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I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC

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 Mon, Sep 10, 2007

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

BY ROY NAKANO

Deja vu In a famous 1962 Twilight Zone episode written by Ray Bradbury, the father of a trio of motherless children takes the children to an automotive factory to pick out a new car. When the car arrives, young Tom and Karen are quickly smitten by the car's hybrid electric technology. But older daughter Anne is suspicious of the new car. She says it lacks passion and will let her down. After time, however, Anne grows to love the car when she realizes all that it's capable of and proves to be even more reliable than their old internal combustion-engine car. Narrator Rod Serling then cuts in, "A fable? Most assuredly. But who's to say at some distant moment there might not be an assembly line producing a gentle product in the form of a hybrid whose stock in trade is love? Fable, sure - but who's to say?" Okay, that's not exactly how it went down. The part of the hybrid electric car was played by an electric robot grandmother, who replaced - not an internal combustion-engine car - but the children's original grandmother. Nonetheless, the sentiment is strikingly similar, with today's doubting Thomases sounding like Anne in the Twilight Zone episode. Ray Bradbury's "I Sing The Body Electric" was inspired by an 1855 Walt Whitman poem of the same name. Both works challenged the public to broaden its pre-conceived notions. Whitman believed that the parts making up the human body all contribute to the soul, and that the souls of all humans deserve to be celebrated. With Bradbury, the passion and soul of the robot grandmother came from all the people that designed her, planned her, built her, and set her running.

Passion and Prejudice With the hybrid gas-electric LS 600h L sedan, Lexus challenges us to rethink the luxury car. Like Anne and the electric grandmother, hybrid vehicles have their detractors. Some have even charged hybrids as lacking in passion. I wonder, however, if the detractors have driven the LS600h L. I did, for several days - and I can report that the LS 600h L is a passionate vehicle. Like the electric grandmother, one can feel the care and attention that the designers of the LS 600h L built into the vehicle. The perfection of the stitching over the leather surfaces on the dashboard, doors, and interior nook and crannies is simply amazing. The sound system - the Mark Levinson Reference Surround System - is the best factory system I've ever heard (and this audiophile has heard virtually all of the top factory systems).

The Heart of the Matter The heart of the LS 600h L is the hybrid gas-electric power plant. The system combines a new 5.0-liter V8 gasoline engine with two electric motors and a new, large-capacity battery pack. The LS 600h L's Lexus Hybrid Drive system provides power and performance on par with competitors normally aspirated 12-cylinder powerplants. The hybrid powertrain generates a peak combined output rating of 438 horsepower and can accelerate the LS 600h L from zero-to-60 mph in 5.5 seconds. Mid-range acceleration is also impressive. The system's electric motor is capable of delivering maximum torque, on demand, and is most noticeable during passing maneuvers. What really makes the hybrid system ideal for luxury car application is the significant reduction in noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). In addition, the LS600h L is a "full hybrid," meaning it's capable of operating in electric-only mode or with a combination of the gas engine and electric motor. Moreover, the LS 600h L has an EV button that can keep the vehicle in pure electric mode at low to moderate speeds. The car is so quiet that this big luxury car turns heads as it silently glides through residential neighborhoods in utter silence. All luxury cars should be able to do this.

Transmitting the Power The power of the LS 600h L is distributed by a newly developed full-time AWD system that delivers superior handling and traction control. This system seemingly adapts to almost any road surface to help provide confidence-building vehicle stability during acceleration, high-speed driving and cornering while also delivering the natural handling feel of a rear-wheel-drive vehicle. The LS 600h L features a dual-stage electronically controlled continuously variable transmission with eight-speed sequential braking. The sequential braking mode is activated when the shift lever is in the "S" mode, allowing eight different stages of response. It turns the transmission into a virtual eight-speed unit when desired. When up-shifting, engine speed is controlled by the selected range, offering a spirited boost in acceleration during each of the eight shift stages. The acceleration of the LS 600h L is matched by responsive handling that includes a class-leading turning radius while maintaining the ultra-comfortable ride that has become synonymous with all Lexus vehicles. Lexus engineers developed multi-link front- and rear-suspension systems to achieve outstanding adaptability to unevenness in road surfaces, including a new multi-link front suspension exclusive to the LS 600h L. This new suspension helps overcome under-steering and drifting situations common when driving an AWD vehicle at high speeds. A newly developed front suspension and an optional active stabilizer help maintain exceptional vehicle control and ride comfort during high-speed lane changes or driving on winding roads. The LS 600h L is controlled by Electronic Power Steering (EPS), which delivers a smooth steering feel that supports the multilink suspension and large-diameter tires. The EPS motor creates a steering impression that responds to the driver's touch and provides a responsive feel when cornering.

The Body Lexus has received some criticism in the past for designs that struck a balanced between bland and derivative. The criticism has not gone unnoticed. Over the last three years, Lexus has developed what it calls its L-finesse styling philosophy. I actually like the new design language. The LS 600h L flagship adopts this philosophy, revealing a family resemblance to the other new Lexus sedans. As with the interior, the fit and finish of the LS 600h L exterior is impressive. Body gaps are very small and very even. Paint finish is outstanding, and a cut above lesser vehicles. The metalwork is equally excellent, with creases and folds perfectly matched. Projector-type headlamps with blue crystal rings, which also include the world's first night-time LED low beams, provide good visibility and contribute to the LS 600h L styling theme. Blue accents on the front headlamps, taillamps, badging, engine cover and the SmartAccess key fobs and Smart Card key are unique to the LS 600h L.

