More impressive luxury and performance than economy

It is possible to get off on the wrong footing with the Lexus LS600h L.

Two years ago I drove the Lexus RX400 h and manage to produce a staggering 57.6 mpg run to work – albeit aided considerably by a number of downward gradients! The average mpg during my tenure was substantially lower, but still impressive for a big car.

Lexus LS600h L

A mightily impressive car, bristling with technology, outstandingly comfortable, quiet, refined and supremely capable

Armed with those memories, I collected the keys to the Lexus LS600h L and noted the "Hybrid" badge on the elongated rear doors of this long wheelbase model. Even though the engine is a stonking five-litre putting out a massive 389 bhp, I set off expecting to get some surprising economy figures from this huge limousine.

After all it has a similar hybrid set up to the RX400h, running as an all-electric car on low throttle, bringing in the petrol engine to add power when necessary and also to charge the batteries.

Against this background, my first day of commuting seemed a little disappointing. I ended the drive with computer showing 22 mpg, despite my best attempts at the hybrid economy driving style. (Build up speed gradually, then let it coast.)

It took a while for the penny to drop. All hybrids are necessary heavy beasts – thanks to the additional electric engine and batteries – and the Lexus LS600h L (the L denotes long wheelbase, which is 120 mm longer than the standard car) is one of the heaviest cars in this class with a gross weight of 2,750 kg. That takes a lot of power to shift and shift the LS600h L does.

Lexus LS600h L

Acceleration 0-62 mph takes just 6.3 seconds, no mean feat in such a big, heavy car.

So, viewed from this perspective it becomes clear that the way to look at the Lexus LS600h L is that it provides outstanding performance, combined with reasonable economy.

What is so impressive about the is the way the Lexus surges when you press the accelerator. There is no neck-cricking jerk, just a steady refined build up of speed in almost total silence.

Refinement and comfort, of course, is what Lexus excels at. I nearly burst out laughing when I approached the car that first morning and opened the rear door to put my briefcase in. The space in there, on this long-wheelbase version, is simply enormous.

In the centre is a veneer covered console with the electric seat adjustment switches, the air conditioning and in-car entertainment controls. Yes, I am talking about the rear seats! There are storage areas cup-holders and even a fold away table. The DVD player is behind a veneer faced compartment in the seat back, while the rear passengers' screen folds down from the roof.

The luxury can be even greater if you want to splash out on one of the very few options on the list (almost everything you could want is standard!). As you are driven to your next meeting you can recline the rear seats and let them give you a massage!

Lexus LS 600h L rear

Want a massage to keep you fresh and relaxed on the journey? No problem on the Lexus.

To make sure that the plutocrats who are sat in the back seat are cosseted in comfort, the driver can choose from a number of different suspension settings. I liked the sport setting, as it gave the Lexus a little more tautness for the twisty country roads that make up most of my daily commute.

The Lexus's effortless wafting style actually extends to the more testing country roads. Although not the sharpest, the steering is quite precise and the sure-footed feel of the 600h is helped by its dynamic four-wheel drive system. What also helps is the instant power delivery, whether you just tickle the throttle or stamp on the accelerator.

Again, with a Lexus, it goes without saying that you are totally unaware of the constant changes and switching between electric and petrol motors. You can, if you want to see all the complicated things that are going on, set the dashboard display to show where the power is coming from and where it is going to.

It's probably best to do this as a passenger though as it can be quite mesmerising to see the arrows depict power flowing to or from the battery, the engine and regeneration of power from the brakes. It is certainly highly impressive that the petrol engine can switch on and off with not a single jerk or noise being transmitted to the calm interior.

The smoothness of everything is no doubt helped by the stepless CVT transmission, which emulates and eight-speed gearbox should you decide to use the manual holds – although I can see little reason for you to do so.

When it comes to luxury and technology it would probably be easier to describe what the Lexus LS600h L doesn't have than to try and list what it does have. From a safety perspective, there is the radar system that identifies obstacles in front of the car and another radar at the back that will detect a vehicle approaching too hard and move the head restraint ready for any rear impact. There is also a camera that monitors the driver and detects if he, or she, is becoming drowsy and in danger of falling asleep at the wheel.

Other tricks are the self parking system. You set the place you want to park using lines on the screen displaying the rear facing camera and when you select reverse the car will park itself. That's the theory. Unfortunately, the Lexus system is complicated to set up, unlike the much simpler system I first sampled on the Volkswagen Tiguan.

The Lexus LS600h is a mightily impressive car, bristling with technology, outstandingly comfortable, quiet, refined and supremely capable. All that comes at a hefty price - £83,705 to be precise. It is a modern-day limousine, bursting with all the technology you could possibly want. It is utterly refined, superbly comfortable, outstandingly well finished. But then, it should be.

If I think of some of the European luxury cars that you could buy with that sort of money, I would be grabbing every possible excuse to get behind the wheel. I loved driving the Lexus, but it hasn't got that indefinable something that made me actually invent excuses to go for a drive.
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