2008 Lexus LS 600HL

This new big hybrid from Lexus is deceptively fast. When you floor the gas pedal, the tach needle flicks almost instantly at the bidding of the continuously variable transmission to 6000 or more rpm, a point at which the new 5.0-liter V-8 pumps out about 389 horsepower.

This is seamlessly supported by a 221-hp electric motor, and together the two machines send 438 horses to all four wheels through a Torsen center differential.

Because the transmission is stepless and the two motors are so quiet in operation, the sensation is one of eerie understatement as the 5220-pound sedan hurls itself down the road. Lexus proudly claims a 50-to-70-mph time of 3.5 seconds, and we beat that by 0.4 second at the test track.

We also beat the company’s 0-to-60-mph forecast of 5.5 seconds by a 10th and matched its quarter-mile claim of 13.8 seconds. All these results are significantly quicker than those recorded by the Lexus LS460L, which was 500 pounds trimmer when it was tested for our January 2007 issue.

The fuel consumption should be about the same as the LS460L’s — which requires 6.2 seconds to hit 60 mph. Under the 2008 EPA testing regime, the LS600hL is rated at 20 mpg city and 22 highway. We estimate that for 2008 the LS460L will have a rating of 17/25. More telling is that our observed consumption with the LS460L was 13 mpg, whereas the LS600hL returned 20 mpg during its week-long visit with us.

Lexus claims this car has V-12 performance with V-8 fuel consumption, and it’s hard to argue with that comparison unless the V-12 in question is in a Mercedes-Benz twin-turbo model, and in that instance, Lexus should expect to get its butt kicked.

This new Lexus hybrid is extraordinarily quiet, with particular attention paid to suppressing noise wherever it’s found. There are additional insulators around the V-8’s cylinder-head covers. The inverter has a reinforced case to reduce the high-frequency vibrations these devices usually emit.

And there are myriad other techniques and materials used to bring noise levels down to about half of those found in other luxury cars, according to Lexus’s measurements. (We tested a prototype, so we’ll have to wait for a production-car test to verify this claim.)

The company also paid extraordinary attention to safety in the 600, adding advanced precollision with brake activation to the extensive array of safety mechanisms. This system detects objects, determines the likelihood of a collision, and then applies the brakes up to 40 percent of maximum force without any action by the driver.

Along with frugality, a SULEV emissions rating, and the massive elastic surge of acceleration, the 2008 LS600hL proclaims its unique status with blue-tinted badges and that proud (and long) trunklid insignia. Will that be enough to justify the price premium? We — and Lexus — are betting it will.

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

ESTIMATED PRICE AS TESTED: $115,000 (estimated base price: $110,000)

ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 32-valve 5.0-liter V-8, 389 hp, 385 lb-ft; DC permanent-magnet electric motor, 221 hp (battery limited to 49 hp); combined system, 438 hp

TRANSMISSION: dual-range continuously variable automatic

Wheelbase: 121.7 in Length: 202.8 in Width: 73.8 in Height: 58.3 in
Curb weight: 5220 lb

Zero to 60 mph: 5.4 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 12.4 sec
Zero to 110 mph: 14.8 sec
Street start, 5-60 mph: 5.7 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 13.8 sec @ 106 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 130 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 171 ft
Roadholding, 200-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.75 g

2008 EPA city driving: 20 mpg
C/D-observed: 20 mpg

Scribbled on August 1st 2008 in Lexus
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