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On the Road: 2010 Lexus HS 250h Misses the Mark

On sale since August 2009, the Lexus HS 250h was the brand’s first dedicated hybrid model. A second, the CT 200h, launches later in 2010 in the compact car space. Being a luxury marque and with a conventional sedan shape prepped to play in the very heart of the car market (mid-size sedans), the HS 250h evolved a 187HP hybrid system from the Camry Hybrid and its 2.4L I4 rather than using that of the smaller Toyota Prius (136HP, 1.8L).
What that means for the HS 250h is a few more ponies under the hood (187HP net power versus 134HP of the Prius), and fuel economy a little less impressive than Pruis’s 51/48 city/highway mpg. The HS 250h boasts 35/34 city/highway, though the extra HP is welcome.
Until the 2011 CT 200h arrives, the $36,000 HS 250h is the least expensive Lexus hybrid. No doubt a well-thought-out piece of engineering, the HS 250h incorporates lessons learned from prior Lexus and Toyota hybrids. One example is the exhaust heat recovery system of the RX 450h, which keeps the engine and cabin warmer and allowing for more “stop” time at low speeds. The HS 250h’s fuel economy stacks up reasonably well against other conventionally motivated sedans of its size, but not against some current and upcoming hybrid sedans.

Hybrid expectations aside, the Lexus is not particularly rewarding to drive. Torque steer is in easy evidence, displaying at most aggressive launches. Numb steering and chassis makes for a less responsive drive and with an interior that feels small, the HS 250h just is not a fun place to be. The center stack is nicely arranged, with buttons pleasant to the touch, but overall the interior doesn’t feel as luxurious as its more expensive Lexus brethren. Among the disappointing elements is the metallic, cheap sound when closing the decklid. While that could be considered nitpicking, it was unexpected from a Lexus. All in all, this vehicle does not live up to the reputation Lexus has built for comfortable, luxury interiors, even considering it is the least expensive.
As a hybrid, there are more engaging and more efficient options in the Ford Fusion and upcoming Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid.
Lots of Standard Equipment–But That Awful Joystick!
Lexus gave the HS 250h a long list of standard equipment, reducing the sting of the high price point. Lane-keep assist and HDD Navigation with casual voice recognition are optional, but dynamic cruise control, pre-crash system, ten airbags, Bluetooth, an iPod dock (controllable by the screen or the steering-wheel-mounted audio controls), satellite radio, leather seating, and a moonroof are all standard. The HS 250h is also one of the launch vehicles for the new Lexus Safety Connect and Enform systems, which works much like OnStar. Safety Connect gets the basic emergency aid, with Enform adding concierge service for finding destinations and online storage for them. Enform is a power-packed suite of helpful features, available on several Lexus models.
Another step forward for HS 250h is more expansive use of bioplastics, for easier end-of-life management and eco-friendly building materials.
Among the steps backward is Remote Touch interface; using a joystick in the center console, drivers control a pointer on the screen in the center stack. The joystick does fall nicely to hand and is as easy to use as a mouse, with the haptic resistance configurable by the driver. But operating a mouse requires eyes on the screen and more finesse than the Germanic-popular dial knobs. As complicated as iDrive might be, it is easier to turn a dial or press a button to get from one task to another than to look at the screen and line up a mouse pointer and then click enter. I found it annoying to select a radio station from the presets, much less perform any more complicated task. Alas, this system was likely very expensive for Lexus to develop. Introduced on the RX, expect to see it ensconced in the range over time. And we have met fans of the system, I’m just not one of them.
Stiff Competition on Fuel Economy and Price
Toyota pioneered hybrid systems, and was the first to really capture driver’s attention and imagination. This Lexus HS 250h disappoints as a hybrid. Maybe the Prius set the bar too high, but its 35/34 city/highway fuel economy just isn’t that impressive. It was bested by the less expensive Ford Fusion Hybrid (41/36), the Lexus driver feedback isn’t nearly as entertaining as Ford’s EcoGauge, and the Fusion is more fun to drive. Hyundai’s Sonata gets similar highway fuel economy without the hybrid system; based on our drives of the gasoline-powered Sonata, there’s no reason to think the Hybrid Sonata won’t also offer a more engaging experience.
The Hyundai Sonata and Lincoln MKZ hybrids only make it tougher for the HS 250h. The MKZ will get all the cool elements of the Fusion Hybrid wrapped in the luxury flavor of Lincoln; Ford’s hybrid interface is much more engaging and fresh looking. Hyundai promises 37/39 city/highway fuel economy and acceleration power to the tune of 209HP. In terms of brand image, neither Ford nor Hyundai match Lexus prestige, and some might say Lincoln doesn’t either, but any of the three is likely to be a better value than the Lexus, offering better fuel economy, lower price, more engaging driving experience, and better driver interfaces.

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