2014 Lexus LS 600h L Premier Review – The Definition of Refined

Incredibly quiet & refined ride, excellent hybrid system, hugely-spec’d and comfortable cabin

Older switchgear still being used inside, characterless exterior, small boot space

Lexus LS?

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In the late Eighties, Toyota decided to do something really rather brave: create a new, luxury division and a car good enough to take on the well-established big names of time – Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Jaguar. Their aim? To build a car that would out-do the competition in almost every single way. Thus, Lexus is created and work starts on what would be the first car from them – the LS, standing for Luxury Sedan.

Huge amounts of money were poured into the development of the first LS (it’s said around $1 billion over a 5-year period) to ensure its car would beat the big boys at their own game. And it did. At its launch the Lexus LS 400 – with its 4.0 litre V8 engine – was faster, quieter, more aerodynamic, more fuel-efficient, better equipped as standard, and had a much more modern cabin design than its rivals. Reviews of the LS 400 were extremely positive, and in one fell swoop Lexus had firmly established itself amongst some of the biggest luxury car manufacturers in the world.

Striving for perfection with every new model, the level of detail that Lexus engineers and designers go to when creating or updating the LS is almost obsessive in their designing and building each component of the car – take the development of Lexus’ low-noise alloy wheels, for example.

After all is said and done though, Lexus is a comparatively small manufacturer, and whilst we had the 2013 LS on test, people were still relatively intrigued as to what the car – and Lexus itself – were all about. So, do Lexus still make one of the best luxury cars in its sector? Is it still being innovative? And why would you want to own one? We were sent the flagship 2013 Lexus LS 600h L Premier to find out…

Exterior. Butt ugly or beauty?

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2012 saw a major revision of 3,000 of the LS’s components, some of which were on the exterior. Upgrades included a 30mm (1.2″) overall increase in length, a more muscular bonnet, a new ‘spindle’ grille to bring it in line with the rest of Lexus’ range, as well as the use of LED bulbs in all lights.

My immediate reaction when the LS 600h was delivered wasn’t one bursting with admiration at the design. Certainly, at over 17 feet (5.2 metres/205″) long, and six feet (1.8m/74″) wide, it can’t be ignored. However, it’s not exactly a thing of beauty but rather more purposeful than anything. Still, other than the wonderfully-styled Jaguar XJ, the big luxury saloons tend to be rather more about sending out a statement than being something that is entirely and aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

The LS 600h L – which is 120 millimetres (4.7″) longer than the LS 460 – certainly makes its own assertion, and commands respect. The overall aura coming off the Lexus is one of strength, power, and solidity. I get the distinct impression that the LS was hewn from a block of granite, rather than metal, such is slab-sided look of this huge powerhouse. I say that not in a derogatory sense, but more in a tip-of-the-hat deferential manner, and as the week-long test went by, I grew to like the LS’ shape more and more.

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If Lexus were aiming the LS 600h at having a sense of drama surrounding it, then it’s mission accomplished. The front end of the car looms angrily, the aggressively-angled chromed edging of the grille grabbing the eyes, before you’re drawn to the sizeable light clusters and their piercing L-shaped daytime running lights. A prodigious blue-edged Lexus emblem in the grille makes sure you know exactly who makes the car.

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Another noticeable design feature are the top sections of the enormous front wings that sit below the muscular bonnet, which itself is ginormous. Viewed from side-on, the LS 600h L’s length becomes very apparent, and that solidity I mentioned earlier is reinforced from this standpoint. It’s a beast of a car, and as your eyes sweep left-to-right across its expanse of metal and glass, look closer you may also notice it looks rather like it was designed in a wind tunnel.

This thing? Aerodynamic. Actually yes, the LS is apparently a rather slippery thing through the air, the proof being that it has a drag coefficient of just 0.27 when pushing its way forward. That’s lower than a McLaren P1 (0.34) or Porsche 918 Spyder (0.36)! Around to the rear and a big, square back end greats you. Certain shapes in the body and light clusters mimic the frontal design, whilst two oversized exhaust tips hint at the power under the bonnet.

