1st GenerationLexus LS HybridReviews

NY Times Unimpressed with the Lexus LS 600h L

The Lexus 600h L

NY Times writer Lawrence Ulrich took the LS 600h L to task in today’s paper, unable to understand what possible benefit it could have over Lexus’ own LS 460, nevermind the V12 competitors the car is aimed at:

On the performance front, forget about the Lexus hanging with V-12 sedans like the Mercedes S600. Turns out that the Lexus can’t even outrun its own nonhybrid version, the LS 460 L. Nor is it appreciably quicker than V-8 competitors that cost $20,000 to $30,000 less, like the Mercedes S550, the Audi A8 and the BMW 7 Series, or the similarly priced Maserati Quattroporte.

Driven gently, the Lexus will indeed beat the mileage of its apples-to-apples V-8 rivals, but only by 1 m.p.g. to 3 m.p.g. A Mercedes S550 isn’t an egregious guzzler at an E.P.A.-rated 16/24 m.p.g., and I managed 19 m.p.g. during a recent test. And when I drove the Lexus in mildly spirited fashion, its mileage dropped to 19 m.p.g. It’s hard to see why such minuscule mileage gains would dazzle the type of person who’s ready to drop $100,000 on a car.

There are a lot of valid points in the article, but the central point is this: all of the extra weight from the hybrid engines and All-Wheel Drive system slow the car down considerably and shrink the trunk to the size of Kia Rio, with no appreciable gain in performance. In light of its $30,000 premium over a similarly equipped LS 460, it’s a very valid question to ask, why bother with the hybrid?

So why would anyone spend an extra $30,000 for this car? Certainly, the performance gains of 12-cylinder sedans aren’t always justified by their enormous premiums. Many people buy them for that V-12 badge on the fender, the exclusive message it sends. Ditto for the Lexus, but the roughly 2,000 people who’ll line up for the hybrid won’t be broadcasting their superior power, but their superior morals, however illusory.

As I wrote previously, this car is a forerunner of things to come, and as such it suffers from the mistakes of a work-in-progress. Things will get better for the LS 600h L, the car will shed some weight and add more power in future iterations, to bring it more inline with the V12s that Lexus wants to compete with. It could be only the massive financial expenditure of development that forced Lexus to bring this car out in its current state, though that’s purely speculative on my part.