Autos: Long on Comfort

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Enjoyable as the 2013 Lexus LS 600h L is to drive, the flagship sedan might be better suited to limousine service, especially when this hybrid, long-wheelbase version of the LS sedan (Lexus offers five other LS models) is equipped with the Executive package. The package includes a 19-speaker Blu-ray DVD entertainment system by Mark Levinson, with a retractable, ceiling-mounted, 9-inch screen; a refrigerated cool box; a foldout ottoman; and reclining seats with a shiatsu-massage feature.

But not all of the coddling is reserved for rear-seat passengers. Lexus offers a steering wheel that heats up if it is colder than the driver’s hands. More significantly, drivers are treated to the power of a V-8-and-electric-motor combination that generates 438 hp; the gas engine alone produces 385 ft lbs of torque.

As of early September, Lexus had yet to announce a price for the LS 600h L, but the base price for the 2012 edition was $113,000. For the new model year, Lexus reshaped the LS 600h L slightly to make it more aerodynamic. The most noticeable change involves the grille, which forms what Lexus describes as a "spindle" shape by combining an inverted trapezoidal upper portion with a slanted lower section.

The LS 600h L’s EPA numbers may seem modest for a hybrid—19 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway—until you consider the size of the car. It is 17 feet long and more than 6 feet wide, and it weighs more than 5,000 pounds. Nevertheless, the car has enough power to provide fast getaways and impressive acceleration at speed.

In EV Mode, running solely on the electric motor, the sedan scoots off the line with a barely audible whoosh. In fact, the motor is so quiet that Lexus has equipped the car with a proximity-notification system that produces a sound from the front bumper to alert pedestrians or bicyclists when it detects their presence. Other optional safety features include blind-spot monitoring, dynamic cruise control, a collision-avoidance system, and driver-attention monitoring.

Lay into the throttle and the V-8 fires up and joins the electric motor with a hearty kick. As the two engines work together to produce robust thrust, all four wheels are driven by a gear-free, continuously variable transmission. A smooth, uninterrupted flow of torque helps the sedan reach 60 mph from a standstill in 5.5 seconds.

Lexus has given the LS 600h L’s interior an extensive makeover. It includes a new dashboard design with an analog clock containing a GPS-based time-correction function—in case the car crosses from one time zone to another—and a 12.3-inch display screen for functions controlled with the computer-mouse-like joystick located on the center console.

The wood options for the interior include bamboo and Shimamoku. The bamboo lends a feeling of airiness to the cabin. Shimamoku (Japanese for "striped wood") is a finish formed by layering angle-cut dark- and light-shaded wood veneers. Lexus claims the technique involves 67 manufacturing steps performed over the course of 38 days. It sounds like a painstaking process, one that could leave a craftsman in need of a soothing ride in the backseat of the LS 600h L.

Lexus, www.lexus.com

Photo by Drew Phillips
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