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In summary, the Lexus LS 600h L does a thorough job of convincing you that it’s not here to mess about. Aim it down a motorway, and you’ll quickly notice other cars move out of the way even if you’re no-where near them. Passing other vehicles, their occupants stare as seventeen feet of solid-sided Lexus slips by before firing off into the distance effortlessly. The looks aren’t envious – just in awe of the sheer size and presence of the Lexus. And that sums the car up nicely, I think.

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

Lexus has made the LS600h L’s cabin outstandingly comfortable, quiet, and refined. - 2014 Lexus LS 600h L Premier Review.

Step inside the LS 600h and close the door. Then open it do the same again. And again. The way the Lexus all-but eliminates noise from the outside is quite staggering, hence the repetition. While on test, the LS was parked directly next to a house and under the open window of a room that was having the wood floor power-sanded. It’s an extremely noisy affair, and the sound so pervasive that it’s highly annoying. However, as the hefty LS 600h door closes the noise is blocked so incredibly well that it’s almost surreal.

It is done so well that you instantly and unintentionally feel yourself relaxing, the deep leather of the seat furthering this. Looking around, I’m struck that the LS’ cabin isn’t more… showy and at first, in all honesty I was slightly disappointed that it didn’t look more elaborate. After all, this is a car pushing £100,000. However, the more time you spend in the LS 600h the more you come to appreciate it, and just how much detail Lexus has gone into to make the cabin as outstandingly comfortable, quiet, and refined as it really is.

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On its looks, we had the black leather with black and grey shimamoku wood inlay, but personally I believe the lighter choices of either the Ivory leather and dark walnut inlay, or Mellow white leather with ash burl inlay, are the more attractive option for the LS.

Before we go further, let’s get the stuff that could be improved on out of the way. If you’re being chauffeured – which is what the LS 600h is all about – and are sat in the back, there are a couple of things you should be able to control, but which only the driver can: Firstly, although you can control the air temperature, you can’t turn the air conditioning on or off. Secondly, you should be able to lock and unlock the doors from the rear of the car. Should you need or want to do so, you have to lean through the middle to stretch and use the lock button on the driver’s door.

In the front, some of the switchgear is overly plasticky and simply looks out of place, especially considering Lexus tout the flagship LS 600h L as ‘Leading Edge Luxury’. For example, the cruise control stalk and side mirror adjuster buttons are almost exactly identical to the ones in my 1998 LS 400, and some of the controls on the centre console could be more stylish too. While I get the whole understated thing, I feel they should look more elegant. One more point: at 460 litres the boot on the LS isn’t really that big.

2014 Lexus LS 600h L Premier Review front premium leather seats steering wheel

 

Right, that’s that – now for the good stuff. Sink yourself into a front seat, and it’s a lot like being sat in your favourite comfy armchair. In fact it’s better, because they’re both heated and cooled in an ultra-adjustable manner using a dial, rather than the traditional 2 or 3 settings. Legroom is superb to the front and sides, so even as the driver you can get absolutely comfortable for long journeys.

In the rear, the LS 600h L gets extra legroom over the LS 460, and there’s a reason for that. At the push of a button, the front passenger seat folds forward, and the seat behind it reclines whilst the leg section comes up, reclining the seat to 45˚ for maximum relaxation. What’s even cooler is that it’s also got a fully adjustable Shiatsu massage feature, and this is not some gimmicky thing. It’s absolutely the real deal in giving you a truly superb massage, and there’s even a 3-stage vibration mode too. The other side seat can be reclined nicely too, and both sides are heated and cooled individually.

2014 Lexus LS 600h L Premier Review rear leather reclining ottoman massage seat

To top that off, there’s something called Climate Concierge, which monitors the body heat of rear seat passengers and automatically adjusts the air and seat temperatures. Impressive tech includes Lexus Nanoe® technology (through the 4-way climate system), which releases microscopic, negatively charged ions to freshen cabin air and moisturise your hair and skin. This system works exceedingly well as even after hours with the Nanoe® tech and air conditioning on the air in the cabin felt fresh, and unlike using normal air con, our eyes didn’t feel painfully dry either.

