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2010 Lexus HS 250h Review

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2010 Lexus HS 250h

Gasoline-electric hybrids are, at this point in time, nothing new. And luxury cars are definitely nothing new. Even luxury hybrids are old news, at least with Lexus, which has been selling hybrid versions of its GS sports sedan, RX luxury crossover, and LS flagship sedan for several years now.

But the concept of dedicated entry-luxury hybrid is new, and the car that embodies it is the 2010 Lexus HS 250h.

What it isn't is as important as what it is. The HS is neither the Lexus version of the Toyota Prius nor a hybrid variation of the Lexus ES. The HS is a standalone, dedicated hybrid luxury car, and should be instantly recognizable as such, much as the Prius has been immediately recognizable as a hybrid since its inception. So that rules out a Lexus-badged if restyled Prius. Or a hybrid ES, for that matter. Additionally, for maximum efficiency, the front-wheel drive HS is the first-ever four-cylinder Lexus, using a 147-hp, 2.4-liter Atkinson-cycle engine matched with a 140-hp AC traction motor via a computer-controlled continuously-variable transmission (CVT). Smaller than an ES, larger and heavier than a Prius, a different approach was necessary.

So Lexus used the platform underlying the European Toyota Avensis as the basis for the HS, and modified it to the needs of a Lexus luxury hybrid. That means "L-finesse" styling and the expected host of luxury comfort and convenience features -- and some innovative new ones. To lessen the HS's environmental impact, not only is it a small space- and fuel-efficient vehicle, it uses plant-based "Ecological Plastic" bioplastic materials for about 30 percent of the interior and trunk materials.

Of the new features debuting in the HS, the most interesting are the "Wide View Front Monitor" and the Lexus Enform™navigation system platform. Rear-view cameras are commonplace (and one is available for the HS), but what about those times when you, for example, nose out of a parking garage onto a busy street with minimal distance between the garage entrance and speeding traffic? You the driver can't see much to the sides being halfway back in the car -- but the wide-angle (190 degree) camera mounted in the grille can.

Lexus Enform™ with Safety Connect™ debuts in the HS. It combines automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, an emergency assistance button, and enhanced roadside assistance (Safety Connect) with phone-contactable human Destination Agent assistance and the eDestination private web-based service.

My first experience with the 2010 Lexus HS 250h was at the press preview in Newport Beach, CA last Spring. The cars there were pre-production prototypes, good for a basic feel for the car and its design features if a bit rough around the edges. (which is the nature of early prototype vehicles.) There was little drive time, all in city traffic. So I looked forward to spending a week in the real world with the HS. And I've just finished that. The production HS 250h is as smooth and refined as expected from a Lexus, with only a minimal amount of four-cylinder engine noise under wide-open throttle acceleration. And, wide open, it has more than enough power to hold its own in traffic. Driven more hybridly, Lexus's new high-tech showcase gets mileage pretty much on the advertised (35 city, 34 highway, and 33.3 during my time) and can hold five medium-sized adults in reasonable comfort for an evening. It does successfully combine Lexus luxury and style with hybrid fuel economy.

APPEARANCE: If you're thinking that the HS 250h looks like a Corolla that's gotten the Lexus L-Finesse treatment, you're wrong. Although the HS does have the short-hood, short-deck, large passenger cabin proportions of compact cars today, it's six inches longer than the Corolla, on an inch-longer wheelbase. It's also six inches shorter than a Lexus ES 350, on a three-inch shorter wheelbase. It has the same wheelbase as a Prius, but is ten inches longer. Clearly, the passenger cabin is the most important part of the car, and that is emphasized by the chiseled lines - lines that could only belong to a Lexus. The three horizontal bar grille, with integrated headlamps, promises to be a new company styling theme. The tail treatment is pure Lexus. Chrome around the side windows and on the rocker panels adds a luxury touch, and repeater turn signals and courtesy lamps on the outside rearview mirrors add convenience and safety, especially at night.

COMFORT: From the driver's seat, the HS almost seems more like a high-tech workstation than a car. Yes, there is a regular steering wheel (manually-adjustable for tilt and reach and with a leather rim and audio, phone, and information system controls) but, with the navigation system, the driver's office is highlighted by the sloped lower extension of the center stack that places the "Remote Touch" trackball-like controller in a near-perfect spot. While there is a gap between that and the console box/armrest, the armrest is adjustable so anyone should have full support, and the gap allows access to the cupholders, seat heat controls, and USB port and minijack in the console. The "shift by wire" shifter feels like a computer joystick and is placed within easy reach on the instrument panel. Since it's not a touch screen, the screen can be placed further forward for easier visibility. No fingerprints, either. And while just about every high-tech system and gadget known is available or standard -- pushbutton start/stop, heads-up display, navigation with weather and traffic and next-generation voice control, Enform with Safety Connect, and front and rear video monitors and more -- the HS excels as a car, with good visibility (aided by the A-pillar design and small front quarter windows), a no-glare windshield thanks to the textured IP top, easily-visible instrumentation, and very good leather-trimmed power front seats and a rear bench wide enough for three adults. Trunk space is okay, if limited by the battery pack - which also means no pass-through.

