2011 Lexus HS 250h Expert Review:Autoblog
Lexus likes to say that it pursues perfection. Toyota's luxury brand has been playing the hybrid game for a while now with converted gas-powered models like the LS, GS and RX hybrids, and few would argue that these models represent the zenith of what a luxury hybrid can be. For that, Lexus finally decided to build a dedicated hybrid model from the ground up, and the result is the HS 250h.
Being that the brand's parent company builds the Prius, the industry benchmark for hybrids in terms of both fuel efficiency and popularity, Lexus has, on the one hand, a much deeper well of hybrid expertise from which to draw than its competition. On the other hand, it has the toughest act to follow in the third-generation Prius. In the minds of many, a true Lexus hybrid should be everything Toyota's magic bean is and more – it should be the perfect Prius.
Funny thing, the HS 250h is not. Lexus hasn't built an upmarket version of the Prius with the HS 250h. Perhaps realizing that after three generations creating about as perfect a parallel hybrid as there is, Lexus up and decided that its own luxury hybrid should have a different mission. Unfortunately, after a week spent behind the wheel of a 2010 HS 250h Premium, we're not still not sure what that mission is. Follow the jump to learn what else we found confusing about Lexus' latest hybrid.
Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL
As we said, the HS 250h is not a gussied-up Prius, and your first clue is that it looks nothing like the Toyota hybrid. The Prius was honed by computers to balance the maximum amount of interior space with the slipperiest shape possible, and the result is one of the most aerodynamic production cars in the world with a 0.25 coefficient of drag. The HS 250h achieves an also impressive but more modest 0.27 Cd thanks to its more conventional three-box shape. This tall sedan's design, however, looks a little disproportionate, like a Hot Wheels version of the larger LS.
Despite its size, the HS 250h still exudes an air of expensive sophistication from the outside. Though many people didn't recognize what we were driving, no one thought it was a Corolla. Credit goes to the rich paint color options, including the Matador Red Mica shade of the car we used to photograph, as well as the lustrous Aurora White Pearl of our actual tester. Likewise, nicely packaged lighting hardware that includes projector-beam headlamps (optional high-tech LED front lamps are available) and LED taillamps let passers by know you aren't rocking a Yaris. Then there are the wheels. Standard models receive 17-inch split five-spoke wheels while Premium models go even larger with complex-looking 18-inch split seven-spoke wheels.
Just like the exterior, the interior immediately lets you know that you're not sitting in a Prius. The dash design is entirely different, with high-class electroluminescent gauges placed right behind the steering wheel where they should be. The center stack doesn't sweep out all the way to the center armrest as in the Prius, but stops halfway, leaving a crevice for cupholders and controls for the heated and cooled 10-way adjustable front seats. The seats themselves set a standard for comfort and are draped in the most buttery semi-aniline leather this side of a Bentley, and Lexus scores a point of green cred for using bioplastics to cover 30% of the interior and trunk.
There's a lot of tech to take in once situated, and the odd-looking controller at the bottom of the center dash just begs to be played with. Lexus calls its all-in-one controller Remote Touch, which is to say it remotely controls the flip-up nav screen mounted high on the dash. Your palm rests flat on the controller just like a computer mouse, and buttons for various controls are within comfortable reach of your fingers and thumb. The controller moves an arrow around the nav screen, but the real trick is its inclusion of haptic feedback, which means you actually feel through the controller when the arrow glides over a button on the screen.
Lexus says its Remote Touch controller is safer than a traditional dash-mounted touch screen because the display is mounted higher, thereby requiring less eye movement to view. Being analogous to a computer screen and mouse, it's easy to learn and quickly be comfortable with, but such a complicated configuration doesn't feel any safer and surely isn't more intuitive to use than simply touching a screen.
Along with the innovative joystick, buyers can also load up the HS 250h with the very latest infotainment technology. The laundry list of top-shelf tech includes an optional 15-speaker Mark Levinson stereo; the latest XM satellite radio hardware beaming in programming as well as traffic, weather, sports and stock info; Bluetooth phone and audio integration; casual speech voice recognition; and the brand's own OnStar-like service called Lexus Enform with Safety Connect. A $3,900 Technology Package also adds a heads-up display that projects vehicle speed, audio info and turn-by-turn directions on the windshield; radar-based cruise control; park-assist sensors; a pre-collision warning system; and a new piece of tech called Lane Keep Assist, which we'll get to in a moment.