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If you have the luxury of a chauffeur and really want to completely cut yourself off from the outside world, close the rear and side blinds, put on the wireless Lexus headphones and watch your favourite Blu-Ray DVD on the 9-inch rear centre screen, or Bluetooth some music through one of the most superb sound systems you’ll find in any car: the 19-speaker Mark Levinson Reference surround sound system.

Up front, the driver benefits from a huge 12.5″ monitor which can be split into two screens to control the heating or stereo whilst viewing the sat nav directions. It’s all controlled using a small joystick on the console between the seats. A very slick system overall, and the smooth graphics are bang up to date too.

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The driver’s instrument dials are intelligible, crystal-clear, and change depending on whether you have it in the eco or sport modes. On the centre console, the few controls are laid out neatly and are well marked for ease of use. I especially liked the way the digital temperature readouts smartly flick around as you adjust them – a small point, but worth a mention.

A good point was made about the section where you control the Mark Levinson system: the physical look and feel of the dials, buttons, and trim finish, make it seem like you’re using a really high quality home stereo system, and it was one of the things I enjoyed using most in the LS 600h.

One final point. While the LS may not have the most showy interior, and there are some areas that need improvement, be assured that every single part of it is made and installed to the very highest standard, and if the ’98 LS 400 I drive is anything to go by, then the 600h will be as impressive and feel almost as good in 16 years as it did when new. And that, my friends, is what you’re paying for ultimately.

2014 Lexus LS 600h L Premier Review boot trunk space

Engine & gearbox

If you’re buying a big executive car like the Lexus LS600h, you’d be right to expect an appropriately powerful engine – and the 600h delivers that in spades. This is a petrol-electric hybrid car, so not only does it have a big petrol-powered, naturally-aspirated, dual VVT-i, 5.0 litre V8 that kicks out 389 bhp at 6,500 rpm, and 383 lb ft (520 Nm) of torque at 4,000 rpm, but mated to that is a hefty 650-volt electric motor offering 221 bhp and 221 lb ft (300Nm) of torque. The combined horsepower for the two is 439 bhp.

To get a little geeky, the electric motor is an AC synchronous permanent magnet version with a 288-volt, Nickel metal-hydride battery with 240 cells. People were amazed when the 8-speed gearbox first appeared on the scene, and at the time of writing there’s a 9-speed available. Pah, those are nothing! The LS600h has an infinite number of gear ratios. No beating that. It’s done through the Lexus E-CVT (electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission). It’s seamless, very clever, and also fairly complex. If you want to know how it works click this link.

The LS600h L’s petrol-electric hybrid system 5.0 litre V8 and the hefty 650-volt electric motor produces a combined horsepower of 439 bhp. - 2014 Lexus LS 600h L Premier Review

Because of the way the hybrid system works, the Lexus LS600h also benefits from permanent 4-wheel drive, with a Torsen limited slip differential. This means the LS is able to put its power down perfectly, and it also makes for superior grip and handling in bad weather. 0 – 62 mph is done in an impressive 5.9 seconds, while 50 – 75 whisks by in a mere 4.2 seconds, and the it’ll go on to 155 mph (limited?).

Official UK fuel economy stats are as follows: urban: 26.9, extra urban: 37.7, combined: 32.8. Real-life testing showed 25.6 mpg over a combination of motorway and winding mountainous road driving, while a straight run at 50 mph showed almost 35 mpg average, with live readings regularly hitting almost 40 mpg. Not bad for a car weighing around 2,400 kilograms (5,290 lbs).

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

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The LS 600h is almost certainly one of the nicest riding cars on the market today. Any powerful, high-end, luxury car should take you to your destination in absolute comfort, and do it effortlessly. In actual fact, I could sum the entire drive section up right now by saying that without question the LS does those things superlatively well.

Let’s start with the ride. The LS 600h feels absolutely planted, thanks to its weight and the fact that it has permanent four-wheel-drive, giving driver and passengers confidence, as well as a sense of security. Thanks to the Adaptive Variable air suspension system (AVS), the LS feels like it is almost floating along, and soaks up bumps and bad road surfaces amazingly well. In fact, the Lexus rides as good – if not better – as cars costing far more than it.