SAFETY: The HS 250h's unibody structure is designed for controlled deformation in the event of a crash, with extra strength in the passenger cabin. Ten airbags -- dual-stage front, front knee, front and rear-seat side, and full-length side curtains -- further protect passengers. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes get assistance from regenerative braking. A water-repellant coating on the side glass improves visibility in wet weather. Optional front and rear cameras enhance visibility, and the Pre-Collision System with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Driver Monitor system is available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Lexuses are known for their smooth ride and quiet driving experience. Large four-cylinder engines are known for their noise and vibration. Leave it to Lexus to tame that with careful design and good use of sound-deadening materials. The fully-independent MacPherson strut front, double wishbone rear suspension is tuned moderately softly in standard form, for the expected comfort-oriented ride. My test car had the optional Touring Package, which includes a firmer suspension tuning and low-profile 45-series tires. While the suspension calibration is only moderately firm, the stiff tire sidewalls do give a thumpy ride -- and better steering response. Life is full of compromises... The electric power steering system gives a light touch, but does lack a bit in road feel. Not really a problem - "sport" package or no, the HS is a luxury car before it's a sport-oriented car.

PERFORMANCE: "Performance" in a hybrid context encompasses both acceleration and fuel economy. The HS is 600 pounds heavier than a Prius and has a larger, more powerful gasoline engine. Fuel plus air equals power, so don't expect Prius-like mileage. More telling, the HS is nearly the same weight as the similarly-powered Camry Hybrid, and unsurprisingly has similar fuel economy and acceleration statistics, with EPA mileage 35 city and 34 highway. In a mix of both, and some ugly traffic with occasional opportunities for quick foot-to-the-floor acceleration to take advantage of open spaces (not the path to fuel economy!) I got an indicated 33.3 average. 0-60 acceleration is listed as 8.4 seconds. All very close to the Camry Hybrid I drove a year ago. Power is from the latest version of the 2.4-liter twincam Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine and permanent-magnet AC traction motor, with a combined maximum output of 187 horsepower. Like other new Lexus and Toyota hybrids, the system has been refined to remove any noticeable transitions between power modes, which can be gasoline engine only, electric only, or any combination of the two.

CONCLUSIONS: Lexus introduces the first dedicated luxury hybrid, the HS 250h.

2010 Lexus HS 250h

Base Price			$ 34,200
Price As Tested			$ 39,993
Engine Type			aluminum alloy dohc 16-valve inline
				 4-cylinder with variable intake
				 cam phasing
Engine Size			2.4 liters / 146 cu. in.
Horsepower			147 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			138 @ 4400 rpm
Electric Traction Motor/Generator:  Permanent magnet AC, 650V maximum
				140 hp max output
				torque n/a
Maximum Combined Output:	187 hp
Battery Pack			sealed NiMH, 244.8V
Transmission			electronically-controlled CVT
Wheelbase / Length		106.3 in. / 184.8 in.
Curb Weight			3682 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		19.7
Fuel Capacity			14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P225/45 R18 91W Toyo Proxes A20 (opt)
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / disc,
				 ABS and regenerative braking standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent double wishbone
Drivetrain			transverse front engine
				 and traction motor,
				  front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		35 / 34 / 33.3
0 to 60 mph				8.4  sec

Backup Monitor							$  350
Navigation System - includes:
  hard-disk based navigation system, Lexus Enform
  with Destination Assist and eDestination (includes
  1-year trial subscription), Lexus Insider, Voice
  Command, XM NavTraffic, Nav Weather, and 
  Sports & Stocks (with 90-day trial subscription)		$ 2,125
Touring Package - includes:
  Two-tone black & gray leather-trim seats, heated front
  seats, illuminated scuff plates, rear deck spoiler, sport
  suspension, sport pedals, 18" wheels and all-season tires	$ 1,600
Paint protection film						$   429
Premium floor mats						$   265
Rear bumper applique						$    76
Trunk mat							$      73
Delivery fee							$   875