What's New for 2009
Other than a new Pebble Beach edition, the 2009 Lexus LS 600h L is unchanged from last year.
When hybrid vehicles are mentioned, most people think of earth-friendly economy cars with less-than-appealing performance and style. Most likely, the last vehicle they'd associate with the hybrid category is a full-size luxury sedan intended to take on the V12-equipped European extravagance machines. But that's exactly what the 2009 Lexus LS 600h L attempts to pull off.
Introduced last year, the LS 600h L is built on the idea of mating a powerful V8 engine to a hybrid powertrain in order to deliver stunning 12-cylinder performance without the wasteful appetite for fuel. It sounds good in theory, but unfortunately, we've found that the real-world version misses the mark. The LS 600h L ends up delivering only 2 mpg more than a regular LS 460 L in the EPA's combined fuel economy estimate. Taking into consideration the sizable cost for the hybrid variant versus the standard model and the minuscule fuel savings, you're looking at a mere 187 years to recoup the costs (15,000 miles per year at $3 a gallon). Adding insult to injury, the performance is essentially identical between the cars.
What the 2009 Lexus LS 600h L does succeed at, however, is reduced tailpipe emissions (it's SULEV rated), an extraordinarily appointed luxury ride and the exclusivity ensured by its limited production. For those who value exclusivity over common sense, Lexus also offers the new Pebble Beach Edition LS 600h L, which is limited to only 50 copies. All things considered, it's a noble attempt with future potential. But for buyers looking for luxury, relative exclusivity and performance in the near term, we suggest taking a close look at 12-cylinder competitors like the Audi A8 W12, BMW 760Li or Mercedes-Benz S600.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Lexus LS 600h L is a full-size hybrid luxury sedan based on the long-wheelbase version of its gas-powered sibling. As the most expensive model in the Lexus lineup, this flagship is as fully loaded as anything you'll find. It has everything you'd ever want, and some things you didn't even know you wanted. Included in the six-figure cost of admission are 19-inch alloy wheels, LED projector headlights, keyless ignition and entry, power door closers, parking assist with a back-up camera, a navigation system with real-time traffic, leather-trimmed seats and interior, a heated steering wheel, a 16-way power driver seat and 12-way power passenger seat with memory for both, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a power rear sunshade, Bluetooth and an earth-shaking 19-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system (with six-disc CD/DVD changer and satellite radio), a music server with a 2,000-song capacity and an auxiliary input jack.
As if the standard features listed above were not enough, Lexus offers three option packages to further pamper occupants. The premium package includes cooled and reclining rear power seats, rear-seat side airbags and the Lexus advanced parking system that enables automated parallel parking. The Premium Package II includes the above items plus four-zone climate control, a rear-seat entertainment system, a center console with a cooler box and power rear door shades. The executive-class Seating Package II adds a power recliner with leg rest and massage feature for the right rear seat, a fixed rear center console that eliminates the fifth seating position, a rear-seat wood table, infrared temperature sensors that adjust the climate control for the rear passengers and special 18-inch, nine-spoke wheels. The Pebble Beach Edition is similar to the Premium Package II but includes an exclusive exterior and interior color combination. The few major stand-alone options are an active suspension stabilizer bar system and adaptive cruise control with a pre-collision safety system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Lexus LS 600h L is powered by a full-hybrid system comprised of two electric motor/generators and a 389-horsepower 5.0-liter V8. With all motors working at peak power output, they produce 438 hp. Like other Toyota-built hybrid systems, the LS 600h L's can operate solely under electric propulsion at low speed and for limited distances. The air-conditioning system runs off electric power, allowing the gas engine to shut down at stops. And like other related hybrid systems, this one generates additional power via regenerative braking when decelerating. Power is routed to all four wheels through a specialized continuously variable transmission (CVT) that features manual shift control. The transmission also has three driver-selectable driving modes -- normal, power and snow -- for changing road conditions.
In our testing, we only managed a 0-60-mph time of 6.0 seconds, as opposed to the manufacturer's claimed time of 5.5 seconds and a 10th of a second slower than the gas-powered LS 460 L we tested. Equally disappointing is the fuel economy, registering an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 21 mpg in combined driving, which isn't hugely different from the regular LS 460 L's 16/24/19 mpg. The one bright spot is the hybrid's lower emissions -- it is designated as a Super Ultralow-Emission Vehicle (SULEV). Still, the conventionally powered LS boasts a clean ULEV rating.
As with all Lexus vehicles, safety is paramount. The LS 600h L is equipped with traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and knee airbags for the front seats. Rear-seat side airbags are included with any of the three option packages. If equipped with the optional adaptive cruise control, a pre-collision system senses impending frontal impacts and automatically pre-tensions seatbelts and boosts braking power.
Interior Design and Special Features
The cabin of the Lexus LS 600h L is at the top of its class. Controls for climate, audio and navigation are extraordinarily intuitive, operated by buttons and via the touchscreen display. As with other Lexus instrument panels, the electroluminescent gauges are strikingly sharp and legible. Occupants are ensconced in a lush environment of rich leather and exquisite wood trim. Adding any of the rear-seat option packages further elevates the cabin to Rolls-Royce territory in terms of comfort and space.
Unfortunately, the Achilles' heel of the LS 600h L's design is its utter lack of trunk space. With the hybrid and rear climate control components eating into the cargo hold, trunk capacity drops to a paltry 11.7 cubic feet -- smaller than some econobox trunks.
The 2009 Lexus LS 600h L is the epitome of quiet comfort. Accelerating from a stop is eerily silent, with initial power derived solely from the electric motors. The supple suspension easily absorbs any road imperfections while the sound insulation isolates all occupants from the noise of the less civilized world outside. Steering is precise but lacks feedback -- but then again, most LS drivers have very little interest in a sporty feel. For those who are looking for more performance, we suggest almost any of the German competitors. As good as the LS 600h L is, it is hard to recommend it over the vastly less expensive yet mostly similar LS 460 L.