The HS 250h may have more technology packed in its interior than a DARPA lab, but demerits are surely deserved for the poor user experience when plugging in an iPod or iPhone via the USB port. Doing so allows you to charge the Apple device as well as navigate its contents using the Remote Touch controller and nav screen. Unfortunately, Lexus has less experience designing interfaces than Apple and it shows. It's easier to just connect your Apple hardware via Bluetooth and play DJ through the device itself. Of course, there are safety questions posed by taking your hands off the car's controls and looking at the Apple's small screen, and you lose the ability to charge your device. On one long trip, we were forced to switch and back forth between connecting via USB and Bluetooth because our iPhone was getting low on juice.
Not long after we discovered that the HS 250h is annoying to use with our iPhone did we stumble upon a gem of tech that made us smile again. It's called the Wide-View Front Monitor and is available as a $700 option. It works just like a backup camera, but it's in the front and can display up to 190 degrees of the world at front bumper level. It's particularly handy when pulling into parking spots or gently nosing out into an intersection when one's view of crossing traffic is otherwise blocked. Unlike the backup camera, the Wide-View Front Monitor can be set to come on any time the car is in Drive and moving forward under 7.5 miles per hour, or manually by pressing a button on the lower left part of the dash. We say leave it on manual, otherwise your nav screen will switch back and forth in stop-and-go traffic like a TV on the fritz.
And when it comes to viewing the back bumpers of other vehicles, the HS 250h will be doing a lot of that. Its 2.4-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine produces 147 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 138 foot pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm. Being a parallel hybrid, it can also call in the electric cavalry from a 141-hp electric motor, though total combined power is limited to 187 hp, all of which makes its way to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission. The Prius can only muster a combined total power output of 134 hp, so the Lexus should feel like an electric hot rod, right? Nope. An extra 640-728 pounds (depending on trim level) of earth-crushing weight is carried around by the HS 250h. There's a reason some people call rich people fat cats, and the same goes for their vehicles, apparently.
That said, the HS 250h will outrace a Prius to 60 miles per hour, 8.4 seconds to 9.8 seconds. It also offers four modes of powertrain pleasure: Normal, Power, Eco and EV. We're assuming Lexus recorded its Prius-beating 0-60 mph time using Power mode, which makes the HS 250h feel only as lively and responsive as a very heavy Corolla. Power mode should instead be called Normal because that's what it best approximates, and Normal and Eco mode should be called Eco and Numb. In actual Eco mode, the throttle behaves like a body part pumped full of Novocain. It's all in the name of increasing MPGs, but firmly pressing the gas pedal and getting back disproportionately less power is a disconcerting sensation that, for the most part, left Eco mode off the table for us.
Finally there's EV mode, which as its name suggests allows the vehicle to be driven solely on electricity for short distances. In our experience, "short distances" meant from one driveway to the next... while coasting. Nearly any application of the throttle will pop the car out of EV mode. The Ford Fusion Hybrid (and now the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, which will directly compete with the HS 250h) allows pure EV travel up to 47 mph, which is actually useful and more importantly, repeatable, at least until the battery pack screams "Uncle!" By comparison, EV mode in the HS 250h is a novelty you'll probably never use in the real world.
You'll eventually want to stop and the HS 250h has brakes that are poles apart from the rest of the car's laissez-faire attitude. Whereas the deadened accelerator requires your foot to play the part of defibrillator paddle, the brakes are fully awake and sensitive to the slightest touch. They're regenerative, which means in addition to arresting motion, they're also charged (ha!) with converting the car's motion into extra energy for the battery pack. The coordination of these two duties is handled by the electronic controlled brake (ECB) computer, the calibration of which is likely why the HS 250h's brakes feel anxious underfoot. The regen comes on too soon and too strong, hauling the car down faster than you intend. When combine that with the opposite nature of the throttle, your right foot feels schizophrenic as you try to keep straight which pedal gets the firm push and which the light touch.
We did discover an area in which the HS 250h excelled on the road, and that's highway cruising. The HS 250h is one of the most effortless cars we've encountered in a straight line. That may sound like a simple task, but a good, long road trip can be exhausting in vehicles with twitchy steering, a bumpy ride and uncomfortable seats. The HS 250h has seats made for comfort, not corners, and the MacPherson strut front suspension and double wishbone rear are ideally suited to soak up expansion joints. The steering, however, is particularly ideal for long distance drives. Toyota has continually evolved its electric power steering, and the system in the HS 250h, while never managing to accurately mimic actual feedback from the road, always seems to offer the right amount of resistance no matter the speed.
