Be sure to 'click' on the thumbnail photos to see them in their full-size, and with their complete captions!
"This is a Pre-Production Vehicle" means that the car is not a concept, not a prototype, but a complete vehicle, appearing and performing almost exactly as the full production cars will. These vehicles are some of the first ones of this model coming off the assembly line, and are built as much by hand as they are by machine.
This large and powerful sedan might seem out of place in the "hybrids-only" lanes which may spring-up on the nation's roadways. Toyota is counting on the same buyers for this Lexus which Audi goes after with their heavily-high-tech all-aluminum A8 sedan and Honda seeks for their S200 sports car and Acura NSX. These successful engineering- and artistic-types like the idea of driving something which packs a lot more technology than can be seen by just looking at their cars ...
While this Lexus sports a big and important-looking grille, almost all the air which goes into the engine compartment for cooling, and into the top end of the engine itself to combine with gasoline for the detonation (explosion) which drives the pistons up and down to spin the crank at the bottom-end of the block, caused by the spark plugs (that's today's quick lesson in "How a Car Works"), actually comes from under the front-end of the car. Note the large shark-snout-like openings under the grille in the photo. Those are the real air inlets. That reality is a major reason the first head-to-head competitor with the original Lexus LS sedans, the Q model from Infiniti, had no discernible grillework on its front end. Eventually, to try and increase sales of those very wonderful Q-machines, Infiniti stylists gave-in to requests from the company's showrooms, where salespeople were hearing from potential customers that they liked the traditional grillework on the Lexus. And they were also being asked, "Where's the grille on this car?" But today's modern vehicles which actually have air coming into the engine bay from three feet above the ground are very few and far between.
Lexus stylists, and those at other luxury and high-end sports car builders, are enjoying a new freedom in their designs of today's cars front and back ends. Cars to be sold in the US marketplace were designed by stylists tied to decades-old sealed-beam lighting systems. Lighting regulations in Asia and Europe have had fewer restrictions, but the US being the largest market for many car-makers virtually guaranteed hard corners and sharp edges on all their vehicles. Newer and highly-improved HID (high-intensity discharge) systems and especially the growing (and now legal) use of light emitting diodes (LEDs) are allowing new freedoms for designers, allowing them to create front and rear looks for vehicles which haven't even been thought of as yet. LS600h L has front and rear lights moving in that direction.
Toyota, as Honda did with Acura and Nissan did (though perhaps not as well as they'd hoped) with Infiniti, created a history of feelings and a very definite 'emotion' for their all-new Lexus models. All the Japanese companies starting-up a 'second-channel' in the US created this "provenance" for their all-new products even, seemingly, before any of them ever went into production. There used to be a saying known worldwide; when speaking with someone about any product, say a watch or even a shoe, if someone began their statement with, "It's the Cadillac of ...", you knew they were talking about the best in its product class. Toyota, over only the past few years, and with a very simple and plain logo for Lexus, has managed to have millions of people worldwide substituting the name "Lexus" for "Cadillac". But let's all keep our bearings and sense of humor on this topic. A good friend of mine, an artist at that, had only one thing to say when she first saw the Lexus logo. "It looks," she said, "like a nose".
LS (Luxury Sedan) 600 (the 5.0 Liter V8 gasoline engine and its 221 horsepower electric motor develops 438 horsepower total, which Lexus says is more akin to a 6.0 Liter V12) h = "hybrid" and "L" means the automobile is the "L"onger-wheelbase version of the sedan. It all goes to all four wheels through a Torsen center differential. OK, got all that? There will be a pop quiz in the morning ...
On each side of the car, on its lower flanks and just in front of the rear tires, is the very straight-forward and elegant-appearing word "HYBRID", spelled in capital letters, in silver lettering on a blue background. This is one of the very few giveaways visible to the public that the car is anything other than a stock Lexus LS430....
LSh's rear deck appears nearly identical to the non-hybrid version, which means it looks like the back end of any traditional huge sedan with massive trunk space. In fact, the trunk is so large, that even outfitted with the batteries for the hybrid system (which are covered and not visible), there is still more than enough room for not one, but for at least two big golf bags and maybe another bag or two for clothing and other weekend --- or week-long --- essentials. Or, you could say LS600h L offers interior room for five full-size American-style adults, and enough trunk room for three-to-four of same, though in horizontal mode. Eight cylinders and only two exhaust pipes prove that Lexus stylists never went to high school in Santa Ana, California, where the classic "two times twice pipes" configuration (four exhaust pipes, for those of you sadly uneducated in the art) was the most popular on the weekly Sunday evening Cruise Nights which featured lo-riders from as far north as Oakland and as far east as Phoenix, and even Alburquerque, New Mexico. I'm talking circa 1970; and that Sunday night cruisin' scene on Santa Ana's Fourth Street was fantastic.
