With its winking armoury of techno wizardry, the Lexus hybrid is a car from another planet

Would suit: Suleiman the Magnificent
Price: £81,000
Performance: 155mph, 0-62 in 6.3 secs
Combined fuel consumption: 30.4mpg
Further information: 0845 278 8888

For a good portion of last year I was travelling the length of Japan with my family, researching my next book but one*. Being, at heart, a smug, mean-spirited, condescending sort of person, I was afforded a great deal of pleasure by the Japanese's often erratic use of the English language – not in conversation, but on signs, menus, T-shirts and shop names, the most perplexing example being the word "Boobs" in 10ft-high letters on the side of a shopping mall outside Yokohama.

I was reminded of this sitting in the back of the new Lexus hybrid, the LS600h, essentially the flagship of the world's biggest car company, Toyota. Fiddling with the thousands of buttons arrayed there I found one labelled "Ottoman". It made the rear seats recline, something I had only ever seen before in a Maybach or Maserati. That was lovely, but an ottoman (which you, like me, will have learnt from the reruns of Lovejoy on UK Gold, is a low, stuffed seat without a back) it was not. It revealed the tiniest chink, however immaterial, in the otherwise impenetrable armour of this amazing car, a sign that, despite all evidence to the contrary, it was built by humans and not an anally retentive higher life form from a distant galaxy.

The LS600h bristles with clever toys and planet-saving technology – most notably, the 221bhp electric motor which, mated to a five-litre V8 and the best continuously variable transmission system I've ever tried, thrusts more than two tonnes of Japanese cleverness towards 60mph in just over six seconds. Never mind that it probably generated as much pollution to manufacture all the batteries and their computer systems than they will ever save in exhaust fumes, Leo DiCaprio is going to look a whole lot better turning up at the red carpet in one of these than he did in his Prius.

The LS600h is fast, big, complicated, magnificent and not a little intimidating. Lift off the gas at 80mph and there is an eerie silence as the batteries take over and the rev needle drops to zero. The only noise is the gentle rustle of your own nose-hair in the breeze from the air-conditioning. I began to suspect that the Lexus was probably a good deal cleverer than me and could at any minute do a HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey and take control of my life – not necessarily a bad thing, just embarrassing.

The LS600h obliterates the opposition – the Audi A8, Merc S-class and BMW 7-Series – in performance, value for money, emissions (219g of CO2/km) and quality and, in a first for the brand, it doesn't look like it was styled by the same hyperactive nerds who sorted out the oily bits. In fact, I can think of just one true rival to this car, and that's the Lexus GS450h, which is half the price, faster and cleaner. Admittedly, it doesn't have an ottoman, but then, neither does the LS600h. *

* Sorry, you're going to have to contain your excitement for that one. In the meantime, you can gird your loins for 'Sacré Cordon Bleu' (Jonathan Cape), out in February

It's a classic: The sedan chair

Was the sedan chair the Lexus hybrid of the 18th century? Let's say it was; after all, back then it was the preferred transport of the kind of wealthy, industrious types who buy the Lexus today. And anyway, there's no such thing as a classic Lexus, so we'd just have a blank space here otherwise.

The sedan was a box suspended by two poles and carried by two strong "chairmen", originally imported to Europe by the Spanish and Portuguese from their colonies. Your top-hatted toff would leave his front door and be escorted by a "link boy" to a sedan, squeeze aboard, and be trundled off to the theatre in comfort, well above the effluvia of the open drains and protected from the sewage raining down from first-floor windows. Sedan chairs died out in the 19th century, but if you can't stretch to an LS600h, they would be one way to beat the Congestion Charge...

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