2010 Lexus HS250h Premium: First Drive

Far more than just a luxury Prius

2010 Lexus HS250h Premium: First Drive

When I first heard that Lexus was bringing out a compact luxury hybrid vehicle, I assumed that they would just take a Prius, change a few body panels, put in an upscale leather interior and some option packages and charge a lot of money for it. Boy, was I wrong. Aside from the impressive 50 miles per gallon, there was little else about the Prius that impressed me. But the new Lexus HS250h is another story.

FAST FACTS

1. The HS250h gets 34/35 mpg (city/highway).

2. The car is powered by Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive hybrid system using a 2.4-liter gasoline engine with a total of 187-hp.

3. Pricing starts at $34,200, with the Premium model retailing for $36,970.

4. A $6,925 Tech Package includes a heads-up display, Lane Keeping Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Intuitive Parking Assist, a backup camera and wide-view front monitor, as well as Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

The larger Lexus hybrids, like the RX450h and the GS450h, were designed to keep their performance levels up, and they use a V6 to make V8-like power, so there is only a small improvement in gas mileage. But this new model is designed with a greener footprint in mind, so gas mileage was set at the forefront and the resulting 35 mpg city and 34 mpg highway is testament to that. Those numbers were spot on in my driving experience. The computer on my test car showed 34.5 miles per gallon over the 1,200 miles since the last reset.

The HS250h is based on a version of the Prius platform, and has the same 106.3-inch wheelbase, but the HS is larger, fitting in between the IS and ES models. It’s even a bit larger than the Mercedes C-Class. The gas/electric drive system is similar to the Prius, but everything in the Lexus is pumped up on steroids.

HYBRID DRIVETRAIN BOTH EFFICIENT AND POWERFUL

The Prius uses a 1.8-liter gas engine, and combined with the eclectic motors, power output is a modest 134-hp. This Lexus uses a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder gas engine and combined with the electric motor, produces a more respectable 187-hp. So while the Prius feels sluggish, the HS feels lively off the line, on highway on-ramps and even when passing on two-lane roads. The powertrain uses a Continuously Variable Transmission that helps to keep the engine running in its most effective powerband, and delivers the power seamlessly.

The engine management system allows for the selection of three drive modes. I did most of my driving in the Economy mode, which dampens the throttle response. Push the Power mode, and you’ll get a crisper off-the-line performance punch, and you can feel the difference. You can also push the EV button, which puts the HS into electric motor mode only, and as long as you keep the speed under 19 miles per hour, you can drive several miles this way. It’s perfect for stop-and-go traffic, or for not waking your special someone when you come home late.

SUSPENSION AND INTERIOR ARE TYPICALLY-LEXUS: SOFT AND LUXURIOUS

The ride quality is boulevard soft and cushy, unlike the Prius. Some of that can be attributed to the independent multi-link rear suspension, as opposed to the torsion beam axel on the Prius. The HS soaks up bumps and bad pavement like you’d expect a Lexus to, although there is a bit too much body lean in hard cornering, and you can hear some protest from the tires, which I’m sure are designed more for mileage than pavement carving. The cabin is mostly quiet, except under hard acceleration when the 4-cylinder engine lets you know it’s working hard. Wind noise at speed is kept to an absolute minimum thanks to the car’s slippery drag coefficient of only 0.27.

In keeping with the “Green” theme, 30 percent of the cabin and luggage area uses “ecoplastic,” which is a plant derived, carbon-neutral material that will recycle easily. You can’t tell by sight or feel which pieces are made of what, so that’s a good thing.

Slip inside the cabin and this HS is all Lexus. My test car featured a handsome dove grey and charcoal, two-tone leather interior. The grey seats were comfortable, and both were heated and cooled. Wood accents trimmed the doors, and a plush headliner felt rich to the touch and looked good. The dark charcoal upper dash contrasted to the grey lower dash, and had both a good looking and efficient layout for all the controls.

Rear seat room is quite good for two adults, and a third in a pinch. There’s adequate leg room thanks to front seat backs that are thin. Unfortunately, the rear seatbacks do not fold down, because between the rear seatbacks and trunk is where the batteries for the electric motor resides. Still, the trunk is a decent size, and can accommodate 4 sets of golf clubs, or plenty of luggage for a long road trip. The trunk opening is wide and the lift height is low, so it’s easy getting items in and out.