Particularly impressive is Lexus' new Lane Keep Assist technology. It works with the Lane Departure Warning system and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control to actually see the lane markers flying by on either side of the car and increases the amount of effort required to turn the wheel so it's easier to keep the HS 250h on a straight and narrow path. This also helps counter cross winds that try to upset the rather tall sedan's composure on the highway.
So in terms of ride and comfort, the HS 250h meets the bar set by larger luxury vehicles. But this is where this hybrid's mission gets muddled. The base price of the HS 250h is $34,650. Our particular tester was the Premium trim, which starts at $36,970 and also included the aforementioned Mark Levinson stereo ($1,580), navigation system ($2,125) and Technology Package ($3,900). The sticker price was also padded with $397 worth of floor mats. For those without a TI-82 handy, that's a grand total of $45,672, not including a destination and delivery charge of $875.
Lexus doesn't want us comparing the HS 250h to the Prius, but we can't help it. The Prius starts at $22,800 and if you're hell bent on giving Toyota your money, can be optioned up to nearly $35,000. Fully loaded, the two are about $10,000 apart in price, so the average consumer might expect a commensurate amount of increased mpg for the premium commanded by the HS 250h. Not quite. How about fuel efficiency equal to that of the Prius? Not even close. The Prius leads the league with an official EPA rating of 51 mpg city, 48 highway and 50 combined. The HS 250h manages a score of 35 mpg city, 34 highway and 35 combined. That's about a 15 mpg deficit on top of asking $10,000 more for a car that some had hoped would be the perfect Prius.
But again, that's not the mission of the Lexus HS 250h. Best we can tell, this car is for the loyal Lexus buyer who wouldn't be caught dead in a Toyota but still wants that oh-so-fresh feeling of driving a hybrid, regardless of how well it actually performs in that regard. Unfortunately, Lexus has gone too far trying to differentiate the HS 250h, and in the process, it has spoiled the one trait that makes the Prius such a hot seller: MPGs. Perhaps the brand that claims to pursue perfection should have developed its own version of the perfect Prius, one that justifies such a high price tag with bragging rights for being more fuel efficient than its common cousin, not less.
Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL
Just because The Cold War is over doesn't mean that all cold wars have come to an end. Two protagonists in the auto industry – once again, East vs. West – are currently embroiled in an in-car safety and technology arms race that is beginning to look more like NASA vs. Roskosmos than a battle between luxury sedans. The latest master weapon comes from Lexus in the form of its HS 250h hybrid, claimed to be not only the world's first hybrid-only luxury sedan, but also the most fuel-friendly luxury vehicle extant. If Lexus has it, they put it on this car. Our question was: Would we want to put one in our driveway? Follow the jump to find out.
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
Frugal hybrids are here, sports car hybrids are here, and luxury hybrids are dipping wheels in the waters. This car marks the first luxury-only hybrid to make its acquaintance with the public. During the launch, Lexus was at pains to make sure we did not confuse this car with the Prius, informing us that the HS' closest sibling is the Euro-market Toyota Avensis. Fitting in between the IS and ES and GS in brand placement, the HS 250h "was developed as an answer to customers looking for an environmentally conscious premium vehicle."
What about the GS 450h and LS 600h? In addition to the HS 250h being hybrid-only, it's the first Lexus hybrid tuned with the primary goal of delivering superior economy. While Lexus' GS and LS hybrids are meant to provide power above their weight class with the same fuel efficiency, the HS is meant to provide economy with a decent dollop of power.
It does so via a DOHC 2.4-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. The engine alone puts out 147 horsepower, but add some juice from the 245-volt battery behind the rear seats and the system is good for 187 hp. Torque comes to 138 lb-ft, and you can have it all on regular 87-octane gas. The car isn't just frugal on gas, it's equally parsimonious with emissions: 70% fewer smog-forming emissions find their way out of the tailpipe compared to conventional vehicles, and evaporative emissions are close to zero.
The mpg tally? According to Lexus, you'll be the proud owner of 35 city, 33 highway, 34 combined. That easily beats other car in the entry luxury segment, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. It even beats the 1 Series. Heck, it even beats a Mini Cooper (except for the diesel, which you can't get here yet). Mind you, the HS isn't really competition for those cars, which all emphasize sporting splendor as opposed to frugal hybrid luxury.
