THE ZEN OF AUTOMOTIVE LUXURY
2013 Lexus LS 600h L
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Published on Tue, Nov 27, 2012
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
GEORGES, AND THE ZEN OF AUTOMOTIVE LUXURY By Zoran Segina LA Car readers should not find it surprising that the Tall Girl—my lifelong co-pilot, and beloved driving companion—finds my driving skills less than satisfactory. My European-infused dynamic driving generally elicits remarks emphasizing speed limits, safe lane changes, appropriate stopping distances, and similar observations. My defense that I have not had an accident in years is shot down by the explanation that everybody on the road has to watch out for me. When the Tall Girl wants to get to our destination relaxed she demands that I drive like Georges. The Tall Girl grew up in Paris, and would often be invited on outings with Madame Bonté. As befits the member of one of the most prominent families in France, Madame Bonté did not drive herself. She would arrive in a Citroen Traction Avant, and later in a luxury American product. The memories of the war years were too fresh to allow any respectable high-class Parisian to be seen in a German-made car. Madame Bonté was chauffeured by Georges. A true professional, Georges was a man of considerable driving skills, technical prowess, discretion, a sense for providing smooth comfort for his passengers, and a restrained locution. Madame Bonté’s instructions were acknowledged by a simple phrase: “Oui, madame.” And off they would go to the jewelry store, restaurant, or the bank. The Tall Girl claims that “Yes, madam” were the only words Georges ever uttered.
I wish Georges could have been with us at the introduction of the 2013 Lexus LS line, especially because the first car I tested was the Lexus LS 600h L—a hybrid-powered-super-luxury long-wheel base flagship of the brand. It would be wonderful to put the bamboo and hand-stitched leather-covered steering wheel into Georges’ professional hands, and have him drive this marvel of luxury and technology around. The LS 600h L caters to the most discerning clientele who is not expected to spend its precious time driving automobiles. That is why the plushest seat is the rear right. It would be reserved for Madame Bonté, and she could recline it forty-five degrees, find a comfort on a footrest, or enjoy a shiatsu massage by activating the rollers behind the luxury leather. Her travelling loge provides separate DVD screen, small table, and, of course, has a climate concierge—a system that independently adjusts the microclimate in and around each of the seats by detecting the occupants’ body temperature. The electric suspension allows for three settings—a “normal” mode turns the LS 600h L into a well-behaved albeit somewhat softy sprung limousine. But the single lane twisty roads in the Torrey Pines hinterlands require more spirited performance, especially given the tight time schedule. So, a simple rotation of the control button on the center console to the “sport” mode transforms a two-and-a-half-ton luxury behemoth into a nimble and powerful sport sedan. The engine management perceptibly changes, the suspension gets firmer, and steering becomes more resistant. The 204 inches of the LS 600h L seemingly shrink, as though we stopped at the mountaintop and changed cars. Later, when the road widens, we switch the setting to the “comfort” mode and the sport sedan relaxes into a fluffy magic carpet. Madame Bonté would undoubtedly be accustomed to a softly sprung coach, like in France, but on an uneven roadway above San Diego, the “comfort” setting borders on unpleasant.
Behind the wheel of the LS 600h L on the busy southbound lane, Georges would find it surprising that the passengers’ well-being is not in his hands alone. A plethora of computers and sensors are helping the driver – the automatic distance control computer adjusts the speed to the traffic ahead. Another computer monitors accidental lane changes, and a navigation screen –bigger than the first television screens in Paris – offers navigation information, entertainment selection, and a number of other data. Query: Is there such a thing as too much information? And the piece de resistance is the radar. Actually, two of them. The one in the rear, working in conjunction with the rear view camera, will not only help Georges squeeze the LS 600h L into tight corners, but, because it can sense the side movement, will alert him if another car or pedestrian crosses from behind. And should the driver get distracted, the forward-looking radar will automatically stop the LS from 24 mph to a dead stop before a collision. But no self-respecting professional chauffer like Georges would ever allow himself to even come close to testing the capabilities of the anti-collision system. Just as no automotive journalist, invited by a manufacturer to drive a $140,000 pre-production luxury car, would summon sufficient intestinal fortitude to deliberately lift his foot off the brake pedal just as the trademark spindle grille on this crown jewel of the Lexus brand ambles toward the delivery truck stopped ahead. The system is unquestionably flawless, but remains untested.
