BULLET TRAIN TO THE BAY
2014 Lexus LS 600h L
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Fri, Nov 15, 2013
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By Zoran Segina "This car is like TGV," exclaims the Tall Girl referring to the "Train de Grand Vittesse," a French bullet train. With her European upbringing, she is a vocal proponent of rail travel and is looking forward to a high-speed train line between Los Angeles and San Francisco which, as of today, is a number of years and sixty-eight billion dollars away. Meanwhile, we are a good hour into our Bay area trip in the 2013 Lexus LS 600h L, a hybrid-powered flagship of the Lexus luxury line. The LS 600 is in the Eco Comfort mode selected by rotating the button behind the shifter. The suspension swallows any imperfections on the I-5 as we glide toward Gorman. The dashboard covered in black stitched leather with brushed metal trim is juxtaposed with bamboo wood and suede-like beige covered interior. Instead of the RPMs the gauge indicates the hybrid power consumption, from power (when accelerating), to charging battery (while braking). Beethoven's piano concerto is filling the space through the Mark Levinson Reference Surround Sound Audio System7 at barely audible level. The insulation of the cabin is so perfect that it practically begs for something soothing to complement the silent environment within. Satellite radio is controlled by two classic round knobs. An analog-faced clock in the center exudes class. I am unable, however, to ventilate the LS600h L without turning on the air conditioning. Once the system is off, fresh air comes in only if the car is moving. Our navigator is Ms. N, a pleasant female voice. She and I had some initial disagreement on how to reach the freeway, but all is well now and we are pointed in the right direction. Once in the Bay area, we seem to be veering off the usual roads while the endless lines of cars are stuck in the other direction in the heavy afternoon traffic. "I don’t care where she is taking us," observes the Tall Girl, "but the traffic is light." And yet, in calculating our estimated arrival time, Ms. N. took into consideration that we would eventually get stuck in traffic, a fact she announced well in advance. Our hosts' address in a hilly area presents a challenge even for the post office. Ms. N. took the complicated roads in stride bringing us to the right street, albeit half a mile down the road. Blame it on the poor GPS reception. At the wheel the next day, on a 50-degree misty morning, I feel the leather portion getting warmer. Without any adjustments. How does Ms. N, or her silicon associate inside the LS600h L, know that my hands are cold? Who instructed it to turn on the windshield wipers and clear the overnight rain? The right side of the center console contains a rest for the driver’s hand, with a black square computer mouse, and two controls labeled "Map" and "Menu." A click opens seven sub-categories allowing the driver to connect all kinds of electronic gadgets and personalize the LS 600h L. Alas, a busy week on the road leaves too little time to fully explore this system. I have to contend with the steering wheel controls which adjust radio, media, telephone and voice controls, and a dashboard display. Little pictures showing the flow of power seem jejune, but the information on the cruising range, average fuel consumption, speed, elapsed time, and tire pressure is useful. On our trip through San Francisco proper, the occasional green EV light on the display is telling us that the LS600h is running on electrical power alone. The transition, however, is too seamless to notice. While the front seats on the LS600h L are luxurious, the real action happens in the rear. With a single push on the adjustment control the front passenger seat glides forward and out of the way. The right rear seat occupant then presses a self-explanatory "ottoman" button causing the seat to recline and the leg support to rise. The passenger can then deploy the shades, pull out a small desk, or, if not inclined to work, watch movies on the DVD screen that comes out once the disc is in the player hidden in the center console. At the same time, our passenger can get massaged (vibrating or point pressure) by playing with the buttons on the removable control module, also in the rear seat center console. The LS600h L is clearly geared toward business executives who prefer to cover mid-distances by road rather than air. Tellingly, the instructions in the rear are in English, Japanese, German and Russian. During our trip to town the rear right seat is reserved for our hostess who is expecting twins in a two months. With the massage soothing her aching back, I detect audible sighs of relief. At the freeway entrance, I accelerate to get into the flow of traffic, and the 438 horses spring to life. Even in the Eco Comfort mode, the LS 600h L is an explosively fast machine with sufficient power to get out of any trouble on the road. A driver can