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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.
With its bigger 2.4-liter engine, the Lexus HS250h also gets a bump in power.
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.
The Remote Touch controller takes some getting used to, but quickly becomes second nature.
More useful when moving is Lexus' improved voice command system, which now responds to more natural commands such as "Take me home" or "Call Jim at work," rather than more formal "Destination, address, San Francisco..." prompts. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the system to respond to our loose requests, such as "Take me to a gas station," "Turn up the heat," or "Make me a sandwich," and we found ourselves reverting to the standard prompts for the sake of getting things done. Fortunately, the system did a great job of understanding all but the most oddly pronounced street names when entering an address, so we still found its performance to be satisfactory.
Turn-by-turn directions are fed through an optional 7.1 surround Mark Levinson premium audio system, but perhaps a better use of the 15 speakers would be for listening to one of the HS' many audio sources. Joining a six-disc DVD/CD changer and AM/FM/XM radio are an analog auxiliary input and a USB port with iPod connectivity. Navigating an iPod's large music library is sluggish, but doable. However, we'd recommend that you figure out what you want to hear before you hit the road for minimal frustration. Standard Bluetooth hands-free calling also brings with it Bluetooth audio streaming. Unfortunately, the Toyota/Lexus system still requires that you pair for calling and audio separately, which can be frustrating. Although Lexus' system is hard drive-based, there is no jukebox function that lets users rip their music to the hard drive.
The HS is available with a number of safety features that are new to Lexus cars, many of which are camera based. In fact, fully equipped, the HS features no fewer than five cameras. For example, Lane Keep Assist uses a front-mounted camera to detect lane markers. When the vehicle sees that it is drifting out of its lane, it nudges the electric power steering to pull the vehicle back in to the proper lane. A second front-mounted camera is part of the Intelligent High Beam system, which monitors the road ahead for headlamps and taillights and dims the high beams so as not to dazzle other drivers. A third forward-facing camera gives the driver a 190-degree view of the road ahead, which is useful for peeking into intersections when your side-to-side view is obstructed. Of course, an optional rearview camera works in tandem with proximity sensors to make parking easier and safer.
Although the HS250h isn't a long car, the wide frontview camera is useful for peaking around blind corners and parallel parking.
An interesting feature is a small camera that mounts on the steering column as part of an optional collision detection package. This camera watches the driver's face to discern whether they are paying attention to the road ahead. If not, the system will intervene in the event of imminent collision or lane drift to grab the driver's attention.
In addition to camera-based safety features, the HS has more conventional safety options, such as blind spot monitoring and radar-guided adaptive cruise control.
With a base price of $34,200, the Lexus HS250h at its cheapest is 50 percent more expensive than the base 2010 Prius. Start adding on features, however, and the price can quickly balloon.
Our HS250h is a $36,970 Premium trim model, which adds a larger wheel and tire package, as well as wood trim, power memory seats with heated surfaces, and the capability to add many advanced tech options. From there, add $2,125 for the navigation package with the Remote Touch interface, $1,580 for the Mark Levinson premium audio, $500 for park assist proximity sensors, $350 for the backup camera, and $750 for the wide view front camera to reach an as-tested price of $43,150 (including the $875 destination charge).
We haven't even added the additional $2,700 it would take to add the Lane Keep Assist system and radar-guided cruise control and collision detection, or the $1,805 for the Adaptive Front Lighting system with its intelligent high beams. Fully optioned, an HS250h runs just shy of $50,000, which is a pretty penny for "entry-level luxury."
|Model||2010 Lexus HS250h|
|Power train||2.4-liter 4-cylinder hybrid synergy drive|
|EPA fuel economy||35 mpg city/33 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||29.1 mpg|
|Navigation||optional, hard drive-based, XM NavTraffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||standard, voice control, audio streaming|
|Disc player||6-disc DVD/CD changer w/ MP3, WMA playback|
|MP3 player support||USB port with iPod support, auxiliary analog input|
|Other digital audio||XM satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming|
|Audio system||15-speaker Mark Levinson premium 7.1 surround|
|Driver aids||rear view camera, front wide view camera, park distance control|
|Price as tested||$43,150 (including $875 destination)|