hardware: Lexus 600 hL Hybrid

This is the first Lexus that Mstation has looked at even though it's not the first that we've experienced. You might remember that Lexus is Toyota's luxury brand and has been going a few years now. Mass market refinement is what they've been about, which essentially means that they have been keenly priced while aiming at the BMW/Mercedes/Audi market segment. Early models were extremely understated style-wise but the mechanical refinement and dependability has seen the brand win countless owner's surveys.

Nowadays they are a bit louder in style but the reason we thought we'd look at this model is the "h" suffix - standing for hybrid, which means a combination of gas/petrol engine and an electric engine. Under braking the electric batteries are charged and they discharge when pulling away or at slow speeds. We were initially given a city figure of 34mpg for this 5 litre V8 which we thought was remarkable. Since then we've been quoted 20 to 22 so we're not sure what is achievable. In the US this is not a bad figure at all at $4 or so a gallon. In Europe, at somewhere around $10, it will only impress in relation to the performance. On the UK website we saw a figure of 30.4 mpg for the combined cycle. And at 435ish bhp it does 0 to 62 mph in around 6 seconds which is getting along for such a big comfy car. It isn't the ultimate by any means but that's not the class this car is playing in.

Subjectively, the LS600h L we had a drive in was very comfy as expected. The interior had a bit more pizazz than the last LS we were in, which we think was the result of colour choice - this one had light coloured leather throughout with dark trim on the top of the dash and surrounds. Massage is available in a back seat in the L and there's the usual long list of gadgets for a car of this class.

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Good sound insulation has always been a hallmark of these cars but the Hybrid really stands out. At traffic lights the engine is stopped and when starting off you're on the electric engine - no noise at all hardly. Lexus engineers have also done a fine job of isolating noises from the wheels and rubber. It is a very quiet auto.

Getting around in peak hour traffic, we were silently stopped a lot of the time and we could just sit back and enjoy the comfy seats while playing with the central computer which handles what for most people will be a bewidering variety of tasks. We wonder, in fact, if these are a bit like the record function on video players - lots of people happily remain clueless about how to operate them.

At other times we could hit the gas to see what the performance was like - the acceleration was rousing for sure and we're not sure if it's our imagination but the car's handling seemed a bit more tied down and assured than earlier models.

All in all, it's a pretty nice auto but whether the fuel thing will impress will depend on where you are and what your aims are.

As a PS to this, Mercedes have just announced an S variant that will be available next year (09) which has hybrid power and uses the much lighter lithium ion batteries (the Lexus has an enormous battery pack behind the rear seats that cuts down the trunk/boot space).

Lexus video ...

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