Never a fan of those new-fangled CVTs (continuously variable transmissions), which are quickly replacing traditional automatics, especially in smaller cars, the CVT in this LS600h L is different, and is called a "stepless dual-range CVT". Surprisingly, and rather unexpectedly, especially to anyone who has driven CVT-equipped cars before experiencing the tranny in this Lexus, it provides the kind of driver feedback, when using the gated shifter to emulate a manual transmission, which pleases the senses and actually "feels" as if it is "shifting" up-and-down, as the driver slaps the center tunnel-mounted shifter from "gear-to-gear". In automatic mode, this advanced CVT does not feel exactly like a traditional auto shifter, but closer to providing that familiar sensation than any other CVT currently on the market.
The sedan's large video screen, which switches between GPS, audio system operation, HVAC, maintenance intervals and many, many other functions as called-for by the driver (and, yeah, Bluetooth is standard) is mounted lower in the center console than we'd like for any sedan we'd be considering for our own garage. Some of the sound system controls are so low in the console that using what-used-to-be-known-as-an-ashtray for its originally intended use or keeping it open to access its power plug turns into a problem when putting the transmission into "park" and finding several things trying to be in the same place at once ... ashtray cover, shift lever, your fingers, while trying to access some of the audio controls ... The console, as is, could stand some improvement in the placement of its lower controls; a little more thought, like the thought which clearly went into the car's propulsion system.
Here's what people who spend $125,000 on a car get to look at whenever they're driving ... Not too bad, huh? If only it were possible to transmit more than photos, to allow a reader to experience the exceptional smoothness and power of this car, to viscerally transmit how solid and positive all the switchgear feels, to really see how bright the gauges are in full sunlight as well as when the world outside is in full darkness. If that were possible, you'd start saving for that $125K this very moment. Of course, all smooth and quiet sometimes does not make for an interesting and involving car. The prime suspect in that department is the largest item in this photo, the steering wheel. Steering feel and feedback is much too numb; drivers want to know, and need to know, more about the surface of the road they are on than the Lexus' steering system delivers. The power steering is electrically-driven, as is its air conditioning compressor, all this cutting-down on "parasitic drag", the engine power lost by belt- or crank-driven accessories. And as the steering is electrically-driven, it would seem an easy thing for, perhaps, a Lexus dealer to adjust the steering "feel" to an owner's liking, or perhaps someday to allow the driver to adjust that feedback to her/his liking at the time.
Lexus was one of the first car-makers to make use of electroluminescent gauges on their vehicle's instrument panels. Bright day and night, and seemingly infinitely adjustable to the driver's desires (and sight), LS600h L's cockpit is awash in a bright, clear light which keeps the operator well-informed of the few most-important pieces of information.
LS600h L allows the driver to start and stop the vehicle's engine (and its motors) by pushing the "power" button on the right side of the instrument panel. It's a nice touch, maybe a bit corny and maybe even unnecessary given modern technology (what's wrong with using face-recognition tech or finger-, palm- or hand-prints to control the car's powerplant?). Some car company is going to do it, and soon, and the first one that has such an available high-tech feature is going to get more than their share of free editorial in the world's automotive media outlets, from the Web to old-fashioned (printed) magazines.
Like GM vehicles which are equipped with OnStar, this Lexus sports the same small and somewhat classy-looking antennae where the roof's sheetmetal meets the top of the backlight. The unit accesses OnStar, which Toyota/Lexus makes available to their vehicle's buyers, and it also double-duties as the car's satellite radio antennae (in this case, it's XM Radio for Toyota/Lexus ... and GM).
Here's the video console in the LS600h L's center console, exhibiting the car's "Park Assist" menu. Our test vehicle was a "pre-production" car (see the first photo in this album) and while the Park Assist menu came up on the screen, the test car wasn't equipped with the feature. All in all, we were kind of happy with that. Incidentally, Audi's TV commercial which made light of the Lexus Park Assist system was one of the best spots of the year.