Should the discerning customers prefer to take matters into their own hands for a more spirited outing, there is always the LS 460 F Sport with the all-wheel drive. The driver is firmly ensconced in the sport seats. Behind the black leather-clad steering wheel shifting paddles provide for quick gear changes. On downshifts, the system will electronically blip the throttle, which shortens the process to 0.2 seconds. The pedals are clad in metal. The electric sport suspension lowers the chassis by 10 millimeters. The rear axle is controlled by a limited slip Torsen differential; the nineteen-inch wheels are slowed down by Brembo brakes. The overall experience can be summarized as a high-class exhilaration. The most intriguing aspect of the Lexus brand is this unique marriage of the ancient oriental craftsmanship, and the most sophisticated modern technology in a singly luxury object. A genuine luxury product is so much more than the sum of its parts, something that its user is likely to sense rather than see or feel. A Lexus owner may never know that the master craftsmen who stitched leather on his dashboard have to pass a dexterity test, before they undertake the task, and, to keep their hands nimble, they routinely fold origami figures by one hand. He may be oblivious to the fact that the beautifully inlaid Shimamoku wood trim which surrounds the occupants requires one and a half more hours to complete than any other wood finish. Yet, stepping into any Lexus of the LS line leaves both the driver and the passengers with that impalpable but ever present feeling that their well-being was foremost on the minds of the people who created this automobile. And while he might refrain from expressing his opinion beyond his customary brevity, Georges would unquestionably find this feeling very comforting.
For more information about Lexus products, go to www.lexus.com SPECIFICATIONS 2013 Lexus LS 600h L Price: $140,000.00 est. (base) $140,000.00 est. (as tested) EPA mileage estimates (city/highway): 19/20 miles per gallon Engine type: 4,969cm3, V8 2UR-FSE 4 –valve DOHC high output 165kW (221 hp) 650 V water cooled motor generator Horsepower: 389 at 6400 rpm (438 combined) Torque: 385 at 4,000 rpm
Transmission type: Electronically controlled Continuosly Variable Transmission Drive configuration: All-wheel drive with Torsen Limited Slip Differential Suspension: Four-wheel linked air suspension with Variable G Ratio Steering Wheels and tires: 19" x 8.0" 245/45R V all-season Brakes: 13 x 1.18" disc front 13.5 x 0.787" disc rear Dimensions Overall length: 203.9 in. Overall width: 73.8 in. Overall height: 58.3 in. Curb weight (lbs): 5,203 pounds
2013 Lexus 460 F Sport Price: $81,990 (base) $84,885 (as tested) EPA mileage estimates (city/highway): 16/24 miles per gallon Engine type: 4.6 liter, high output 1UR-FSE V8 gasoline engine Horsepower: 386 at 6400 rpm Torque: 367 pound-feet at 4,100 rpm Transmission type: Eight-speed automatic transmission with sequential shifter Drive configuration: All-Wheel Drive with transfer case Suspension: Front and Rear: Independent upper and lower multi-link with coil-over monotube shock absorbers and stabilizer bar Wheels and tires: 19" x 9.0" ten spoke F Sport wheel with performance tires Brakes: 14.8" ventilated Brembo rotors with aluminum 6-piston opposed calipers 13.1" ventilated Brembo rotors with aluminum 2-piston opposed calipers Dimensions Overall length: 199.2 in. Overall width: 73.8 in. Overall height: 58.1 in. Curb weight (lbs): 4244