The LS makes any journey an absolute pleasure, so outstanding is the ride. Drive Mode Select is fitted as standard to the 600h, and is a simple system to use. A dial on the console between the front seats allows you to switch between five driving modes to suit: Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+. Each gives the LS an entirely different feel, as the throttle response, powertrain, and suspension are tuned to that mode.

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A trip to the mountainous Lake District, England, allowed us good opportunity to give the Drive Mode Select system and car a thorough testing. The Lakes, as they’re fondly known, comprises of a huge variety of road systems, from fast, winding sections to rough, undulating, and narrow switchbacks up in the mountains.

For the journey there and back, and the sections between villages and towns, we used either Eco or Comfort. Eco limits the power under your right foot somewhat, in order to conserve fuel, whilst Comfort offers a wonderfully smooth band of power and torque. The LS 600h tackles distance driving with relentless ease, and the power of the Lexus is shown on long uphill sections, which it takes care of so entirely effortlessly that it makes zero difference between it and a flat run.

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Pushing the EV Mode button next the the Drive Mode dial, around 30 mph the LS will then cut the engine and glide utterly silently using only the electric motor. So quiet is it, that whilst slipping the Lexus into parking spaces, the people gathering their gear out the car next to us would jump on turning and seeing this huge black car filling (and overlapping) the space next to theirs – seemingly appearing from nowhere.

Running in EV mode, the LS 600h still puts out plenty of torque and unlike some hybrids, you don’t have to be ridiculously gentle with the throttle in order to avoid the engine cutting in. We used the car in electric mode through many of the little villages we passed through, thanks highly efficient way in which electricity was regenerated through braking and decelerating. I’m not a huge fan of hybrids generally, as I still think many need improving vastly before they work as well as they should. However, the LS 600h is an exception as its hybrid system is very impressive.

The sensation when accelerating is strange, for you feel like the Lexus is taking its time, but one look at the speedometer tells you that this feeling is deceptive and the truth of that although it appears to be flowing up to high speeds gently, in actual fact it’s ripping up the tarmac with gusto. Thanks to the hybrid system, Lexus state that the LS 600h delivers a staggering 221 lb ft (300Nm) from standstill or zero rpm. That’s a substantial amount and helps get it up to motorway speeds deftly.

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I’ve already mentioned about how notably quiet the Lexus at standstill, but what’s more impressive is how weirdly hushed it is at speed. One example of this is that according to Lexus, at 62 miles-per-hour (100 km/h) conversation clarity is almost 100%. That’s an incredible fact, and one backed up by the fact that you barely need to raise your voice at speeds much higher than that.

One particular road in the Lake District allowed the LS 600h to really flex its muscle, and for us to test the car out in Sport S+ mode: the Honister Pass. This is a particularly challenging section of tarmac with many switchbacks, blind bends, and very narrow (not good for a six-foot wide car). It peaks at 1,167 feet (356 m), and has gradients of up to 1-in-4 (25%)!

How did the LS cope? Sport S+ gave us 100% of the power combining both the electric motor and 5.0 litre V8 engine, allowing the Lexus to thrust its way up the steep sections confidently. The suspension becomes firmer too, and the steering more focussed and precise, allowing us to tackle the most twisting of sections with the LS sticking to the road amazingly well, belying its weight and mass. Back down the route, and the brakes dealt with the extreme gradients superbly, never showing anything other than immense stopping power and zero fade.

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Safety-wise, the LS 600h is packed to the gills with high-tech kit including: Advanced Pre-Crash Safety and Pre-Crash Safety systems, Driver Monitoring system, Advanced Obstacle Detection, ABS with EBD and brake assist, VSC, hill-start assist, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, and much more.

All said, I have nothing but respect for the way the Lexus LS 600h L drives and handles. Utterly sublime and quiet on longer journeys at higher speeds, eco-friendly through city streets, yet ready for much harsher conditions thanks to the 4-wheel-drive, awesome stopping power, and well-executed Drive Mode Select.