turn the setting to Sport+ which stiffens the suspension, changes engine parameters and brings up the tachometer. Despite its size and weight, the LS600h L can be driven aggressively on the Dunlop SP Sport Max 245/45 R 19 tires, except that tossing this temple of luxury around the corners feels so . . .unbecoming. The LS 600h L is a large car, made to look smaller by interplay between relatively high beltline and angular surfaces. The spindle-like grill is a nod to Toyota's early history as a manufacturer of textile looms. Three powerful headlights are encased in a bezel, the bottom of which is delineated by LED elements forming the letter L. The steeply raked rear window and the trunk reminds one of a BMW. Below big rear lights, two chromed exhausts are effectively incorporated into the rear bumper. A good portion of the trunk is taken by the hybrid battery pack. To satisfy a business traveler, though ,the trunk can accommodate several 22-inch suitcases side-by-side. An exploratory trip through the trunk also reveals a full spare tire, a pack of 2 AA batteries for the remote control, a screwdriver, couple of wrenches and a pair of pliers. A daring operator who opens the hood, holding these tools in hand, will encounter the entire engine area covered in plastic leaving only the openings for the dipstick, engine and brake oil, and wash and wipe liquid. The message is clear - leave the engine repairs to the professionals. When underway, the best way to enjoy the LS600h L is to set every function on "Auto" and let the invisible assistants respond correctly to the conditions on the road. Intelligent headlights rotate with the direction of the steering wheel, as the navigation system guides the big sedan comfortably through the night. On the return trip to Los Angeles, our decision to take the coastal route annoys Ms. N. who is repeatedly trying to send us back to I-5. Choosing Santa Barbara as an interim destination settles the dispute. In the Eco setting the LS600h L will reach Los Angeles from the Bay area on less than a tank of gas, leaving about a hundred miles of cruising range reserve, at a cost of roughly $65. On a open road our fuel consumption hovered around 27 miles per gallon. Here is a suggestion for the California High Speed Rail Authority: Until the train is operational, the Authority should purchase ten thousand LS600h L sedans. Half of them should be in Los Angeles, and the other half in the Bay Area. Each vehicle could make two daily trips between these two regions which corresponds to transporting eighty thousand passengers per day. In addition to this expenditure—only $1.2 billion—the Authority could spend a few more, billions that is, and construct a high-speed dedicated carpool lane within the existing I-5 corridor allowing let's say 100 mph speeds for the LS600h Ls. This would shorten the trip significantly. With four passengers in the LS600 the travel would cost less than twenty bucks one way, leaving the rest of the price to replenish the fleet. With the savings of tens of billions of dollars. Admittedly, the trip would take longer than the projected two and a half hours. But I assure you, ladies and gentlemen of the Authority, none of your passengers will ever object. For more information about Lexus products, go to www.lexus.com SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2013 Lexus LS600h L Price: $119,910.00 (base) $128,529.00 (as tested) EPA fuel economy ratings 19 city/23 highway miles per gallon (LA Car observed: 25.8 mpg) Internal combustion engine: 5.0-liter V8 32-valve, double overhead camshaft with dual VVT-iE Horsepower: 389 6400 rpm Torque: 385 pound-feet at 4000 rpm Electric motors: Motor Generator 1 (MG1) - Primary generator, engine starter, permanent magnet motor, water-cooled Motor Generator 2 (MG2) - Drives wheels; regenerative braking, permanent magnet motor water-cooled, 650 V (DC), 221 horsepower (165 kW), Transmission type: E-CVT Hybrid transmission with sequential shift and variable gear ratio steering Drive configuration: All wheel drive with Torsen limited slip center differential Steering: Variable Gear-Ratio Steering (VGRS), 2.3-3.7 turns lock-to-lock Suspension Front: Independent upper and lower multilink double joint suspension arms, air springs with integrated monotube shock absorbers and stabilizer bar Rear: Independent upper and lower multilink double joint suspension arms, air springs with integrated monotube shock absorbers and stabilizer bar Height-adjustable Adaptive Variable Air Suspension (AVS) with electronically modulated damping Brakes Front: 14.1-in front, ventilated discs Rear: 13.2-in rear ventilated discs Four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes with Electronic Controlled Braking (ECB), and regenerative braking function Wheels and tires: 19-inch seven spoke alloy wheels with Dunlop SP Sport Max 245/45 R 19 tires. Dimensions Length: 205.0 inches Width: 73.8 inches Height: 58.3 inches Curb weight: 5203 pounds (with executive seating package)