EASY TO USE NAV SYSTEM WITH REMOTE-TOUCH CONTROLLER

Aside from state-of-the-art hybrid running gear and high-tech safety systems like stability control, this new Lexus comes chock full of other technological goodies. I’m not usually a techno freak, and prefer my cars with fewer rather than more gadgets, but some of the items that are in the Tech Package made a real impression on me, and are really worth the option money.

Let’s begin with the Navigation System. I give it 5-stars. It’s easy to use and I never had to crack open the Owners Manual. It is made even easier by the incorporation of a mouse-like device (called a Remote-Touch Controller) that sits on the lower dash portion and juts out for easy reach by the driver. That mouse is used for navigating anything that you put up on the Nav screen, to changing settings on the cars systems, such as the audio, Bluetooth phone system, information center, HVAC controls, etc.

The heat and AC controls, as well as the phone and audio systems all have control buttons on the console as well, plus redundant ones on the steering wheel. Usually I just stick to using these sorts of controls, but the mouse is handy and a quantum leap past the round knobs used by BMW and others to control the screen activities. You can set the Nav system to show you with small icons where various restaurants are located in the area that you’re traveling in. The large national chains have their logos, otherwise you get the country’s flag indicating the type of restaurant. Click on the flag and you’ll be presented with address and phone number. Click again and you’ll get Nav instructions to the location.

The NAV system also incorporates Lexus’ Enform system, which for a subscription fee can get you XM Nav Traffic, weather, sports and stocks information, and Destination Assist and other services similar to GM’s OnStar.

In addition, the car came equipped with both a wide view front and rear camera monitor. The rear one is easy to understand and most systems incorporate that, but I was a bit puzzled by the front screen, which gives you a view that you’d get by looking out of the windshield.

PRICEY TECH PACKAGE FILLED WITH INNOVATION

The Tech Package is a $6,925 bag of goodies that, even at this price, is worth it because of the safety it provides. First is Lane Keep Assist. When activated while driving on an expressway it will alert you with three beeps if it senses that you are drifting close to the lane lines on either side of the car. If you drift a bit too far, it will gently provide a bit of steering input to keep you in your lane. It’s not an auto-pilot, but it will snap you back into being alert.

Also in the package is Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. When activated, it will automatically provide braking force to the car if you’re getting too close to a vehicle in front of you. So if you set the Cruise Control for 70 miles per hour and come up upon a vehicle that is traveling 65, when you get to within a selected number of car lengths, the system will automatically apply the brakes. As long as you remain behind that car, your speed is checked. When you pull out into an open left lane, your car will resume to the pre-set speed.

Being the control freak that I am, I seldom use cruise control for more than 10 minutes at a time . . . just long enough to stretch out my legs. But I put nearly 600 miles of interstate driving on this HS, and used the Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeper for nearly all of it. When droning along on Interstate 65 in the middle of Indiana corn country, it’s easy to let your mind (and the car) drift. This type of system is already starting to filter down to less premium vehicles. And hopefully it will drift up to semi-trailer trucks to help keep those tired drivers alert.

The Tech Package also features a heads-up display that projects your speed and other information (like basic GPS instructions) in a box located on the lower windshield. Also, if you place your thumbs over the steering wheel controls, without pressing on anything, it will show the diagram of what control you’re touching.

All of these tech goodies may sound distracting, but in use they are actually the opposite, making the car’s features easy to use, without having to take your eyes off the road.

PREMIUM TRIM GETS LOADS OF STANDARD EQUIPMENT

Standard on the HS Premium are other luxury amenities including a power moonroof, Smart Key with a push button start, dual zone climate control, a power tilt and telescopic wheel, an auto dimming rear view mirror and a driver info center for trip info. The 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system is excellent. There’s also a Homelink Transmitter, heated auto dimming outside mirrors, rain sensing wipers, memory seats and more.

The base HS 250h starts at $34,200. The Premium model that I tested begins at $36,970, and adds things like the memory heated and cooled leather seats, the power tilt and telescope steering wheel, the auto dimming outside mirrors, and wood trim. Optioned with the sound system, Nav System, Tech Package and a few minor options, and the sticker price on the test car came to $44,770.

THE VERDICT

The HS is a brilliant blend of luxury and hybrid economy that doesn’t really sacrifice too much in the way of performance. It’s a sensibly sized car that fortunately looks nothing like its oddly styled Prius cousin, and in fact is quite good looking on the outside, and inside. It has all the luxury amenities that you’d want in a Lexus, and makes available the techno-goodies that Lexus puts on their more expensive offerings. Slap a “Save the Planet” bumper sticker on this puppy, and drive it proudly down the road.

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2010 Toyota Prius: First Drive

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