- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2007

There’s a new snob factor for today’s well-heeled, luxury car buyers — it’s all about being green.

And there’s no large, luxury car on the market that’s greener — referring to minuscule tailpipe emissions — than the 2008 Lexus LS 600h L.

This roomy, five-passenger, high-tech sedan is the first production car in the world with a full hybrid powertrain matching a V-8 with supplemental onboard electric power.

The result is enough performance to nearly rival some V-12 engines in other luxury automobiles while providing fuel mileage ratings that are more on par with smaller vehicles.

Indeed, the federal government rating of 20 miles a gallon in city driving and 22 mpg on the highway for this all-wheel drive Lexus is far higher than the 14/21 mpg rating on the competing Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic car with V-8 and no hybrid powerplant.

In fact, the Mercedes is labeled a gas guzzler by the federal government, while Lexus’ LS 600h L carries a Super Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV) rating.

And the LS 600h L sets a new world benchmark in safety with an optional Pre Collision System that monitors the driver’s face to see if he or she detects pedestrians as well as vehicles that are coming up in the car’s path.

The system can alert the driver of an impending crash with a warning chime and flashing dashboard light.

But the LS 600h L, which is the top of the LS car line, is pricey.

Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $104,715, or $33,000 more than a non-hybrid, LS460 L on which it’s based.

This compares with the starting MSRP, including destination charge and gas guzzler tax, of $90,525 for a 2007 Mercedes S550 4Matic and the $79,675 starting price for a 2007 BMW 750Li with V-8.

The LS 600h L has a formal, stately appearance.

It looks — and is — heavy, at more than 5,000 pounds, and about the only way onlookers know it is a hybrid is by the blue hybrid badging and the bluish-tint, light-emitting-diode headlights.

Yet, with its 389-horsepower, 5-liter V-8 mated to hybrid electric motors adding an additional 49 horsepower for a combined 438 horses and instantaneous torque available from the electric motors, this big car has an almost peppy feel.

I zoomed past highway speed limits in no time and couldn’t believe, when I looked at the speedometer, how fast I was going and how quickly I got there.

Lexus officials report the 0-to-60-mile-an-hour time is just 5.5 seconds, which is about the same as a 2007 Mercedes S550 with 382-horsepower, 5.5-liter V-8 and 391 pound-feet of torque starting at 2,800 rpm.

But the LS 600h L isn’t just good getting up to speed.

Once the car is at 50 mph, it takes a mere 3.5 seconds to reach 70 mph, thanks to the supplemental electric power.

And all this power and performance, delivered smoothly through a continuously variable transmission, comes on with an uncommon sense of refinement.

There’s no blustery, engine noise or show-off V-8 growl. The V-8, when heard, sounds very much confident and capable.

But the interior of this car remains surprisingly, almost serenely, quiet.

Lexus officials say the passenger compartment of the LS 600h L is simply quieter, as measured for noise, vibration and harshness, than other luxury cars.

This is despite the fact this Lexus rides on sizable, standard, 19-inch tires.

Like the LS 460 L on which it’s based, the LS 600h L is the longest car at Lexus.

Stretching nearly 17-feet-long, this luxurious four-door is about midway between a BMW 7-Series and Mercedes S-Class in size.

The test car was so long, in fact, that the first few times I made right turns, I put the rear wheels at or over the curbing until I got accustomed to making wider turning arcs.

There was certainly no cramped feeling inside, where everything from the moon roof to 16-way, power-adjustable driver’s seat and oh-so-soft leather seat trim is standard.

Buyers can choose from two seating arrangements in back: The usual three-seat bench or lounge-like, two-passenger rear seating.

The latter can be made even more luxurious with seat recline, seat heaters and coolers, a wood-trimmed table and rear entertainment system, among other things.

Note, though, that the sizable, nickel-metal hydride battery under the rear seats restricts trunk space to 11.7-cubic-feet versus 19.8 in the Mercedes S550.

Don’t fret about being overwhelmed by technology in this luxury car.

Unlike BMW, Lexus doesn’t hide a lot of functions for audio, navigation and ventilation in a complicated series of dashboard menu screens.

Instead, the LS 600h L has a wide array of well-arranged, large, comfortable buttons and knobs on the center of the dashboard for easy use.

And the navigation system display screen on the hybrid dashboard is one of the biggest and easiest-to-read that I’ve seen.

I marveled at how lengthy the driver’s seat cushion was in the test car.

It could be adjusted to come out to far into the backs of my knees, if needed, and I’m only 5-foot-4-inches in height.

At times, I had to contend with glare created when bright sunshine hit the oh-so-shiny wood trim in the center console.

And while I rarely noticed wind noise, I did hear some tire noise when the LS 600h L traveled on rough-surface pavement.

Air suspension is standard, and everyone rides gently over road bumps.

Safety features that come standard on the Lexus LS 600h L safety features include frontal air bags and side-mounted seat air bags for the front seats, roof-mounted curtain air bags for both front and back rows and standard knee air bags for driver and front passenger that help position these passengers properly during a frontal crash.

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