When a Hybrid Doesn't Outperform at the Pump

Luxury and hybrid don't necessarily go together in the car world. Buyers who can afford an expensive luxury car typically can afford an expensive stop at the gas station. Why even consider a hybrid version?

There are entry-level models that return excellent mileage resulting in significant savings at the pump, and savings are savings. Then there is a different breed of hybrid where the electric-assisted powertrain is designed to deliver a better driving experience — or more power — without the drain at the pump more power typically demands.

Lexus was the first luxury car maker to offer a hybrid model in its lineup: the RX 400h back in 2006. Today it makes entry-level hybrids like the ES 300h and CT 200h. Both start at less than $40,000 and return an impressive EPA rating of at least 40 mpg combined.

Then there's the LS 600h L, a full-size luxury flagship that sports a unique hybrid system that teams a 5.0-liter V-8 engine with a 165-kwh electric motor and 288-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery to make a grand 438 combined horsepower. It also starts at $120,805 (including destination of $895).

We decided to see how the mileage of this uber-hybrid really shook out in the real world, driving it and a non-hybrid LS 460 on a nearly 200-mile round-trip commute. We were a bit surprised at the results.

Lexus redesigned both the hybrid LS and the LS 460 for 2013. Both arrived in the Cars.com fleet at the same time. The LS 600h L all-wheel drive costs $55,780 more than the other well-equipped short-wheelbase LS 460 all-wheel drive. The hybrid version only comes in long-wheelbase form while the LS 460 can be had in either variety. A similarly equipped LS 460 L all-wheel drive would cost more but still fall $38,135 short of the LS 600 L.

I took both of Lexus' new 2013 LS models on a nearly two-hour commute from our Chicago office to Whitefish Bay, Wis.

Before starting the mileage tests, all the tires were checked for correct pressure, and both cars were filled full with required premium fuel. I drove the same route — about 97 miles — two times in each Lexus LS with normal use of the climate control system, no cruise control and Eco mode turned on. Here were the results:

Fuel economy in the non-hybrid LS was nearly the same, if not better, than the results churned out from the "more green" LS 600h L AWD. The same goes for the cost per mile; both cost nearly identical to operate.

You could easily point to the additional 507 pounds the LS 600h L has on its little brother as the reason, but that wouldn't explain the discrepancy in the EPA ratings and real-world results.

You can get just about all of the features we had in our hybrid tester equipped in a gas-powered LS 460 L all-wheel drive. While we didn't test that version, it does get the same EPA ratings as the short-wheelbase version we tested. It's also $40,209 less than the hybrid LS 600h L all-wheel drive test car.

Comparing the mileage results between the LS 460 all-wheel drive and its hybrid counterpart, the LS 600h L all-wheel drive, it's hard to justify the greater expense for these minimal fuel economy gains.

However, the LS 600h L impressed many of our editors with its sublime ride, powerful acceleration and dead-quiet cabin. Perhaps that will loosen the wallets of LS shoppers.

* Editor's Note: The LS 460 AWD and long-wheelbase LS 460 L AWD have the same EPA rating.

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