A shift-by-wire system operating through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) gets the grunt seamlessly to the ground. The console-mounted shifter engages Reverse, Neutral, Drive, and a "B" setting that actuates an engine braking feature when going downhill, which helps use gravity to refill the battery and keep your feet off the brakes. Oddly, Park is a button next to the shifter – if you don't use the button, the car will remain in neutral when you get out. As the gentleman from Lexus University explained, "If you don't press the button, the car's going to leave."
Let's talk technology for a moment, shall we? Here are some of the systems on the HS 250h:
- A Pre-Collision System that you get when you check the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control option. If your HS thinks you're going to hit someone, it will ring the warning bells and add brake pressure if it doesn't detect you're pressing the brake hard enough. The driver monitor will also be working to make sure you're still at work behind the wheel. If you do happen to have a boo-boo, you'll be protected by ten airbags.
- A heads-up-display that projects not only speed, but nearly any input you give the car, including audio system commands and navigation instructions. The steering wheel buttons are touch sensitive, so that when you rest your finger on one, it appears dimly in the HUD display, and is illuminated if you actually press it. You also get Pre-Collision and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control warnings shown to you in the HUD.
- The wide-view front monitor is the same feature you get on a Rolls-Royce Phantom. If, for some reason, you can't see what you're about to nudge the HS's four-foot nose into, turn on the front monitor and you'll get a 190-degree view from the grille-mounted camera.
- An infrared-cut, acoustic glass windshield that reduces IR waves by 30%, and side glass with a water-repellent coating for better wet weather visibility and defrosting.
- Intelligent high-beams use a camera in front of the rear view mirror and automatically switch between high and low headlight levels. They can also shorten the distance of the beam depending on whether traffic is approaching you or you are pulling up behind someone.
- Lane Keep Assist helps you stay in your lane in two ways. When the lane departure warning system can clearly make out lane markings, the steering wheel will vibrate and if you stray, the car will apply an ever-so-subtle amount of steering input to get you back in the lane. The second feature is essentially the car keeping itself in the center of the lane. Once the HS 250 knows where the lane markers are, it will gently provide steering inputs on its own to keep the car going right down the middle. Not that you would – but you can take your hands off the wheel and watch the car keep itself between the lines. Of course, this feature doesn't work on switchbacks, and it's not an auto pilot, but it does appear to be the way things are going these days.
- Casual voice command capability (as on the IS convertible) that let you blurt out "Make it cooler" and "I need a gas station" instead of dictating your way in clipped tones through menus.
Now to the technological main event: whereas GM has Onstar and Mercedes has Tele-Aid, the HS 250h introduces Lexus Enform with Safety Connect. This is actually two different subscription services: Safety Connect will be available on all cars; Lexus Enform will be available on those with navigation.
Safety Connect notifies a command center if you've been in an accident, alerts tracking authorities to the vehicle's location, can make calls for emergency assistance, and adds GPS location data when you make calls to Lexus' roadside assistance program.
Lexus Enform can be thrown on top of that services and has two offerings. Destination Assist is like calling 411 for navigation – command center agents will help you find what you're looking for by name or type of business, at which point it will send the directions to the navigation system.
eDestination lets you go on the Lexus site at your home computer (or any other computer or iPhone – no Blackberry capability yet) and save up to 200 destinations in 20 different personalized folders. You can even annotate each destination with your own comments. Then you can send that entire packet to the car and download them all into the navigation system. Purchase an HS and you'll get the first year of Lexus Enform and Safety Connect for free.
If you just can't get enough of Lexus, there's Lexus Insider, a free opt-in service. Go to the Lexus Insider screen and you'll find audio messages from the company that can provide anything from useful vehicle tips to event information and owners' benefits.
The last sprinkle on the gizmo cake is XM Sports and Stocks for cars with navigation and an XM subscription. With XM Sports you can program schedules and results for five teams from the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL. XM Stocks keeps track of ten companies in your portfolio and can read the day's activity to you.
The car's trimmings haven't been left out of the technofest, either. Bioplastics derived from kenaf make up 30% of the hybrid's interior and luggage area – in upholstery, foam, and injection-molded and board parts – with the result that the car is 85% recyclable. Elsewhere, leather abounds in the seating areas and there's a sheaf of rawhide over the dash cluster and lining the center console.
