By Andy Enright
You know you shouldn't do it, but sometimes there's nothing more satisfying than being able to say 'told you so'. Lexus finds itself in exactly that position with its range of high-end hybrid vehicles. Initially derided by rival manufacturers as Heath Robinson workarounds brought about by the fact that Lexus didn't have a big diesel engine at its disposal, companies like Mercedes, BMW, Porsche and Audi are now all adopting petrol/electric hybrid technology on their cars - and not just at the affordable end of the range. There's one car that's been using this technology for quite some time and fully deserves the crown as king of the hybrids, and it's the Lexus LS600h. Here's what to look for when shopping for a used example.
4 dr saloon (5.0 petrol/electric hybrid [High, LWB])
Back in 1989, the Lexus LS redefined what a large luxury saloon should be. It was as simple as that. It seems rather ridiculous now to remember that back then, the European makers who ruled the market defined luxury as being as much about wood and leather as it was about ride and refinement. Thanks to this Japanese brand, cars of this kind were finally transformed from boardroom barges to the technological showcases buyers had a right to expect from their inflated pricetags. By the time that the third generation LS was launched in 2006 though, the opposition had finally caught up. With another seismic step forward needed, this LS600h hybrid provided it, offering such an impressive blend of power, efficiency and refined luxury that for most of the MK3 LS model's lifetime, it was the only version on offer. Throughout production of this third generation version, detail improvements added to a sense of style and identity fully befitting the most technologically-advanced car in the world. This then, was the model that finally allowed the Japanese company to stamp its own identity on the luxury car market. The LS600h enjoyed a facelift in 2010 and it's these later cars that we look at here. Can buying used and taking the sting off the initial depreciation make this an unbeatable luxury proposition?
What You Get
Go for the long wheelbase version and there's a premium (that was about £9,000 when buying new) for the Rear Seat Relaxation Package for which you'll really need a chauffeur as well. And rivals? It's hard to think of any direct ones. Boardroom buyers who don't want a diesel and like the idea of combining petrol power and refinement with a eco-statement will look to this car first. Whether you choose short or long wheelbase LS600h models, the equipment list is vast. Things like satellite navigation with voice control and rear camera parking assist are of course standard but bear in mind that some functions are restricted to the options list. Get the vendor to talk you through it all before you decide - and put plenty of time aside: you'll need it. If you go for the mildly facelifted MK3 model introduced in 2010, then your car will feature a higher spec with hi-tech enhancements that include clever automatic high beam headlights that dip on their own at night. And an advanced 40GB HDD satellite navigation system that helps the 19-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound stereo to transfer and store up to 10GB of music files that can create your own sound library with up to 2,000 music tracks. Post-facelift safety additions included inflator-operated active headrests which in an impact, thrust forwards and upwards, reducing the risk of whiplash injury. The long wheelbase body style is the one chosen by most LS buyers and all 120mm of its extra length has gone into increased legroom for rear seat passengers who'll especially enjoy themselves if the owner has gone for the expensive but desirable Rear Seat Relaxation Package option. This premium seat arrangement could be specified in five as well as four-seat models, offering extra reclining, massaging and climate control functions in a rear cockpit that feels rather like mission control with all its lights and buttons. As for bootspace, well even with well over five metres of length, the hybrid system's bulky battery pack means that you don't get very much - 370-litres in the standard car and just 330-litres in the long wheelbase model - less than a little BMW 3 Series. Buy a leather-lined MPV if you want space.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Lexus has an unparalleled track record for reliability, and the LS600h generates the lowest percentage of warranty claims. Still, it's worth doing a very thorough check and getting any faulty electrical items fixed under warranty. It's highly unlikely that there will be any (just as well as some of the systems are incredibly complex) but check sunroof and window motors and make sure the leather and paint is in tip top shape. The hybrid drive system is incredibly tough and we've never heard of a failure. The wheels can be prone to kerbing, so factor in any refurb costs if they've been dented or scuffed.
(approx prices based on a 2011 LS600h - ex Vat) Lexus parts aren't that much cheaper than those you'd get from the premium German marques, so don't expect big bargains here. An exhaust system is around £1,200 without catalyst and brake pads retail at £90 for the fronts and £75 for the rears. The LS600h is very good on tyre wear but check the car's alignment as tyres cost around £175 per corner.
On the Road
Seat yourself comfortably behind the wheel and it's an experience from the beginning, particularly if you've one of the later post-2010 variants which feature an improved LCD virtual dashboard. Here, the starting procedure on the instrument layout ahead is accompanied by lovely graphical mists on the display which clear to gracefully reveal an outline image of your LS. Press the starter button and, like all hybrids, there's the sound of silence. Nothing to begin with from the 388bhp 5.0-litre petrol V8: just the almost imperceptible sound of the 221bhp electric motor, part of what must be the most seamlessly integrated hybrid drivetrain yet created. Of course, with over two tonnes of luxury limousine to shift, the electric motor soon needs assistance but the switch in power is seamless, part of a thrust of acceleration that arrives in one smooth linear surge, courtesy of a combined 439bhp power output. Drive as if you've stolen the thing and sixty flashes by in just over 6 seconds before the silky 8-speed automatic slurs you gently on towards the artificially limited top speed of 155mph. Just as well the Brembo brakes (enhanced in later models) offer a 12.5% improvement in stopping power. Unlike previous generation LS designs, you can enjoy the experience at speed around twisties too, despite early suggestions to the contrary from the initially rather lifeless electric power steering. Even in the long wheelbase version that lacks Lexus' active stabiliser system, body roll is still well controlled and if you keep it off the 'Sport' setting, the air suspension in 'Comfort' and Normal' modes makes a British B-road seem like an Arizona highway. Plus it's all done in whisper-quietness, a fact that credits the engine as much as the double-glazed windows. Apparently, there's a guy in the factory who tests every engine with a stethoscope to make sure it produces the right tone.
The Lexus LS600h is probably the most refined car available this side of a Rolls-Royce Phantom. It's whisper quiet at normal speeds and the suspension system does a brilliant job of filtering out road noise. This is a beautiful and relaxing way to travel. Why don't we see more of them in the used sector then? The answer is badge equity. This is a £90,000+ new car without a top line prestige badge and that's enough to put off most potential customers. Those who just recognise excellent engineering and don't need their egos propped up will warm to the LS600h and those who did buy one new will be pleased with running costs far lower than German rivals. As a used buy it earns a solid recommendation. The cars are reliable, they tend to have been very well looked after by knowledgeable owners and the post-2010 facelift version in particular feels bang up to date. It's not cheap but buy one and we doubt you'll feel you've got poor value for money.