Lexus is to the hybrid world as Germany is to the Formula One racing driver scene. Toyota’s luxury brand has been in the hybrid game for some time now and they have quite the selection to choose from. Most have been successful, but nobody would dare argue that these models are the best of the hybrid world. In order to take the hybrid title, Lexus has decided to build a hybrid from the ground out, sort of Lexus’s Michael Schumacher.
Being that Lexus is directly related to Toyota , who currently produces the benchmark hybrid in the Prius, Lexus has a wealth of knowledge at its disposal, but at the same time has one tough act to follow with the new third-generation Prius. With all that in mind, one would hope that thisHS 250h would be the pinnacle of what a hybrid vehicle should be.
Lexus’s attempt to create a Schumacher-type vehicle seemed within reach, but the Japanese automaker wound up with a Sebastian Vettel, which isn’t that bad if we’re honest. What Lexus has done was create a luxury Prius, something that is nearly a mirror image of the best selling hybrid and that just isn’t a benchmark in our eyes. After spending a week in the HS 250h, our minds haven’t changed.
Hit the jump to keep reading.
Exterior And Interior Thoughts
As we said earlier, the HS 250 seems to be a luxury version of the famous Toyota hybrid, but visually, one would never be able to tell. The Prius isn’t a bad looking vehicle, but it certainly doesn’t raise the hairs on the back of your neck. The HS 250h fails to raise anything either, but it does look much better than we first thought it would.
From the exterior, it gives off an aura of sophistication. While nobody would dare mistake it for a Corolla, many had no idea what sort of vehicle it was. Lexus should put badges on the side to help recognition. Helping give off the luxury tone was the brilliant paint job, the projector-beam front lamps, and the LED taillights. Those wonderful 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels take the HS to the next level of style, as they give it a certain “normal” car look.
Like the exterior, the interior of the HS quickly reminds you that you’re in a Lexus and not the Prius. The dash design is unique and places the gauges right behind the wheel and not in the middle. The center stack doesn’t come all the way out to the center armrest like it does in the Toyota, leaving room for cup holders, or in our case garage door openers. Right above said holders are the controls for the heated and ventilated 10-way adjustable front seats. Those seats are very comfortable and wrapped in leather that must have been taken out of the LS, as they are amazingly soft and plush.
Like most Lexus models, this one is littered with toys and technology. One key gizmo is located at the bottom of the center dash. Lexus called this mouse-type thing its Remote Touch, which basically means it controls everything on the flip-up screen. If you’ve ever used a mouse before, this system should come naturally to you, as you place your palm on the controller and move the controller around in order to control the mouse on the screen. The enter, menu, and map buttons were easy to use, but we had hopes for a scroll knob to help go through our many iPod songs, but more on that later.
All in all, this system was easy to use and the screen, located on the top of the dash, was never distracting. One simple glance over to select whatever it was that needed selected and then went back to watching the road. Does it beat Audi’s MMI system or BMW’s iDrive? We’re not sure, but we do like its ease of use.
Lexus vehicles are known for their optional toys and this version is no different. Buyers can select options from a massively long list that includes an optional 15-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, which also throws in XM satellite radio with weather, traffic, stocks, and sports info, casual speech voice recognition; and the brand’s own OnStar-like service called Lexus Enform with Safety Connect. If you really go all out of your hybrid vehicle you can get the $3,900 Technology Package that adds a heads-up display, a pre-collision warning system, and Lane Keep Assist, something our LS460 was equipped with.
As promised, we can now get the iPod issues. First off, the USB port should always be in the center storage bin or the glove box if you’re allowed to control it via the car’s entertainment display. The HS has the port right by the cup holders, so automatically one holder is occupied with the iPod. Secondly, as nice as the remote controller was, it can take quite some time to get to artists whose name starts with anything lower than a B. Lexus needs to go and take a look at Infiniti’s setup for some guidance.
