The new 2010 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.
Hybrid drive systems can be designed to boost mileage as in the Prius or enhance performance as in the LS 460. The Lexus systems are a modular technology and can deliver any mix of the two. The new 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 mpg in combined city and highway driving yet can accelerate from 0-60 mph in a respectable 8.4 seconds. In combination with the hybrid drive motor, the HS 250h generates 187 total system horsepower, running on regular unleaded gasoline.
The Lexus HS 250 doesn’t offer the compelling visceral experience that comes with neck-snapping acceleration and high-G-force cornering, but like the Prius, it 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. The 2010 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 combines elements of the Prius platform with the more powerful Camry hybrid powertrain. The HS also has the smoother ride and refined features consistent with a car in this price range.
Mileage is equivalent to the Camry hybrid, which is a bigger car but only slightly 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 six inches shorter than the ES sedan. It’s a little bigger, with more legroom in back, than the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series cars.
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, powering a motor generator that adds about 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 fuel flow 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.
Almost every aspect of the 2010 HS 250h design is modern, technical, and aerodynamically relevant.
The new 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. Infared-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 headlamp 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 dual-zone climate control, a dust and particle filter, two 12-volt outlets, Homelink programmable garage door opener, tilt 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 a driver would most likely rest his hand. Because of the Remote Touch mouse, the driver never needs to lean forward to touch the navigation screen, or keep his 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 synchs 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.
We spent a warm spring day in the Lexus HS 250h driving the Coast Highway around the Newport Beach, California, and the hilly roads leading inland. The roads varied from two-lane highways to winding canyon roads, with briefer stretches of wide-open four-lane highway driving. Our test unit was equipped with most of the available amenities, including the navigation package and the Remote Touch controller.
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 City 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 fuel flow, 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 faster fuel delivery. 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 brakes, 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 250 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.