And that brings us, at long last, to the most quotidian aspect of the car: sitting in it. The HS is comfy and roomy, and the truncated center console keeps everything wide open inside. The thin, shaped front seatbacks leave plenty of room in back for real, human-sized men, so it's a good thing that the trunk is roomy, too. At 12.1 cubic feet, it can swallow more than any other Lexus hybrid (beating the LS 600h by 0.5 cubic feet), which means four and their golf clubs should go nicely. Any seat in the house is a nice one to have.
We have spent so long discussing the bounty of what's inside the car because we're still not taken with what's outside the car. The HS 250h is a lot of things and has a lot of things, but we would not put exceptional looks on that list. It has a Cd of 0.27, making it as slippery as it is bland. Of course, we understand why it looks like it does... but that doesn't change the fact that, well, it looks like it does. At one point, we pulled up next to a Toyota Corolla S, the one with the aero bits, and the resemblance was uncomfortable. We wouldn't have minded a little drop in gas mileage for a bit more bite in the HS' design.
19th-century French author Guy de Maupassant said he ate in the restaurant at the base of the Eiffel Tower because that was the one place where he didn't have to see the tower. Once inside and moving in the HS, you won't think about the way it looks. The driving experience is pretty close to awesome, this being a hybrid that'll seat four grown men with luggage and get you at least 34 mpg combined, probably more with a conservative right foot.
Turn the car on and you probably won't hear a thing, which isn't unusual for a Lexus. But in this case, there might actually be nothing happening – if the car doesn't need anything other than electrical power, even though you're about to pull away, it will remain silent. The only indication that all systems are go is a green "Ready" light in the gauge cluster. The car can operate at up to 20 mph on electric power alone for about five minutes, so if you're putting through a severely speed restricted area, you can do it within a cloak of aural invisibility (pedestrians, beware!).
When the engine finally does come on, it's the standard Lexus protocol of quiet. When urging the HS on, you can hear its exertions, but it's nothing out of place. Lexus spent a lot of time balancing the car's weight and shape against the sound profile that passengers would experience inside, and the results speak for themselves – or rather, they don't.
There are four drive modes when you get up to speed: EV, Eco, Normal, and Power. If you've bought a hybrid and you want a Power mode, perhaps you should buy the GS hybrid, but the setting does give you slightly increased throttle response. Normal mode was actually just fine for us as far as power was concerned. The car gets up to 60 in 8.4 seconds, which strikes us as plenty of pace for a model like this.
The HS never feels slow, not even in Eco mode, which was our favorite and coincidentally the slowest driving mode possible. Eco mode slightly retards the throttle response so that not only do you get the best possible gas mileage, but you begin to learn how much throttle you should give the car in order to achieve it. It doesn't rob you of your ability to give the car a whipping – if you mash the throttle, the car will understand that you want everything it's got. In Eco mode, the thriftiest Lex will build its way up to 35 mph much more fuel efficiently. This will usually result in some tarmac space growing between you and the folks stabbing at their accelerators, but it's not nearly as intrusive as it might sound. And we saved the life of a baby whale every time we used it.
You can also select EV-only mode, provided you know you're going to be going under 20 mph and the battery is more than 50% charged.
But what about pushing in and out of corners? After driving it in the hills surrounding Los Angeles, the handling gets a thumbs-up from us. The HS uses MacPherson struts up front (with all of its parts completely different to the Prius) and a double wishbone rear suspension. The steering rack is not mounted on rubber bushings to keep the line of feedback undulled, and the electric power steering is speed sensitive. If you get the Touring Package, the suspension is tuned for even sportier handling. And if the truth be known, the package added up to a car that we thought handled better than the rear-drive IS Convertible. In fact, we drove them back-to-back just to make sure. We're not saying it could outperform the IS 350C, but in terms of meeting our expectations for cornering, steering, and feedback – sheer handling enjoyment– the HS wins.
We have no problem recommending the Lexus HS 250h because it certainly gets two out of three things exactly right: the cabin experience sets a fine mark for what a luxury pure hybrid can be and the driving is enjoyable. Our V8-loving enthusiast hearts never really felt cheated when tooling around in the car – in fact, we liked it. It's only the styling that gives us pause long enough to say that we will let other beholders judge that beauty for themselves.
If you're looking for a hybrid-only luxury car, this is the only place you can go for now. If you're looking at any entry-level luxury car, then the Lexus HS 250h is a fine place to start comparing the present choices with one possible future.
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc
New Car Test Drive
Hybrid luxury sedan based on Prius and Camry.
