2007 Lexus LS600hL

Of course, there's plenty more technology on hand here. The low-beam headlamps are LEDs that swivel in turns and are supposed to last the life of the car (assuming they're not stolen). Optional adaptive cruise control includes a pre-collision warning and mitigation system that beeps at the driver when the car is closing in too fast on an object ahead and will tighten the seatbelts, apply light braking, quicken the steering ratio, and increase the power steering boost to help the driver avoid or at least mitigate a collision. A Mark Levinson audio system plays every current music media and delivers garage-rocking sound through no fewer than nineteen speakers. As on the LS460L, buyers can opt for what Lexus calls its executive class seating, with two rear lounge seats boasting all manner of electric adjustments and massage functions. The LS600hL also ups the LS interior ante with a hand-stitched, leather-covered dashboard, although in the interior, as on the exterior, design remains in the background, behind materials and assembly quality.

So, the LS600hL is a remarkable luxury car. But what to make of its most distinctive element, its hybrid powertrain? Well, it doesn't exactly transform the big Lexus into an environmentalist's dewy-eyed dream. The car achieves the EPA's SULEV emissions status, which is impressive but not exceptional: Using the tougher, '08 model year testing, its EPA fuel economy is 20 mpg city/22 mpg highway, as compared with the LS460L's 16/25 mpg. The hybrid Lexus betters its twelve-cylinder competitors by a lot (an S600 gets 12/19), but the big hybrid is hardly a fuel sipper. Interestingly, the driver can push a dash button that, if a variety of conditions are right (engine warmed up, battery sufficiently charged, speed less than 25 mph) will keep the LS600hL running in full-electric mode a bit longer than it otherwise would--but even so, it probably will go only 0.6 mile before the 5.0-liter V-8 fires up. Ask chief engineer Moritaka Yoshida why the button is there, and the answer is "for silent and emissions-free driving, such as in indoor parking garages." In other words, it's more of a courtesy to nearby pedestrians than a way to save fuel.

A luxury car first and a hybrid second, the LS600hL is a tech-laden, top-of-the-line dream machine with the performance and features to match anything in its rarefied class. The hybrid system doesn't make it an eco-mobile, but it does give it a notably more benign ecological impact than its competitors.

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