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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Opulence comes as
  standard with the latest
  Lexus hybrid. In all,
  it’s an automotive tour
  de force and, if you
  can afford it, you can
  probably find 88,000
  good reasons to buy

THINK LUXURY, REFINEMENT AND QUALITY and we think Lexus; think performance and hybrid power and — well, we also think Lexus! Put the elements together and we end up with the Lexus LS 600h range of standard and long-wheelbase luxury premium grade executive saloons, which went on sale in October with prices ranging from 81,400 to 88,000. The most expensive model is the 600h L with the rear seat Relaxation Package, which to date has accounted for 60 per cent of all LS 600h orders in the UK.

So who buys these luxurious Lexus models? Heads of industry, execut-ives who love the latest 'must-have' technology, executive 'green' crusaders, customers who want an alternative to BMW or Mercedes luxury models, companies who want to promote their 'green' credentials and, of course, the limousine and chauffeur business.

So exactly what is so special about the Lexus LS 600h? Well, it's a petrol/electric hybrid and Lexus says it is equipped with a more advan-ced powertrain and more sophisticated array of preventative, active and passive features than any car in its class. Unquestionably, the LS 600h sets very high standards in luxury motoring while offering supreme comfort, convenience and on-board entertainment. And, being a Lexus, award-winning customer satisfaction and brand loyalty come as stan-dard.

The LS 600h features the world's first full-time all-wheel drive full-hybrid V8 powertrain. It combines a silky-smooth 5.0-litre petrol engine with a high-output electric motor. Lexus says the combination rivals a standard V12 petrol engine — 0-62mph takes just 6.3 seconds — with fuel consumption and emissions on a par with the sector's best perfor-ming and substantially lower-powered diesel engines: 30.4mpg and 219 g/km CO2 emissions in the combined cycle.

The system also features a new, high-capacity battery pack, dual-stage electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission and permanent all-wheel drive. The V8 engine is the most advanced inter-nal combustion engine yet developed by Lexus, and is derived from
the 4.6-litre unit deployed in the LS 460.

The powerplant uses the latest generation valve timing technology, with Dual VVT-i on the intake and exhaust valves and VVT-iE (Variable Valve Timing — intelligent Electric) on intake. This improves low- and high-end torque and contributes to a significant reduction in exhaust emissions. It also benefits from D-4S, a direct-injection system that uses two injectors per cylinder to improve efficiency and torque deliv-ery throughout the engine's power range. The result of all this is 389 bhp at 6,400rpm and a maximum torque of 384lb ft at 4,000rpm.

The main hybrid components are a compact, high-output, water-cooled permanent magnet electric motor, a generator, high-performance nickel metal hydride battery, a power split device which combines and real-locates power from the engine and generator according to the driving requirements, and a Power Control Unit to govern the interaction of all the system's various components.

The 650-volt electric motor is compact, but produces significant power — it delivers more than 221bhp. This contributes to a total useable power output from the Lexus Hybrid Drive system of 439bhp.

One of the benefits of using an electric motor as a source of drive power is that maximum torque is generated immediately on start-up — to be specific, from zero rpm. This gives the LS 600h impressive, yet near-silent acceleration off the line and significantly improves engine power under high throttle loads.

Over the course of any journey, Lexus Hybrid Drive operates in several different modes to maximise efficiency. At start-up and low- to mid-range speeds, the vehicle runs on the electric motors alone, eradic-ating both engine noise and carbon dioxide emissions.

In normal driving conditions, the V8 engine is the main power source, with output divided by the power split device both to drive the wheels and power the generator, which in turn charges the high-voltage bat-tery. This power allocation is constantly monitored and adjusted bet-ween the engine and electric motor to maximise efficiency.

When full acceleration is required, V8 and electric motor again work
in tandem, with extra power supplied by the battery to boost accel-eration.