The Lexus HS 250h combines the performance of a V6 with the mileage of a four-cylinder economy car using an advanced hybrid gas-electric powertrain. The HS combines elements of the Prius platform with the more powerful Camry hybrid powertrain.
Hybrid drive systems can be designed to boost mileage as in the Prius or enhance performance as in the LS 600h L. The Lexus systems are a modular technology and can deliver any mix of the two. The HS 250h falls somewhere in the middle of the hybrid spectrum.
The result is a clean, efficient luxury car with good numbers both in power and fuel economy. The HS 250h gets an EPA-estimated 35/34 mpg City/Highway. It can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 8.4 seconds, which is adequate for most situations. In combination with the hybrid drive motor, the HS 250h generates 187 total system horsepower, running on regular unleaded gasoline.
The Lexus HS 250h, like the Prius, has technology features that make it a fascinating car to operate. It's a car that appeals more to a finely developed sense of touch. The HS experience is more like driving a laptop, one with a lot of bright, new features and an inviting, intuitive operating system. To operate the HS is to experience a sense of enlightenment, more than a compulsion to drive harder and faster.
This is the first hybrid-only car for Lexus, and the first Lexus with a four-cylinder engine. Launched as a 2010 model, the HS 250h offers all the latest hybrid-drive system upgrades that are now spreading through the Lexus line of hybrids. The new systems are lighter, more compact and more efficient. The HS also has the smoother ride and refined features consistent with a car in this price range.
Other than paint colors, there are no changes for 2011.
Mileage is equivalent to the Camry hybrid, which is a bigger car and somewhat roomier inside than the HS 250h. Compared to other cars in the Lexus line, the HS is about 5 inches longer than the sporty IS and about seven inches shorter than the ES sedan. It's about the same size as a Mercedes C-Class or BMW 3 Series. The Lexus is taller than either of the German cars, but without any real gain in interior room.
Like the Prius, the HS 250h makes a social statement, but does so within the context of a forward-looking, technology-driven luxury brand. Its more powerful 2.4-liter engine is quite a bit peppier than the Prius, consciously trading some mileage for better acceleration and easier highway cruising.
But at 35 mpg overall, the HS 250h is still highly economical and efficient. The HS 250h generates 70 percent fewer emissions than the average new car. It's a California Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV), which makes it one of a handful of the cleanest cars in the world.
The battery pack is located between the rear seat and trunk; it can deliver a peak output of 40 horsepower, which is blended into the system according to driver demand. The batteries are automatically recharged as needed, either by the engine or braking action that converts momentum into electricity.
The HS 250h has four drive-modes: Normal, Power, Eco and EV. The different modes alter throttle response, managing air and fuel for more power, or conversely, better economy. The electric-only EV mode has a modest range that varies according to temperature, driver demand and battery condition, estimated at somewhere between half a mile and 1.5 miles.
A well-appointed interior is set up to take advantage of new ideas about how to adjust controls and features without distracting the driver's attention. An available mouse-like controller, the Remote Touch system, eliminates the need for touch screen controls.
The 2011 HS 250h ($35,100) comes in standard and Premium ($37,870) models.
Standard features on the HS 250h include leather-trimmed seats; 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat with eight-way power-adjustable front passenger seat; a 10-speaker, 137-watt audio system with a six-disc CD changer, a subwoofer and center speaker; Bluetooth for phone and music streaming capabilities; integrated subscription satellite radio (includes 90-day trial); USB/iPod connectivity operated via steering wheel controls or the display screen; heated outside mirrors; and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels. An optional Touring Package ($1600) for the standard model includes heated front seats, illuminated front scuff plates, 18-inch wheels, sport suspension and pedals, and two-tone leather interior trim. Stand-alone options include heated seats ($440), interior wood trim ($300), and 18-inch alloy wheels ($770).
The HS 250h Premium ($37,870) adds heated/ventilated front seats trimmed in semi-aniline leather; 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels; rain-sensing windshield wipers; heated electrochromic exterior mirrors; genuine wood interior trim; and a memory system that allows individual driver settings for seat, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, outside mirrors and air conditioning settings to be recalled automatically by individual key fobs. Premium can be upgraded with the Technology Package ($3900) that includes a heads-up-display, radar cruise control, park assist, and other advanced safety systems. Premium models equipped with the Navigation Package can also be upgraded with the 330-watt, 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound system ($1,580).