Price

£100,000 isn’t exactly the price of the average car, but then again the Lexus LS 600h L is entirely the opposite of one. At £99,995 to be exact, is it really worth it? If I’m honest, at first I really didn’t believe so. The design isn’t anything spectacular, and the interior initially seemed rather lifeless and dull.

However, the LS 600h L grows on you, and the more you drive or ride in it, and read up about the technology, design, and entire attention to detail that has gone into almost every part of the car during the design and manufacturing process, the more you appreciate why the the Lexus costs as much as it does.

Thing is, just as the original LS was back in the day, the LS 600h L is massively spec’d as standard too, and when you configure its rivals – which initially look much lower-priced – to a similar level of equipment, they end up costing around the same mark or in fact a being a fair bit more expensive.

So, what similar cars can you get for the price of a small house? Here’s a few: Jaguar XJ Supersport LWB, Mercedes-Benz S 500 Plug-In Hybrid L, BMW ActiveHybrid 7L M Sport, Maserati Quattroporte GTS, and Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid.

2014 Lexus LS 600h L Premier verdict & score

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Let’s start with the stuff I think needs improvement on the LS 600h L Premier: next to some of its rivals, the exterior design of the LS is rather characterless, and any options are rather limited. The interior too is almost lacklustre, and certainly there’s no soul about it. I also found the look of some of the switchgear to be dated and lacking the flair it should on a car costing £100k. The boot area is also small.

Aside from these few things, the rest is positive. The interior is incredibly comfortable and refined, and it is one of the quietest cars in production today, even at speed – giving you the feeling that you are completely cocooned from the outside world. The hybrid system is brilliant and forgiving of a heavier right foot, whilst the V8 engine is incredibly quiet and adequately powerful when combined with the electric motor. The ride is velvety smooth and the handling impressive once you’ve selected one of the Sport modes.

All in all, I believe that what the Lexus LS 600h L Premier lacks in soul or character, it makes up for in being entirely focussed on giving its occupants the impression they are wholly sequestered from life outside. And that, I believe, is what the LS is all about.

Do you own a Lexus LS 600h? What are your views on it, and what are the best and worst points? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  7.5
Interior  9
Engine/Hybrid system  9
Gearbox  9
Price  8.5
Handling  8.5
Drive & Ride  9
Overall Score  8.5 / 10

Specs

Model (as tested)  2014 Lexus LS 600h L Premier
Spec includes  19″ alloy wheels, Climate Concierge 4-zone climate control, front & rear heated/cooled seats, rear seat relaxation package with Shiatsu massage (one side), rear/side sunshades, 16-way adjustable drivers seat & 10-way passenger, 19-speaker Mark Levinson Reference Surround Sound, rear seat entertainment with Blu-Ray DVD player, front & knee airbags + front side, rear side & curtain airbags  See website for more details
Options you should spec  Night view monitor: £1,515
The Competition  Jaguar XJ Supersport LWB, Mercedes-Benz S 500 Plug-In Hybrid L, BMW ActiveHybrid 7L M Sport, Maserati Quattroporte GTS, Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid
Price  (Oct. 2014) £99,995
Engine & hybrid  Engine: petrol, naturally-aspirated 5.0 litre, V8, 32-valve, DOHC with dual VVTi | Electric motor: 650-volt AC synchronous permanent magnet version
Power, Torque  Engine: Power: 389 bhp @ 6,500 rpm | Torque: 383 lb ft (520 Nm) @ 4,000 rpm. Electric motor: Power: 221 bhp | Torque: 221 lb ft (300Nm). The combined horsepower for the engine & motor is 439 bhp.
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Permanent 4-wheel-drive | Lexus E-CVT (electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission)
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed (limited): 155 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 6.1 seconds | Euro NCAP rating: Not tested
Fuel economy (UK mpg), CO2   Urban: 26.9, Extra urban: 37.7 , Combined: 32.8 | CO2: 199 g/km
Weight (kerb)  Min: 2,370. Max: 2,440 kgs (5,225 – 5,380 lbs)
Websites  Lexus UK, Lexus USA, Lexus international

Words: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Matthew Davies

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