During deceleration, the engine switches off as the driver lifts off the throttle and the electric motor acts as a second generator to initiate regenerative braking, recovering energy that would normally be lost as heat as electrical energy for storage in the battery.

The LS 600h has an automatic electrically-controlled eight-speed con-tinuously variable transmission with a choice of three power settings: Hybrid, for the best balance of power and traction; Power for quick response acceleration; and Snow for better traction in slippery con-ditions. These can be engaged by the driver, via a Mode Select switch on the centre console.

The top speed is electronically-limited to 155mph and Lexus claims the car returns 30.4mpg in the combined cycle. During my test sessions, the LS 600h L returned 26.2mpg for motorway driving at 70mph and 24.4mpg for normal driving on A and B roads, somewhat short of their claims. However, a bonus of the hybrid system is that the car can run for a certain distance on its electric motor alone, cutting exhaust pollution to zero.

Other very notable technical highlights to be found in the LS 600h are the all-wheel drive system (with a 40:60 rear axle bias which gives superb grip and control under acceleration), adaptive variable suspen-sion with Normal, Comfort and Sport settings (the system constantly adjusts the settings for each damper to suit driving conditions), elec-tronic power steering, electronic-controlled braking, an advanced pre-crash safety system which incorporates advanced obstacle detection and emergency steering assist if an accident is likely, a rear camera which monitors likely rear-end impacts and automatically deploys the head restraints to prevent whiplash and also a driver monitoring system that can tell if the driver is not looking at a potential hazard situation — in which case a buzzer is sounded and the brakes briefly applied.

As the flagship of the Lexus range, the LS 600h exemplifies the luxury and attention to detail that are intrinsic to the brand. Whilst the ex-terior styling is somewhat unremarkable, the technical specification is unmatched by its premium segment rivals. The interior quality and specification level is also virtually unbeatable.

Highlights of the equipment specification include a 19-speaker Mark Levinson Reference Surround Sound system, an independent DVD player for the rear of the cabin with a nine-inch, roof-mounted VGA screen, a four-zone climate control system with roof diffusers and independent rear left/right temperature controls, leather upholstery, leather trimmed dashboard and door panels and air conditioned front and rear seats.

The LS 600h is also the first Lexus to be offered with the option of a long-wheelbase model. The LS 600h L is 120mm longer than the stan-dard model, with every millimetre of the extra length dedicated to pro-viding additional legroom for the rear seat passengers. Overall length
is 5,150mm.

The LS 600h L benefits from an even higher specification, designed to provide a 'first class' travelling experience. A Rear Seat Relaxation Pack is exclusively available for the LS 600h L — with this fitted, the on-the-road price is 88,000. This equips the left-hand rear seat with an electric recline function, an electrically-adjustable 'Ottoman' foot and thigh rest and an adjustable massage function that can replicate tech-niques from Shiatsu to acupressure. The seat is fitted with a cushion airbag and, to give a clear view, the front passenger headrest can be electrically folded down.

In addition, the pack provides a more sophisticated climate control system that monitors the passengers' body temperatures for more effective control of the cabin environment! A fixed centre console is provided with a built-in cool box, DVD and CD store and a retracting and adjustable inlaid wood tray.

Yes, there are a few things that could be improved: in my opinion the exterior styling is, as already mentioned, unremarkable; the feedback to the driver is unrewarding due to all the automatically-controlled electronic functions and it takes time to work out what the huge array of switches, buttons and controls do. But these really are just minor issues.

It's not an exaggeration to say that no car offers more in the way
of technology and refinement than the Lexus LS 600h L. Opulence and technical wizardry are just two words that describe this stunning machine. A very fine way to finish my 2007 motoring year. As the saying goes: "If you can afford it, flaunt it!" — David Miles

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Lexus LS 600h L | 88,000
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 6.3 seconds
Overall test MPG: 25.3mpg | Power: 389bhp | Torque: 384lb ft

CO2 219g/km | VED Band F £205 | Insurance group 20
Visit Lexus's website Click to go there now

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