State-of-the-art sound systems have been part of the core Lexus remit since Toyota launched its luxury brand back in 1989. So, it’s no surprise to find the 600h packs a veritably thumping Mark Levinson stereo. Lexus puts heavyweight research and development into tuning its cars for optimal acoustics. For the most part, it really pays off. With no less than 19 speakers located throughout the cabin, there is monumental heft across the dynamic range without so much as a single rattle or squeak, even set to full. Windows down, this car is capable of treating other road users to truly obnoxious sound levels.
Of course, when it comes to audio quality, there’s no such thing as perfection. Audiophiles of a pedantic hue will note that the system’s overall output isn’t quite the sum of its parts. The upper reaches of the high range suffer slightly from that characteristic brightness that marks a system trying too hard to impress with showbiz moves, while bass extension majors on sheer thump rather than subtlety. Overall, it’s ever so slightly disjointed. But again, that’s the pedant in us talking. By any sane measure, the stereo simply rocks in terms of both sound quality and quantity.
That’s the good news. The bad is that when it comes to the latest digital media and file formats, the Mark Levinson kit is rather antediluvian. The dash mounted six-disc optical drive supports conventional audio CDS, video DVDs and playback of MP3 and WMA files stored on CDs. But that’s as far as it goes. There is no USB port. The only option for connecting personal media players such as iPods is the aux-in 3.5mm jack located in the front armrest. What makes this all the more peculiar is that, again, the US market LS is significantly better specified. American buyers enjoy a hard-drive based system capable of ripping and tagging RedBook CDs, for instance. Admittedly, even the US market setup has shortcomings. But it’s still a clear cut above what UK customers enjoy.
That, however, is not quite the end of the story. Lexus was good enough to supply us with the bad boy of the LS range, the long wheelbase ‘L’ model. We therefore had the pleasure of sampling the secondary entertainment system located in the rear of the car. This comprises a 9in LCD display that unfolds from the roof at the touch of a button, a control console situated between the two rear passengers, a dedicated CD/DVD changer, again located between the rear seats, and two pairs of wireless headphones.
The system is partially integrated with the main dashboard entertainment rig, allowing rear passengers to control volume, track selection and so forth of both front and rear sound systems as well as view progress and location on the sat-nav interface (no interaction is possible) via the rear screen. However, the rear CD/DVD changer is just that. It only supports conventional audio CDs and video DVDs. DivX, MPEG4, you name it, it’s not supported. Nor are Blu-ray discs.
Granted, it’s arguable whether the captains of industry at whom this car is aimed are likely to care about the likes of DivX playback. You might also consider HD video support on a 9in display somewhat academic. And yet the overall low-tech vibe remains strangely out of keeping for such an otherwise advanced, not to mention expensive, vehicle.