• Aug 17th 2010 at 11:57AM
  • 76
A Perfect Prius It Is Not

2010 Lexus HS 250h - Click above for high-res image gallery

Lexus likes to say that it pursues perfection. Toyota's luxury brand has been playing the hybrid game for a while now with converted gas-powered models like the LS, GS and RX hybrids, and few would argue that these models represent the zenith of what a luxury hybrid can be. For that, Lexus finally decided to build a dedicated hybrid model from the ground up, and the result is the HS 250h.

Being that the brand's parent company builds the Prius, the industry benchmark for hybrids in terms of both fuel efficiency and popularity, Lexus has, on the one hand, a much deeper well of hybrid expertise from which to draw than its competition. On the other hand, it has the toughest act to follow in the third-generation Prius. In the minds of many, a true Lexus hybrid should be everything Toyota's magic bean is and more – it should be the perfect Prius.

Funny thing, the HS 250h is not. Lexus hasn't built an upmarket version of the Prius with the HS 250h. Perhaps realizing that after three generations creating about as perfect a parallel hybrid as there is, Lexus up and decided that its own luxury hybrid should have a different mission. Unfortunately, after a week spent behind the wheel of a 2010 HS 250h Premium, we're not still not sure what that mission is. Follow the jump to learn what else we found confusing about Lexus' latest hybrid.

Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL

As we said, the HS 250h is not a gussied-up Prius, and your first clue is that it looks nothing like the Toyota hybrid. The Prius was honed by computers to balance the maximum amount of interior space with the slipperiest shape possible, and the result is one of the most aerodynamic production cars in the world with a 0.25 coefficient of drag. The HS 250h achieves an also impressive but more modest 0.27 Cd thanks to its more conventional three-box shape. This tall sedan's design, however, looks a little disproportionate, like a Hot Wheels version of the larger LS.

Despite its size, the HS 250h still exudes an air of expensive sophistication from the outside. Though many people didn't recognize what we were driving, no one thought it was a Corolla. Credit goes to the rich paint color options, including the Matador Red Mica shade of the car we used to photograph, as well as the lustrous Aurora White Pearl of our actual tester. Likewise, nicely packaged lighting hardware that includes projector-beam headlamps (optional high-tech LED front lamps are available) and LED taillamps let passers by know you aren't rocking a Yaris. Then there are the wheels. Standard models receive 17-inch split five-spoke wheels while Premium models go even larger with complex-looking 18-inch split seven-spoke wheels.

Just like the exterior, the interior immediately lets you know that you're not sitting in a Prius. The dash design is entirely different, with high-class electroluminescent gauges placed right behind the steering wheel where they should be. The center stack doesn't sweep out all the way to the center armrest as in the Prius, but stops halfway, leaving a crevice for cupholders and controls for the heated and cooled 10-way adjustable front seats. The seats themselves set a standard for comfort and are draped in the most buttery semi-aniline leather this side of a Bentley, and Lexus scores a point of green cred for using bioplastics to cover 30% of the interior and trunk.

There's a lot of tech to take in once situated, and the odd-looking controller at the bottom of the center dash just begs to be played with. Lexus calls its all-in-one controller Remote Touch, which is to say it remotely controls the flip-up nav screen mounted high on the dash. Your palm rests flat on the controller just like a computer mouse, and buttons for various controls are within comfortable reach of your fingers and thumb. The controller moves an arrow around the nav screen, but the real trick is its inclusion of haptic feedback, which means you actually feel through the controller when the arrow glides over a button on the screen.

Lexus says its Remote Touch controller is safer than a traditional dash-mounted touch screen because the display is mounted higher, thereby requiring less eye movement to view. Being analogous to a computer screen and mouse, it's easy to learn and quickly be comfortable with, but such a complicated configuration doesn't feel any safer and surely isn't more intuitive to use than simply touching a screen.

