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First Drive: 2013 Lexus LS 600h L [Review]

by Andrew Ganz

Lexus\' flagship sedan is better than ever.

Think of the mega-buck Lexus LS 600h L you see here as a bookend to Toyota's hybrid lineup. For the price of a fleet of Prius Cs, the LS 600h L offers everything most buyers could ever want.

The LS 600h L has been newly revised for 2013 with the brand's rather more aggressive design language inside and out. Yet like its V8-powered LS 460 little brother, the LS 600h L - yes, that name is a mouthful - is hardly a thorough rethink of Lexus' flagship.

But it does represent a shift in direction and a rekindling of Lexus' once-relentless pursuit of perfection for a model that has teetered on irrelevant over the last decade.

If looks could kill

Sharing the unique "spindle grille” that debuted last year on the Lexus GS, the LS is vastly more dynamic looking for 2013. All LS 600h models feature an extended wheelbase (hence the L) in North America, which gives them a slightly too stretched look compared to the more proportional short wheelbase model. Gone for the new year are the jelly bean headlamps and non-descriptive detailing that barely marked its predecessor. In their place, we find hints of chrome and increased complexity through sensual creases and curves. Rounding out the look is a tail end that mimics the front fascia, but the LS' greenhouse is unchanged from before, which serves as yet another a reminder that this 2013 update is a refresh and not a redesign.

Should you find yourself piloting an LS 600h L, you'll feel right at home if you've been in the automaker's latest GS and ES models. Aside from a step up in materials, the low, logically-arranged dashboard and controls are essentially magnified versions of Lexus' other models.

Attractive available bamboo trim (not pictured) denotes this as the hybrid's interior, as does a control knob that lets drivers pick the way they want to operate the 389-horsepower carryover V8 hybrid powertrain mated to a CVT. Select Sport/Sport+ and you'll be rewarded with terrific grunt that belies the quoted 5.5 second 0-60 sprint. In addition, the new electric power steering is tighter, even though it doesn't serve up any additional feel.

With its standard all-wheel-drive, the LS 600h L boasts substantial grip and it feels considerably lighter than its 5,200 lbs. curb weight might suggest. A delicate dancer it is not, but it proved commendably composed over the varied terrain we encountered among the saguaro cacti that probably outnumber residents in Tucson, Arizona.

Left in normal mode, the LS 600h L is happy to lope along in utter silence. Smooth is the name of the game here.The hybrid's electric motors do the heavy lifting at a stop or at low speeds, but the LS is so remarkably isolated that you'll have to watch the tachometer to really know what's going on.

Select Eco and you'll find that throttle response has been dialed way, way back. But if you're eco-minded, this isn't the car for you - even though there are plenty of hybrid cues on board. Rated by the EPA at just 19/23 mpg using premium unleaded, the LS 600h L pales in comparison to the BMW ActiveHybrid 7L, a point which underscores the age of this basic platform, even if it might look new inside and out.

Executive transport

Spend just a moment in the LS 600h L's optional Executive rear seat package and you'll be posting a wanted ad for a chauffeur on Craigslist while you enjoy a shiatsu-style massage from multi-adjustable reclining rear throne.

That is, if you're not distracted by the 9-inch Blu-Ray screen that motors down from the ceiling or the wood-finished table that pops up from the expansive center console between the two seats, which Lexus comically refers to as ottomans. Look beyond the Starship Enterprise-sourced control panel and wired massage remote and you'll find a refrigerated console chill beverages (we tried putting PBRs in it, but they inexplicably vanished in favor of a bottle of something unpronounceably fancy every time we looked).

For Pete's sake, there are even three airbags - including a knee airbag - for each rear seat passenger.

Pundits will argue that Hyundai offers these same luxuries at half the price in the Equus, but, well, there's a reason that LSs outnumber Equii in Gangnam. The difference is in the myriad details, an area where Lexus has excelled since dethroning the Germans more than two decades ago.

It might not be perfect, the LS 600h L, but it feels like a flagship once again.

Leftlane's bottom line

Mediocre fuel consumption aside - as if that really matters here - the Lexus LS 600h L is perhaps the finest pampering device on the market for those seeking something without the je ne sais quoi that goes along with a Bentley or Rolls-Royce.

Though intended for a very specialized demographic, the LS 600h L is brilliantly focused at delivering one thing: Elegance at any cost. The only problem is that the pool of buyers wanting those attributes appears to be shrinking every day.

Lexus LS 600h L base price, $119,910.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.

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