The Electric High technology also permeates the LS600h L's safety features. Active and passive safety technologies combine in this vehicle to create one integrated system. Active safety features include the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) stability system, which assimilates and manages the Electronically Controlled Brake (ECB) system, EPS, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Antilock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and engine torque via the electronically controlled throttle. Monitoring a variety of sensors, the system anticipates the onset of a vehicle skid or slide while cornering, and then helps correct the situation with a combination of braking, throttle and steering control in a way that is essentially transparent to the driver. The VDIM system gathers data from more sources, processed earlier and faster than in previous designs, which helps make the LS 600h L's system more effective. VSC can also be turned off by the driver via the Trac Off button. Lexus engineers have also developed an Advanced Pre-Collision System (APCS). It is the world's first system designed to help detect pedestrians in the vehicle's path. APCS, with two small cameras mounted at the front of the car that work in conjunction with millimeter-wave radar, is sensitive enough to detect certain nonmetallic objects. As part of APCS the LS also offers the world's first Driver Monitor System. A third camera, mounted on the steering column, monitors the orientation of the driver's face. If the camera detects that it appears the driver is not looking directly ahead for a few seconds or more, and if an obstacle is detected ahead, then it alerts the driver first with a warning chime and a flashing light. As the car gets closer to the obstacle, APCS can begin to gently apply the brakes on its own. To assist the driver in maneuvering around the obstacle, the system reprograms the steering ratio, amplifying the intensity and quickness of the steering response.

While all of this is happening, the system automatically retracts the front seatbelts and prepares the brake system to respond with full force when activated by the driver in anticipation of a possible impact. Speaking of high technology, LS 600h L standard features also include a hard disk drive (HDD) Lexus Navigation system with a backup camera and Bluetooth® technology and voice activation, and XM factory-installed satellite radio with real-time traffic displays and dynamic route guidance. The standard Mark Levinson® Reference Surround Sound audio system features 19-speakers and 450-watt amplification. A portion of the HDD is dedicated to storing as many as 2,000 (128-bit) digital songs. An auxiliary jack located in the front center console allows for iPod or MP3 capable digital music players. Additional standard features include an Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS), climate-controlled front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, power rear sunshade, one-touch open/close power trunk, power door closers, headlamp washers, SmartAccess with push-button start and card key, electronic parking brake, Intuitive Park Assist, and laminated side glass.

Optional Technology One of the standout high technology options is the Advanced Parking Guidance System (APGS) to assist with parallel and back-in parking. Once the driver has correctly positioned the car and identified the desired parking spot via the navigation screen, APGS utilizes the rear back-up camera parking sonar sensors and electric power steering system to guide the car into the spot, while the driver controls speed via braking. We tried the system, and it works as claimed. Expect to see this feature in competitor's vehicles shortly. Another standout high technology option is the Executive Class Seating Package II, which includes a power right rear seat that reclines up to 45 degrees with an upper-back recliner featuring a 17-degree angle adjustment. A multi-function massage feature includes an enhanced massage mode for the right-rear seat recliner that can be used separately or in conjunction with the seat heater and cooler. The package also includes a rear-seat wood-trimmed table and the rear-seat entertainment system features wireless headphones.

Stand Back Sometimes you just have to stand back in awe of a company's achievements. With some car companies, it's in the excellence of the company's designs. With others, it's success in the motorsports world. With Lexus, one has to stand in awe of the LS 600h L. The pains that Lexus engineers and designers must have gone through to make this, the most technologically advanced luxury car on the market. Moreover, it is never technology for technology's sake. Each and every high technology element in the LS 600h L furthers its appeal as a luxury car. What stands out most, however, is the passion and perspiration that is evident when the makers made this vehicle. In the end, it's all about the passion in this hybrid gas-electric work of science and art. SUMMARY JUDGMENT The hybrid gas-electric LS600h L is a body of work to make Walt Whitman and Ray Bradbury proud. For more information about Lexus products, go to www.lexus.com.

SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle 2008 Lexus LS 600h L Price of vehicle $104,000 Engine Type Hybrid gas-electric Gas: 5.0 liter 32-valve aluminum V8 with Dual Variable Valve Timing w/ intelligence and electronically controlled intake (VVT-iE) Electric: dual magnetic motors Battery Pack: Sealed Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), 240 cells (12 cells x 20 modules), 288V (can be boosted to 650 volts with power circuit) Horsepower 389 at 6,400 rpm 438 (combined with dual electric motors) Torque 385 pound-feet at 4,000 rpm EPA rated gas mileage (adjusted for new 2008 rating) 20 city/22 highway Drive configuration: All-wheel drive with Electronic Traction and Stability Control Transmission type: Continuously variable automatic transmission with eight-speed sequential-shift capability Steering: Rack and Pinion with Electric Power Steering (EPS), Variable Gear Ratio Steering (VGRS) and Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) Suspension: Four-wheel independent multilink, double-joint suspension Wheels and tires: Wheels: 19-inch Aluminum Alloy Wheels Tires: 245/45R19 all-season tires with full-size spare tire Brakes: Four-wheel Antilock Braking System (ABS); Electronically Controlled Brakes (ECB); Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), VSC, TRAC (all systems integrated VDIM System) Overall length: 202.8 inches Overall width: 73.8 inches Overall height: 58.3 inches Curb weight: 5,049 pounds 0-60 mph: 5.5 seconds Top track speed: 130 mph (electronically limited)

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