Along with the innovative joystick, buyers can also load up the HS 250h with the very latest infotainment technology. The laundry list of top-shelf tech includes an optional 15-speaker Mark Levinson stereo; the latest XM satellite radio hardware beaming in programming as well as traffic, weather, sports and stock info; Bluetooth phone and audio integration; casual speech voice recognition; and the brand's own OnStar-like service called Lexus Enform with Safety Connect. A $3,900 Technology Package also adds a heads-up display that projects vehicle speed, audio info and turn-by-turn directions on the windshield; radar-based cruise control; park-assist sensors; a pre-collision warning system; and a new piece of tech called Lane Keep Assist, which we'll get to in a moment.

The HS 250h may have more technology packed in its interior than a DARPA lab, but demerits are surely deserved for the poor user experience when plugging in an iPod or iPhone via the USB port. Doing so allows you to charge the Apple device as well as navigate its contents using the Remote Touch controller and nav screen. Unfortunately, Lexus has less experience designing interfaces than Apple and it shows. It's easier to just connect your Apple hardware via Bluetooth and play DJ through the device itself. Of course, there are safety questions posed by taking your hands off the car's controls and looking at the Apple's small screen, and you lose the ability to charge your device. On one long trip, we were forced to switch and back forth between connecting via USB and Bluetooth because our iPhone was getting low on juice.

Not long after we discovered that the HS 250h is annoying to use with our iPhone did we stumble upon a gem of tech that made us smile again. It's called the Wide-View Front Monitor and is available as a $700 option. It works just like a backup camera, but it's in the front and can display up to 190 degrees of the world at front bumper level. It's particularly handy when pulling into parking spots or gently nosing out into an intersection when one's view of crossing traffic is otherwise blocked. Unlike the backup camera, the Wide-View Front Monitor can be set to come on any time the car is in Drive and moving forward under 7.5 miles per hour, or manually by pressing a button on the lower left part of the dash. We say leave it on manual, otherwise your nav screen will switch back and forth in stop-and-go traffic like a TV on the fritz.

And when it comes to viewing the back bumpers of other vehicles, the HS 250h will be doing a lot of that. 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. Being a parallel hybrid, it can also call in the electric cavalry from a 141-hp electric motor, though total combined power is limited to 187 hp, all of which makes its way to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission. The Prius can only muster a combined total power output of 134 hp, so the Lexus should feel like an electric hot rod, right? Nope. An extra 640-728 pounds (depending on trim level) of earth-crushing weight is carried around by the HS 250h. There's a reason some people call rich people fat cats, and the same goes for their vehicles, apparently.

That said, the HS 250h will outrace a Prius to 60 miles per hour, 8.4 seconds to 9.8 seconds. It also offers four modes of powertrain pleasure: Normal, Power, Eco and EV. We're assuming Lexus recorded its Prius-beating 0-60 mph time using Power mode, which makes the HS 250h feel only as lively and responsive as a very heavy Corolla. Power mode should instead be called Normal because that's what it best approximates, and Normal and Eco mode should be called Eco and Numb. In actual Eco mode, the throttle behaves like a body part pumped full of Novocain. It's all in the name of increasing MPGs, but firmly pressing the gas pedal and getting back disproportionately less power is a disconcerting sensation that, for the most part, left Eco mode off the table for us.

Finally there's EV mode, which as its name suggests allows the vehicle to be driven solely on electricity for short distances. In our experience, "short distances" meant from one driveway to the next... while coasting. Nearly any application of the throttle will pop the car out of EV mode. The Ford Fusion Hybrid (and now the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, which will directly compete with the HS 250h) allows pure EV travel up to 47 mph, which is actually useful and more importantly, repeatable, at least until the battery pack screams "Uncle!" By comparison, EV mode in the HS 250h is a novelty you'll probably never use in the real world.

You'll eventually want to stop and the HS 250h has brakes that are poles apart from the rest of the car's laissez-faire attitude. Whereas the deadened accelerator requires your foot to play the part of defibrillator paddle, the brakes are fully awake and sensitive to the slightest touch. They're regenerative, which means in addition to arresting motion, they're also charged (ha!) with converting the car's motion into extra energy for the battery pack. The coordination of these two duties is handled by the electronic controlled brake (ECB) computer, the calibration of which is likely why the HS 250h's brakes feel anxious underfoot. The regen comes on too soon and too strong, hauling the car down faster than you intend. When combine that with the opposite nature of the throttle, your right foot feels schizophrenic as you try to keep straight which pedal gets the firm push and which the light touch.