Options for both models include the Navigation Package ($2,125) with the Remote Touch navigation controller, Bluetooth, air ionizer, and a host of available telematic systems from Lexus Enform and XM. Other options available for both models include LED headlamps with Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS), intelligent high beam, and headlamp washers ($1,805); and a rear spoiler ($200).
Safety features include a 10-airbag supplemental restraint system and front active head rests.
Almost every aspect of the HS 250h design is modern, technical, and aerodynamically relevant.
Even the grille contributes to a low coefficient of drag (0.27) by guiding airflow over the hood, and is set lower than the headlamps, a Lexus identity trait. The center of the hood is visually well defined, blending into concave segments that create a sculpted, edgy look. Sharply angular compound headlamps are mounted high, above the grille, a design cue in keeping with the top-of-the-line LS600h.
A subtle gull wing shaped roof design helps control airflow to reduce drag and strengthen the roof structure. The bottom edge of the front bumper, which flows outward and around the fog lamps, also includes an air intake for cooling. Front and rear spoilers add to aerodynamic performance, as do air flow management touches that include spats, liners in the fenders and air diffuser fins.
Weight reduction was accomplished by use of high-tensile strength steel and an aluminum hood. Infrared-reducing windshield glass reflects heat, helping to reduce the air conditioning workload for better mileage.
A halogen projector beam headlight system is standard; LED headlamps and adaptive front lighting are available. The headlamps and tail lamps have tinted blue inner trim to signal that the HS250h is a hybrid. There is also a Hybrid badge, plus subtle blue highlights added to the Lexus logo and engine cover.
The Lexus HS creates a sense of luxury by surrounding the occupants with technologies that empower and inform, and by use of premium components and materials throughout.
Inside, there is a high level of standard equipment. The three-spoke steering wheel and shift knob have leather trim. A 10-way power driver's seat with power lumbar support is standard, as is dual-zone climate control, a dust and particle filter, two 12-volt outlets, Homelink programmable garage door opener, tilt-and-telescope steering column, power windows and all the cupholders, assist grips and interior detailing we would expect of a car in this price range.
Interior lighting is crafted to suit the environment. The lighting scheme includes courtesy lights mounted on the doors, an incandescent dome light, map lights, LED foot lights, and lights for the glove box and trunk.
The trunk is large for a car of this size, and has an unusually wide opening, easily accommodating four golf bags.
The HS 250h cockpit is shaped by study of eye movement, sight lines and economy of motion. Everything the driver needs to look at is mounted high on the dash, so it can be addressed at a glance. Those controls that must be touched are mounted down low, within easy reach. The navigation screen is mounted high but controlled by the mouse-like Remote Touch device located in the center console, where drivers would most likely rest their hands. Because of the Remote Touch mouse, the driver never needs to lean forward to touch the navigation screen, or keep a finger on an icon while the display scrolls. It's all controlled through the mouse, without looking down. It's a safer system, one that leaves no fingerprints on the Navi screen.
The transmission shifter, something more like a joystick, is located in the center of the instrument panel, where it can be bipped into a given gear by a flick of two fingers.
No small amount of bioplastic material, synthetic fabric made from vegetable oil, has been engineered into the HS 250h. It's used in the trunk carpeting and parts of the interior upholstery, covering about 30 percent of the area. Unlike many plastics used in the automotive industry, bioplastic is carbon-neutral and does not create a disposal problem when the life of the car is over. It's a trend we're seeing throughout the auto industry, as the newest cars use ever-higher percentages of recyclable materials.
The HS builds on the notion that a car should interface seamlessly with other computers and information flowing from outside sources. The Bluetooth system is adapted to wirelessly download contact information from compatible phones, which probably already synch with most home and office computers. As a result, all three phonebook databases can be identical. XM satellite radio, now capable of delivering news on sports, weather, traffic and stocks in real time, can pull in information anywhere the car goes. It's also possible to program in personally selected information preferences, so a driver can track his own stock portfolio or follow specific teams.
Another service, Safety Connect, can be used to determine the current location of a stolen vehicle, call for emergency assist and supply GPS data to enhance roadside service needs.
Lexus Enform offers a live operator to help drivers find a specific address, a business, or restaurant, and then sends the coordinates to the navigation system for routing. Another premium feature, called eDestination, allows drivers to go online to save and sort destinations in up to 20 folders, and send as many as 200 destinations at a time to the vehicle, where they can be downloaded into the navigation system.