But, a simple iPod integration issue isn’t a big deal if the motor makes up for it. In the HS 250h, that was never going to be the case. Its 2.4-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine produces 147 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 138 foot pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm. Combined, the gas and electric motors produce 187 horsepower, far more than the 134 horsepower Prius. Yet, that power advantage is quickly taken away with the Lexus’ added weight.
Going from 0-60 mph isn’t as fun as it normally is, but the HS accomplishes the task in 8.4 seconds and by no means is that slow, considering the Prius manages it in 9.8 seconds. The HS offers up a few different drive modes to change things up a bit: Normal, Power, Eco, and EV. When placed in Power mode, the HS becomes like a heavy Corolla. The car feels quicker off the line and frankly, more fun, but having the gas engine do all the work seems to defeat the whole point of buying a hybrid.
When placed in Eco mode, things go from fun to dull in an instant. The throttle responds as if it’s in a pool of mashed potatoes, just plain mushy and unresponsive. We understand that this is due to the fact that in Eco mode, the HS is attempted to give you the best mileage possible and that’s fine and dandy, but we chose to keep it off.
After you get done playing with Power mode and ignoring the Eco mode, you come to the EV button. Press it and the car runs solely on batteries alone and on paper that sounds magical. Yet, Lexus is a bit far behind with this system, as other vehicles will allow you to travel up to 47 mph on battery power, while the Lexus’ system seems to shut off whenever you move your big toe down on the go faster pedal. We used it frequently when going up and down our driveway, but as far as real world use goes, EV mode is just for show.
Bringing the HS 250h to a stop are a set of brakes that don’t seem to belong on this sedan. The go pedal can be slow to respond and a bit dull, but the brake pedal is responsive, almost on the same level as a sports car. Being a hybrid, these brakes are regenerative, meaning that they make a nice noise when bringing the vehicle to a stop. While they are responsive, the computer controlled brake system, called ECB, makes them feel a bit jittery and jumpy. Still, we like the overall feel of the stopping system in the HS.
On the road, the HS is brilliant. When driving on the highway, it’s easy to drive and the steering never gets twitchy and the seats never get hard. In the bends, the HS is by no means a performance machine, but give it credit for being that bad. The MacPherson strut front suspension and double wishbone rear are setup for comfort and they do their job wonderfully. The steering is numb, but what did you except? That being said, what it lacked in feel it made up for in resistance.
So, what is the HS 250h all about in the end? It seems Lexus hasn’t really created an all-new hybrid, but they did create a luxurious and comfortable version of the Toyota Prius . Prices start at $34,650 and our test vehicle came in at $44,029. Our test vehicle came with the backup monitor ($350), LED headlights ($1805), the Mark Levinson sound system ($1,580), the navigation system and all it included ($2125), plus a cargo net and neat floor mats.
Lexus doesn’t want to compare the HS 250h to the Prius, but it’s just inevitable isn’t it? The Toyota starts at $22,800 and can be optioned up to around $35,00o. So, the question becomes, is it worth it to spend nearly $10,000 more on the HS? Well, unlike many people, we think it could be, depending on what your goal for the vehicle is.
By no means is this the ultimate fuel economy vehicle. Whereas the Prius can get a combined 50-mpg, we only managed 36-mpg total with the HS. Hardly on the same level, but that’s not a huge deal.
The Lexus isn’t about being as efficient as possible. What Lexus has created was a hybrid for the typical luxury car consumer. It offers up one of the most comfortable rides you’ll ever find in a hybrid and some of the neatest toys as well. If you can afford to go to the next level and still want to get decent mileage, the HS fits the bill. You’ll get everything you could ever want in terms of technology and comfort, plus the fuel mileage of a Ford Fiesta in a decently sized four-door sedan.
Why we like it: It has a good look to it in person and the build quality is once again top notch. We love all the toys it offers and those brakes are quite good.
Why we don’t like it: The motor is good for a hybrid, but it’s by no means invigorating. The steering is numb and the mileage is a bit less than what we had expected.
Overall verdict: The HS misses the mark of being the perfect hybrid, but it does get a bulls eye at being a luxury version of the Prius. It’s comfortable, gizmo-laden, and delivers good mileage, just not great.