We did discover an area in which the HS 250h excelled on the road, and that's highway cruising. The HS 250h is one of the most effortless cars we've encountered in a straight line. That may sound like a simple task, but a good, long road trip can be exhausting in vehicles with twitchy steering, a bumpy ride and uncomfortable seats. The HS 250h has seats made for comfort, not corners, and the MacPherson strut front suspension and double wishbone rear are ideally suited to soak up expansion joints. The steering, however, is particularly ideal for long distance drives. Toyota has continually evolved its electric power steering, and the system in the HS 250h, while never managing to accurately mimic actual feedback from the road, always seems to offer the right amount of resistance no matter the speed.

Particularly impressive is Lexus' new Lane Keep Assist technology. It works with the Lane Departure Warning system and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control to actually see the lane markers flying by on either side of the car and increases the amount of effort required to turn the wheel so it's easier to keep the HS 250h on a straight and narrow path. This also helps counter cross winds that try to upset the rather tall sedan's composure on the highway.

So in terms of ride and comfort, the HS 250h meets the bar set by larger luxury vehicles. But this is where this hybrid's mission gets muddled. The base price of the HS 250h is $34,650. Our particular tester was the Premium trim, which starts at $36,970 and also included the aforementioned Mark Levinson stereo ($1,580), navigation system ($2,125) and Technology Package ($3,900). The sticker price was also padded with $397 worth of floor mats. For those without a TI-82 handy, that's a grand total of $45,672, not including a destination and delivery charge of $875.

Lexus doesn't want us comparing the HS 250h to the Prius, but we can't help it. The Prius starts at $22,800 and if you're hell bent on giving Toyota your money, can be optioned up to nearly $35,000. Fully loaded, the two are about $10,000 apart in price, so the average consumer might expect a commensurate amount of increased mpg for the premium commanded by the HS 250h. Not quite. How about fuel efficiency equal to that of the Prius? Not even close. The Prius leads the league with an official EPA rating of 51 mpg city, 48 highway and 50 combined. The HS 250h manages a score of 35 mpg city, 34 highway and 35 combined. That's about a 15 mpg deficit on top of asking $10,000 more for a car that some had hoped would be the perfect Prius.

But again, that's not the mission of the Lexus HS 250h. Best we can tell, this car is for the loyal Lexus buyer who wouldn't be caught dead in a Toyota but still wants that oh-so-fresh feeling of driving a hybrid, regardless of how well it actually performs in that regard. Unfortunately, Lexus has gone too far trying to differentiate the HS 250h, and in the process, it has spoiled the one trait that makes the Prius such a hot seller: MPGs. Perhaps the brand that claims to pursue perfection should have developed its own version of the perfect Prius, one that justifies such a high price tag with bragging rights for being more fuel efficient than its common cousin, not less.

Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      We lease this car. Yes, the MPG is a bit disappointing when compared to other smaller hybrids, until you consider that getting in the low to mid-30s at any given time is still darn good. Yes, stylistically it's nothing to shout about, but our Starfire Pearl or whatever the paint job is injects some "zowie," in our eyes. No, folks aren't going to sprint to the Lexus dealer for this, given its price and plainness. Yet, we still walk to it with enthusiasm every day because it hums a happy green tune, it'll be as reliable as any of its siblings and it has an unmistakable Lexus carriage. All that and an attractive lease means there are no regrets here.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @bepsf - for 32k you could have the a3 TDI, manage the same feat, and have a bit more room all around, lots more room in the trunk, a fun ride, and a much better interior. the CT can't come fast enough and needs to undercut the a3 tdi. say high twenties or 30 to start.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I second what the other two said.