The HS 250h is set up to ride and drive like a compact family car. While the HS is maneuverable and responsive, it's clear the chassis is built for ride quality rather than extreme speeds and road-holding. Lexus has succeeded in achieving a comfortable, easy-to-drive character for the HS 250h, isolating the driver from harsh road irregularities and textures that might come through to the cabin in a sportier car.
In keeping with Lexus priorities, there has been a conscious effort to keep noise to a minimum. Suspension noise is absent, and the car is very well sealed against wind noise. Lexus uses acoustic glass on the front windshield, which helps make it easier to hear conversation while driving. Overall, the car is very quiet at normal cruising speeds and of course, when operating on battery alone. The exception is when full throttle is applied, at which point, a surprising amount of engine noise can be heard.
Electric steering is much improved compared to early applications. It's a low-effort setup, making the HS easy to park and maneuver. At speed, it's reasonably firm and on-center, and around town it has the ease and quickness of a luxury car. Lexus gets a 3 percent fuel economy benefit from the electric steering system, so it makes sense to use it, though we suspect drivers who try to operate the HS as a sports car would be disappointed. We noticed a modest amount of front-end dive upon hard braking; cornering stability seems consistent with a well-designed passenger vehicle.
Fuel economy for the HS 250h is an EPA-estimated 35/34 mpg City/Highway, with combined city/highway fuel economy rated at 35 mpg. Traditional gas-engine cars usually offer their best efficiency on the government's Highway test, but the electric motors come into play on the hybrid-powered car for substantially improved fuel economy in slower, stop-and-go city-type driving.
We tried each of the four different drive modes. In Eco Mode, the HS feels subtly, but noticeably, different from the Normal mode. Acceleration becomes more gradual as the computer reduces throttle opening relative to accelerator-pedal angle, and cabin airflow is reduced somewhat as it minimizes air conditioning use. We wouldn't choose to drive around this way all day, but if we were low on gas in an inconvenient area to refuel, this setting could be quite useful.
The Power mode feels about the same as the Normal mode, except that full-throttle acceleration is enhanced a bit by larger throttle openings relative to pedal angle. It's noticeable, but probably not enough of a difference to add all that much quickness.
In EV Mode, the HS is eerily quiet, but range is limited. After about a mile of largely downhill stop-and-go driving, the engine switched itself on to recharge the batteries. We imagine EV Mode would be a useful emergency measure if we actually ran out of gas on the freeway, or for use in areas where only electric cars are permitted.
Brakes are regenerative, so with light pedal pressure, they feel a little bit different at the top of the pedal. Pedal feedback is smooth and progressive, encouraging the kind of long, gradual braking intervals that are most efficient at converting momentum into battery power. With a little more pressure, they quickly transition into a power-stop mode. At that point, when you really need to stop, they grip very well and feel like strong four-wheel discs. We found that we could feel the subtle difference between regen mode and stopping mode, and could operate the brakes to work either way.
The latest human/machine interface from Lexus features a mouse-like controller that sits low on the center stack, within easy reach of the driver. Like any other mouse, it can be adjusted for sensitivity. It controls a cursor on the Navigation screen, which is mounted at the top of the stack where it can be seen at a glance.
It may sound complicated, but the mouse/screen operation should be intuitive to anyone who has ever used a computer. We found we never needed to look down to select audio or climate functions, or to operate the navigation system. Some of the controls, such as audio volume, are duplicated on the steering wheel, so even less movement is required to make selections.
It's on the highway that the HS 250h clearly outshines the Prius, which can be noisy and harsh at interstate speeds. High speed cruising is well settled and relaxing, and the car remains composed and quiet. Wind noise is very low at speeds below 80 mph.
The Lexus HS 250h is a nice car to be in and fun to operate. It's not a particularly exciting car purely from a driving dynamics point of view, but an involving, intriguing car that makes up in features and technology what it lacks in visceral thrills.
John Stewart filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the HS in Newport Beach, California.
Lexus HS 250h ($35,100); Premium ($37,870).
Options As Tested
Wide View front monitor with backup monitor ($700); Navigation Package ($2125) includes Generation 6 navigation system with voice command, Remote Touch navigation controller, Bluetooth, air ionizer, Lexus Enform with destination assist and eDestination (1-year trial subscription), Lexus Insider, XM NavTraffic, NavWeather, Sports and Stocks (90-day trial subscription included); Technology Package ($3900) with Intuitive Park Assist, Pre-Collision System with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, with Lane Departure Warning, Heads-Up Display (HUD), Driver Monitor.
Lexus HS 250h Premium ($37,870).
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