$100,000 Hybrids: Lexus vs. BMW

by The Car Family

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 In an age when conspicuous consumption seems to be an art, along comes two gloriously expensive sedans that do their best to be inconspicuous. The Lexus LS 600hL and the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 Series and a strange brew of technology, luxury, and performance, with just a touch of frugality thrown in to attract the green set.

We drove them both and they are remarkable in every technological way, and fast, but they are pushing the limits of driver patience with an endless array of buttons and settings. You can forget the simple temperature control knob or push buttons to select a radio station. These hybrids are multi-tasking machines that not only talk to you, but scold you as well. Leaving your lane, they’ll let you know. If there is a car in your blind spot they’ll flash you a sign, and in the case of the BMW, they will even make sure the door is snug. My advise is not to leave the dealership without a tutorial.

The good news is that they are quiet, fast and the gas mileage isn’t that bad considering these are hefty sedans. We averaged around 22 mpg with both vehicles, but be warned it is down right difficult to avoid unleasing the combination gas-electric forces under the hood, ah, trunk, ah, whatever. Indeed, the BMW is one of the fastest cars on the planet once it gets moving, and we mean moving. If your kids won’t quiet down, just floor this sedan and the g forces should pretty much leave them breathless until the police pull you over and ask for your pilot’s license. This BMW can reach 60 mph in well under five seconds and it probably won’t take much longer to reach orbit. The Lexus is slower, but not by much.

 We didn’t have a favorite. The BMW was the most fun, no doubt. But the complicated electronics kept us from enjoying its exemplary handling, stopping, and acceleration traits. The Lexus was smooth, quiet, and, well, a bit boring. In either case, the 22 gallon fuel tanks made 400 mile trips a possibility and with all the electronics to play with it is always entertaining.

 Mom’s view: I love the BMW 3 Series. Quick, responsive, and fuel efficent. The Seven Series hybrid has some of the same DNQ with excellent stopping power and handling, but that’s it outside of the look of the grill. The ActiveHybrid It is much smother and just as fast as the sexier looking supercharged Jaguar and, surprisingly, the interior is as nice as the British sedan. The Lexus has the better look for me, as the fit and finish were exceptional. It isn’t any secret that Lexus frequently finishes at the top of the consumer quality reports.

 Cost wise, they both are around $105,000. For that BMW gives you a combination of lithium ion batteries, turbocharging, and a 4.4-liter engine that yield 455 horsepower. The Lexus uses its hybrid with a larger, non-turbocharged, 5-liter V8 engine in combination and two electric motors to provide 430 horsepower.

 Driving the Lexus is easier. Both have engines that shut down when the car is stopped, but the Lexus is much more seamless when it comes time to starting. The cars have fairly good views in all directions and the seats are so adjustable that finding a fanny friendly position isn’t difficult. Of course these expensive sedans have steering wheels that power adjustments for those of us with short torsos and shorter arms and have to share with longer-legged relatives. The trunk space on the BMW does not give up as much room for the extra batteries that drive the hybrid as the Lexus. I liked the Lexus better. It was less fussy and plenty fast. Besides, for the MSRP I want to be coddled.

 Dad’s view: The BMW has an eight speed automatic transmission while the Lexus as a continuous variable unit that makes constant adjustments to maximize performance and efficiency. The Lexus is smoother. The BMW does offer a sportier suspension and that includes a self-leveling rear suspension and all sorts of safety equipment such as Driving Dynamics Control, Dynamic Stability Control, and Servotronic steering assist. Overall, I just liked driving the BMW better. The Lexus was more comfortable, easier to master, and to park. But it had no spark. The bottom line is that this a lot of money to be green.

Young working woman’s view: These are very big sedans. The turning radius for the BMW is over 42 feet, and the Lexus does it in 40. In other words, if you are looking for a parking space in a crowded mall prepare to spend time docking. Rear and front seat head and leg room is spacious in both cars, but the Lexus only has ten cubic feet of trunk space as the hybrid batteries take up a lot of room. The BMW has 14 cu.ft.

The Lexus dash is easier to navigate and the instrument panel continues to be exemplary. The cars have readouts for everything from tire pressure to gas mileage for the last few minutes. I really liked the extra cost feature that tells you when there is a slow traffic ahead and how many miles it lasts. The BMW has its owners manual located in the hard drive so you can read it using the car’s monitor. This is an interesting development. Not to be outdone, the Hyundai Equus goes one better by placing an iPad 2 in the glove compartment with the information on a file. The Lexus uses the old fashioned Lexus Library type of owner’s manual with several hundred pages of information. Somehow, I prefer this and I am supposed to be technological inclined.

Both vehicles are technological showcases with LED projector headlights, keyless ignition and entry, power door closers, parking assist with a back-up camera, a hard-drive-based navigation system, high-output stereo systems, and the Lexus will even park itself. Be warned that you are going to have to get out of that parking place on your own. The BMW is a tad longer, but weighs less. They both have whopping gas tanks that hold about 22 gallons of fuel. In other words, 400 mile trips are non-stoppers if you want to challenge your kidneys. I don’t have a choice between these two. Neither appealed to my sense of treading softly on the Earth and both were too big and too conspicuous. I would much prefer the Lexus RX hybrid, which we have tested, or the frisky BMW 3 Series to place under my covered parking space.

Family conference: The choice between these two is essentially based on how you drive. If you are into performance go with the BMW, if you want luxury and quiet pay the Lexus dealer. If you have children the BMW’s larger trunk will be of significant value.

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