        The HS is silly. A3 TDI or Jetta TDI would have been MUCH better choices.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Wow...mid-30s in a hybrid car. My wife's C280 4matic with AWD and a 3.0L 230 HP engine gets 32 MPG highway at 75 MPG with the A/C on! BFD! Heck, my Mustang GT gets 27 MPG on the highway with the A/C on! I'd much rather buy something that has a sporting attitude, some class, some looks, whatever, than spend $40k on something that's marginally better than a larger, non-hybrid Mercedes!
        • 5 Years Ago

        To be completely fair, the Lexus 250h has a number of things that the A3 does not..

        A working Navigation Option
        A power passenger seat
        Some Neat Techmo gizmos.

        The 250h can also be had for thousands less than MSRP while the A3 TDI is usually loaded up with options such that they are really nearly equal in price. I personally prefer the A3 TDI myself, but couldn't actually buy one for the lack of a power passenger seat... I just couldn't buy a $35,000 C-class car without one....
        • 5 Years Ago
        @oconnell.john.r A power passenger seat is a 'must-have' for you? Seriously? Why do you need a power passenger seat SO badly?
        • 5 Years Ago
        @oconnell.john.r - I feel you on all but the nav. a3's nav is dated but the current toyota stuff isn't any better... actually it's a lot less intuitive and the less then attentive touch sensitivity doesnt help.
        • 5 Years Ago
        For $32,000 you could have had a loaded Jetta TDI and be getting 40+ mpg all day long.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The article unfairly compares Ford's rated maximum EV speed to the real-world maximum EV speed of this vehicle. Both vehicles have reasonably high rated maximum EV speeds (Toyota:45mph, Ford, 47mph). But neither can actually get there in reasonable real-world conditions.

      In the real world you can't get either vehicle up to speed in EV mode. For example a review of the Ford Fusion Hybrid says they could only get it to 35mph in EV mode and then only for a few tenths of a mile followed by a few more tenths at 25mph (total distance 0.7mi) before the ICE kicked in.

      Parallel hybrids just don't have powerful enough electric drives to use them on electric power only. It's what makes them efficient and cheap, but it does have limitations for all of the parallel hybrids (Honda's ersatz EV-only mode only goes to 15mph or something, GM BAS system I think doesn't have one at all).
      • 5 Years Ago
      Despite all these comment.. I've actually sat in this Lexus at the Lexus dealer and see them a lot in NY. I like it and its a nice little car... far from being a bad one.

      The interior also won a place on the best interiors along side a Lambo.

      People automatically hate Toyota and Lexus cars.. these comments are nothing new lol.

      I've sat in the New Pruis too... IMO this is a much better built car then the Pruis.. but that should already be evident because this is a Lexus.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Did that fool really just compare the interior of the HS to a Lamborghini?

        Umm, no. Not at all.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Thank you, miketim1! I'm unfazed by forum flamers pro or con, but always appreciative of a reasoned, kind voice. We love our hs250h. It's a nice, entry-level Lexus we weren't even considering going into our car search. I've never driven a perfect car for our purposes and never will. We like our choice.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'm neither a Toyota fanboi, nor a Toyota hater. I own an older Toyota (a Previa) which has been a great vehicle, and my MiL has a 2005 ES, and it's been a great car, too. It's just that putting the Lexus name on a car doesn't automatically make it a home run, which is obvious in the case of this turkey.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Who says that Autoblog always gives positive reviews?
        • 5 Years Ago
        No one says that.

        Autoblog gives positive reviews to D3 cars.

        Autoblog use to post 3-4 if not more posts on 2011 Mustang V6. Cars that are far better than Mustang do not get nearly as much coverage. Heck last week Autoblog went on Explorer binge.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Looks to me like Toyota went back to the 1st Gen Prius (the chunky notchback sedan) and designed from there a new 2nd Gen and loaded it up w/ Lexus frippery.
      • 5 Years Ago
      What is this? I don't even.

      No, seriously, this car serves no purpose. Even the most "loyal" Lexus buyer has to look at this and scoff... and if they don't, and actually buy it, they deserve to throw their money away. Matter of fact... they could give me the $45k and I'll go get them a loaded Prius and swap the badges to Lexus badges for them... Done.
      • 5 Years Ago
      man, I just can't understand why this car would exist. I mean, I KNOW it will sell in California in droves, but WHY?
      • 5 Years Ago
      I think the HS250h is totally misunderstood. It is a great car for someone who does not care about cars and just wants a fuel efficent, small, luxury car.

