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Lexus gives entry-luxury crowd its first taste of the hybrid life

Automotive News reports on the new dedicated hybrid Lexus HS 250h.

Automotive News

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The HS 250h sedan is Lexus' first model available only as a hybrid and the only entry-level hybrid offered by a luxury brand.

The new sedan, which goes on sale in August, is the first Lexus powered by a four-cylinder engine, and it will get the best fuel economy of any Lexus model.

The basics: The HS 250h, which is four inches longer than Lexus' IS sedan, is powered by a 2.4-liter Atkinson four-cylinder engine that makes 147 hp and 138 pounds-feet of torque. Add the hybrid drive motor, and horsepower increases to 187. The engine uses an electronically controlled variable transmission.

The vehicle has four driving modes: Normal; Eco, which gives greater fuel economy; Power, designed for a sportier feel; and EV, which allows short-distance driving using only the electric motors.

Fuel economy is 35 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. The next best in the Lexus lineup is the front-wheel-drive version of the redesigned RX 450h, which gets a combined 30 mpg.

Notable features: The HS will have a new grille for Lexus. The solid surface bars sit lower than the headlamps, allowing air to flow over the hood for better aerodynamics. A remote controller, similar to a computer mouse, directs the navigation system.

The HS is the first Lexus to get Toyota's Enform telematics system, which is similar to General Motors' OnStar service. Enform offers automatic collision and stolen-vehicle notification. For vehicles equipped with a navigation system, Enform provides live operator assistance and information features such as sports, weather and stock market reports.

What Lexus says: "There are no other entry-level hybrids on the market," says Mark Templin, general manager of Lexus Division. "We think we'll get people from the entry-level segment who go for the latest technology."

Compromises and shortcomings: The HS 250h looks like most other entry-level luxury sedans. Unlike the Toyota Prius, it does not have a distinct look that indicates it is a hybrid. The Power mode does not give a sporty feel.

The market: With no entry-level luxury hybrid sedans on the market, Lexus hopes to snare early adopters.

The skinny: Lexus expects to sell 25,000 units annually. Hybrid sales declined when fuel prices went down. But with prices at the pump rising, that sales target could be met.

(Source: Automotive News)