When we were introduced to Lexus' new hybrid, we were assured that the HS250h was more than just a Toyota Prius with a premium price tag. For starters, this new dedicated hybrid luxury model features a larger 2.4-liter gasoline engine. Although the two hybrids have identical wheelbases, the Lexus is 9-inches longer overall. However, the addition of a proper trunk has cut into the Lexus' rear legroom and cargo volume. In the cabin, the Lexus HS also benefits from a new Remote Touch controller and a new generation of available safety tech.
However, with the added power, size, and accoutrement, the HS250h has made compromises in the efficiency department. Its rather ho-hum miles-per-gallon rating is significantly lower than that of its less-expensive cousin.
I want my mpgs
Starting under the hood, the HS250h features a power train that is similar to that of the 2010 Prius: a parallel hybrid drive train that pairs an Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine and an electric motor with a planetary gear set. The vehicle can operate completely under gasoline power, electric power, or any combination of the two. However, the HS250h's gasoline engine has been bumped to 2.4-liters of displacement.
More displacement begets more power and the HS250h outputs a combined 187 horsepower. On the road, this translates into more confident acceleration and more stable highway cruising. However, with more power comes an increased thirst for fuel and the HS's fuel economy suffers. Having been spoiled by the EPA estimated combined 48 mpg Prius, the HS's ratings of 35 city mpg and 34 highway mpg just don't seem impressive.
Like the Prius, the HS features four drive modes for its hybrid power train: normal, ECO, power, and EV. Eco mode dulls the throttle response to smooth out pedal inputs of lead-footed drivers, while also reducing the power draw of the climate controls. When you're in a hurry, hit the Power mode to sharpen the performance for better acceleration at the expense of a few mpgs. Normal mode attempts to evenly balance economy and performance.
EV mode forces the vehicle to operate under electric power only at low speed. However, a few conditions must be met. The battery must be sufficiently charged and you must treat the accelerator pedal like an eggshell. Even then, you'll only get a few miles of sub-20mph driving before the battery drops below the safe level and the gasoline engine fires up to recharge it.
With its EV mode of limited utility and a more fuel thirsty gasoline engine, the HS250h had us scratching our collective heads and asking, "What's the point of a hybrid that doesn't bowl us over with its fuel economy?" The answer came when we spent a day exploring the limits of the HS250h's power mode performance on a winding back road. Even when pushed, the HS returned 29mpg for the day, which is significantly better fuel economy than the rest of the entry-level luxury set driven at a miserly pace.
Bells and whistles
The Lexus HS can be equipped with the latest generation of Lexus' navigation system. This hard drive-based setup features beautiful, quick rendering maps with text-to-speech turn-by-turn directions and traffic data provided by XM NavTraffic. However, the most interesting part of its navigation system is how you interact with it.
The new Remote Touch interface is an odd combination of a trackball and a joystick. Operated with the fingertips, the Remote Touch controller moves a cursor around the icon-based interface in a manner that should be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever used a computer mouse. Enter buttons are pressed with the thumb and are located on either side of the controller for easy access by the driver or the passenger.
The Remote Touch controller features touch feedback that causes the controller to snap to the onscreen icons with a tactile snap that makes it easy to navigate by touch rather than by sight, which means that drivers can keep their eyes on the road. Of course, the system isn't as direct as a touch screen and takes some getting used to, but it allows the LCD screen to be placed where it can best be viewed rather than where it can most easily touched. Plus, we like the controller's ergonomic positioning.