        • 5 Years Ago
        "It is a great car for someone who does not care about cars..."

        I just...I don't...you...why...oh boy...
      • 5 Years Ago
      Lincoln MKZ Hybrid ftw.
      • 5 Years Ago
      ...what's the point? I guess it's like how Apple customers loyally buy Apple products even if they command huge price premiums over and are technically inferior compared to their marketplace competitors.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Pandering to the well to do that can't "been seen" in a Prius? FAIL!
        • 5 Years Ago
        I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I'd rather be seen in a Prius.
      • 5 Years Ago
      What a lousy car.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "The controller moves an arrow around the nav screen, but the real trick is its inclusion of haptic feedback, which means you actually feel through the controller when the arrow glides over a button on the screen."

        Good. Now can you apply some of that to steering feel perhaps? It doesn't have to be sporty, just make it connected and somewhat natural. This is the only thing that holds me back from recommending Lexus to people.
        • 5 Years Ago
        1st the Lexus HS250 should be what the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is. Cost ~ $35,000 starting price and give great MPG. Lincoln does 41/36 while the Lexus does 35/34? and 0-60 in ~ 7.0 seconds for the Lincoln and 8.4 for Lexus? I think Lexus failed here.

        I tink the problem with the Lexus is it changed the recipe for a great Prius. I know so many people who won't by a Prius because it doesn't look luxurious. Add the HS250 body on the Prius setup and Lexus may have done a better job in sales and competition. Forget the larger 4cy engine as hybrid owners don't care about such things. Give them true MPG simialr to the Prius (51/48) and the Lexus HS250 might have done better...
        • 5 Years Ago
        It reminds me of the Catera.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The reason it seems cheap and not quite a up to Lexus standards is because it is. This is a cross dressing Toyota Avensis with a hybrid powertrain. It amazes me how all the North American reviewers gladly harp on about any similarities in drive trains or platforms between Lincoln and Ford models or Caddilac and Chevrolet but when they put lipstick on a Toyota and sell it as a Lexus nobody mentions it.

        Like a lot of recent introductions from Toyota this vehicle looks good on the surface but fell short on final refinement. The old rules about waiting two years before buying a newly introduced model apply to new Toyotas these days in my books.

        • 5 Years Ago
        @i-rate - the HS doesn't seem incompetent, just bland, and very cheap given the price and competition in the more fuel efficient than petrol class (ie a3 tdi which is larger inside in about every measure).
        • 5 Years Ago
        give me the Lincoln MKZ

        better car, better mpg

        this is just plain ugly inside and out
        • 5 Years Ago
        I said the exact same thing in the last article about Toyota's hybrids and I was downrated into oblivion. I must have upset the Toyota/Lexus apologists.

        Anyone who buys one of these over the upcoming Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is nuts. It is a far superior vehicle, with a better interior, gets better mileage, doesn't look like a Camry/Corolla.

        I shake my head every time I see one of these.
        • 5 Years Ago
        seriously. that pug nose, that horridly cheap interior. would it be so hard for toyota to bring their standards up to that of merce/bmw/audi. like really? why not give people something nice for their money.
        • 5 Years Ago

        Given that the Camry, RX and EX share a drivetrain, why didn't they simply create a hybrid model of that? Would have made far more sense, gotten the same MPG and carried the Lexus cache a little better (even though it's still a Camry).
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Ligor: While I think this is the worst Lexus offering I've seen, the MKZ isn't a looker itself. On topic, this looks really cheap and I hope this new grill isn't the direction other new Lexus will be taking. On the other hand, this thing is selling for now which is totally baffling to me. Different strokes for different folks I guess.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Speaking of the ugly, gaudy silver and metal look that I was lamenting about being on the Avalon in the Taurus post....

        Looks like even Toyota re-uses parts from the same bin! ;)
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