Lexus is no stranger to hybrids. Their GS and LS sedans, as well as the RX SUV come in hybrid variants. Problem is, the least expensive Lexus Hybrid sedan sets you back around $67,000, and the few other luxo-hybrids on the market aren’t any cheaper.
For 2010, Lexus changed this with their all-new HS 250h. The HS is a hybrid-only model, Prius style, and currently only comes with the same 2.4-liter four cylinder gas engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that we see in the Toyota Camry Hybrid. Starting at $34,200 with some impressive equipment and style, Lexus hopes to attract a younger, more affluent buyer to the HS 250h, giving them an option fancier than a Camry Hybrid without getting into the $60K range. Did they pull it off?
First impressions of the HS 250h as Lexus dropped it off were pretty good. It’s more aggressive and sporty than any other hybrid available today, and although it does resemble a blinged-out Corolla from some angles, ends up looking good if you like the spaceship appearance. Climbing inside, the build quality and interior materials are top notch. Lack of panel gaps, leather surfaces, and solid construction are all present as expected in a Lexus. Interior design, aside from a few areas, is excellent. A unique floating/protruding control panel puts primary controls right at arm’s length. Highly visible electroluminescent gauges display efficiency gauge and speedometer.
Sadly, the interior is also where the HS 250h lacks. Even with the driver’s seat set as far back as it can go, my right knee was in constant contact with the protruding edge of the center panel, which proved fairly painful on longer drives. Given I’m a tall guy at 6’4″, but I’ve never been this cramped in a Lexus. Hip room is also tight, and the center console area has almost no room for anything. With two drinks in the cupholders, good luck finding room for anything else, even as small as an MP3 player. Rear legroom is no better. The sun visor, while it does extend, is basically worthless. It’s small, wobbly, and doesn’t effectively block the sun from the side window. Storage room is all but nonexistent; the glove box is tiny, center console storage is minimal, and even the trunk is relatively small. This made me wonder, is this really a Lexus?
Tinkering around with the electronics got me in a better mood. The amount of gadgets available in the HS 250h will please any tech-head. The new mouse-like control system is the best thing about this car. The joystick and buttons fall right into your hand and allow for nearly effortless navigation after taking a few minutes getting used to it. Force feedback on the stick allows you to “feel” the virtual buttons on the screen. The navigation system is intuitive and easy to use, although it won’t let you use it while moving. USB and auxiliary jacks for portable media are standard, along with bluetooth, steering wheel controls, moonroof, and proximity “smart” key in our Premium trim level. Typical luxo-features like driver memory, heated and cooled seats, dual-climate, and premium audio keeps the driver happy (unless he’s tall, apparently.) Optional front and rear cameras help with tight parking, and the heads-up display keep speed and navigation instructions within your line of vision. Optional Lane Keep Assist, radar cruise control, pre-collision sensor and the driver attention system keep you safe on the highway.
Driving the 2010 Lexus HS 250h is uneventful, almost annoying. When I tested the 2010 Toyota Prius, the lack of power didn’t bother me since a Prius is supposed to be incredibly slow; they’re the ones you pass on the highway going 10 mph under the limit. The HS 250h has more power than the Prius (187 hp vs the Prius’ 134,) but that’s like saying “my dog’s crap smells better than your dog’s crap.” They both smell awful. The Lexus can accelerate at a somewhat reasonable pace, but you really have to floor it if you don’t want to piss off the drivers behind you. And you don’t want to floor it too often; not only does that give you terrible fuel economy (which defeats the purpose of the car,) but the engine emits a loud, whiny drone under hard acceleration. Certainly not typical of Lexus.
The ride in the HS 250h is good, but the suspension might be a bit tight for your regular Lexus driver. Steering is tight and responsive, proving there is some sporty soul in here despite the powertrain.
The HS 250h’s fuel economy (35 city, 34 hwy) will only be beneficial if most of your driving is in-town. If the majority of your driving is highway, you’ll be better off with a non-hybrid or Prius. My combined economy in the HS 250h is just under 34 mpg, which isn’t any better than I get from mid-size four-cylinder non-hybrids like the Altima or Accord.
Lexus would like to remind us all (again) that the HS 250h is not just an upgraded Prius, however. In fact it doesn’t share anything with the Prius at all, aside from some minor components and the fact that it’s a hybrid-only model. It doesn’t have any direct competitors yet, but it comes closest to the Camry, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, and Chevy Malibu Hybrid models. It’s a step above those mid-size hybrid sedans in terms of class, but a step down in size and much more expensive, starting at $34,200.
Although owner reviews of the Lexus HS 250h tend to be glowing, I’m having trouble understanding the car. I just don’t see a point, honestly. The HS 250h is smaller, has significantly less interior room and storage space, is more expensive, and just doesn’t feel like a Lexus. The advantages are that it has an incredible amount of available tech features, very solid build quality, good handling, and of course the Lexus badge. To me, that’s just not enough to make up for its shortcomings.