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Sat 10 Dec 2011 01:30 PM

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Lexus’ luxury liner scotches green car myths

Not all hybrids are underpowered and awkward: meet the sleek Lexus LS600hL

Lexus’ luxury liner scotches green car myths
The Lexus LS600hLL green, but gorgeous with it

First, some figures. 439bhp. Zero to 100kph in 6.3 seconds. 249kph. Not the sort of numbers you’d normally associate with a hybrid, but then Lexus has been working hard in the last few years to dispel the myth that hybrids are worthy, underpowered and awkwardly designed.

The car you see in these pictures is the Lexus LS600hL and, luxury liner it may be, but it’s running one of the most advanced hybrid power systems ever developed.

Bestowing a large luxury car with energy saving measures is not a new idea, but Lexus has gone to new heights to produce a car they say has the ‘performance of a V12 with the efficiency of a V6’.

A 388bhp five-litre V8 is mated to a 221bhp electric motor, and the two work together so seamlessly it’s virtually impossible to determine when they’re working independently or in synchronisation. Power is transferred through an eerily smooth continuously variable transmission, and on to the road via a limited-slip diff and all-wheel-drive. It’s an impressive package, and becomes even more so when you put your foot down. The LS600hL weighs in at more than two tonnes, but under power it shifts like a lightweight. In the distance a faint roar from the V8 suggests that some reasonably swift acceleration is taking place, but it never feels rapid or urgent; it’s far too refined for that. And while all of this is going on the hybrid drive system, which includes a clever eco-mode, manages to wring around 50km out of every gallon of fuel; no mean feat for a car this size.

The variable transmission eliminates jerky gear changes and you’re left with swift and seamless progress. At motorway speeds the engine is soundless; tyre and wind noise are a hushed flutter and the loudest thing you’re going to hear is the fans cooling your seat.

From which you’ll gather this Lexus is rather well appointed – as well it might be for AED472,000. Leather covers everything, the front seats adjust electronically in 10 directions, there are electronic blinds on all rear windows and, for arctic markets, a heated steering wheel. For your entertainment there’s a laughably powerful Mark Levinson DVD changer with 19 speakers, voice satellite navigation and a screen that shows you how the regenerative braking is working, or display a fuel consumption graph so complicated you’ll need a team of patient mathematicians to decipher it.

Massaging seats in the rear make life for the driven a little sweeter, and enthusiastic ticking of the options list will enable you, at the touch of a button, to recline your seat and bring up a leather-clad footrest. It is of course all beautifully constructed, and as a package the LS600hL has been very, very neatly engineered. 

If there is any criticism to level at this car it is, strangely, the interior. Luxuriously appointed as it is, there are some cheap-feeling air vents and the 1980s-style digital readouts betray the car’s Toyota lineage. They feel incongruous with the rest of the car, but it’s a minor complaint. Overall, the LS600hL is a wonderfully luxurious, supremely comfortable, rapid and surprisingly economical way to travel.

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