The Ultimate Hybrid

The 2008 Lexus LS600h and LS600hL luxury hybrid sedans officially went on sale in Japan on Thursday, May 17th, and will start showing up in showrooms in North America, Europe and Asia in the next month or two. Now that we’ve had our first real look at them, it’s clear they are truly the groundbreaking cars Toyota says they are, not only because of the technology under their sleek Black Opal Mica exteriors, but also because of their price tags — which come in at around $124,000. Obviously these are not cars for the masses, but they are an indication of the direction Toyota/Lexus is moving with its hybrid technology. To put it simply, Toyota is in this for the long haul, and expects to offer hybrid models at all price levels. It also plans to sell a lot of them, with sales of all hybrid models projected at a million cars by 2010, compared to about 300,000 sold last year.

So what do you get for that $124,000? Details were actually released about 18 months ago, and we reported on the LS hybrid last November. But a number of additional details have been released now that the production models are finally on sale. The LS600h (the “h” stands for hybrid) and the LS600hL (the “L” stands for long-wheel base) are powered by a 5.0-liter V8 engine and a permanent magnet electric motor, which together drive a full-time all-wheel-drive system. Horsepower is rated at 430, but all that power is produced with less gas and reduced carbon-dioxide emissions, compared to similarly rated cars. In fact, Toyota says CO2 emissions are about half that of a similarly performing luxury car with a comparable 6.0-liter engine. In addition, the LS models are built with a number of recyclable components and a reduced amount of toxic materials.

Inside is a leather-trimmed interior with real-wood trim and a black leather-trimmed instrument panel, a voice-activated navigation system with XM satellite radio, hand’s-free Park Assist, and a 19-speaker 450-watt Mark Levinson surround-sound stereo system. A premium rear-seat package with a fold-out table, DVD rear-seat entertainment system, and right rear-seat power recliner, massager, and leg-rest is also available. Outside are such features as LED headlights and 19-inch seven-spoke aluminum wheels.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as the 2008 Lexus LS models incorporate a long list of other high-tech and luxury features. If you’re a reader with deep pockets, no doubt you’ve already put your order in. The rest of us will have to make due with gawking at one as we pass it on the highway, and perhaps in time the technologies built into the new LS models will work their way down to less-expensive models we all can afford. And hey, there’s always the Prius.

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