to 3-5%. Sadly just like the suspension settings, it's not enough. Hey, getting a 5,219 pound limousine to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds is pretty amazing, don't get us wrong. If given total access to the computers, you just know that
a hacker you would figure out a way to make both motors go for broke from the word go.
But that's just the throttle tip in. Once you're at speed, beat on the go pedal and you become overwhelmed by the sensation of riding a roller coaster. Heading down hill. Fast. Only without the screaming. Or any other noise at all, really. Just the sensation of raw, undiluted speed. Think Bentley, because that's how the Cyber Barge gobbles up the road. You know how in turbocharged cars when you come off the gas sometimes the blower spins for a split second extra. Pretty disconcerting? Well, in the Cyber Barge when you let up after heavy acceleration the electric motor gives you an extra split-second of shove, like a lineman helping a running back get those last couple inches. Rather than sketchy, the sensation is reassuring — as if the LS600h L never wants to slow down. And why should it? 20 gallons of gasoline gives you a 470 mile cruising range.
It would be impossible for me to overstate how powerful the Cyber Barge feels, so here's some numbers. Car & Driver got the heavy weight to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, a 10th faster than Lexus claims. The 887 lbs. lighter Lexus LS460L hits 60 mph in 6.2 seconds. C&D muscled the cruiser to a 13.8 quarter mile at 106 mph. A Ford Mustang GT also does the deed in 13.8 seconds at 102 mph. But those aren't the numbers that matter. How does 50-to-70 mph in 3.1 seconds grab you? It grabbed me you know where. Hard, too. We don't have the numbers, but 60-to-100 mph feels utterly epic. Oh, and in top gear it takes a Mustang GT 9.5 seconds to go from 50-to-70 mph.
Lexus lists the peak torque at 385 lb-ft, but that feels like a severe underestimate. Remember, electric motors make 100% of their torque at 0 rpm. Word on the street is that Lexus's number is for the gas engine all on its own. Regardless, the result is endless, boundless torque. Don't forget that the 221 hp electric motor is for some reason restricted to just 49 hp (probably because it would drain the battery in 10 seconds). We'd be curious to see just how far past its governed top speed of 130 mph the Cyber Barge could paddle. 185 mph seems within reason. Did I say reason? I meant utterly absurd.
[Photography by Amy Sampson]