The new Lexus HS 250h is the luxury automaker's least-expensive gas-electric hybrid vehicle and is also its most unique since the sedan is not based on a gas-engined counterpart.
The September addition of this high-tech fuel-saving model provides buyers a greater assortment of Lexus hybrids, a lineup that already includes the GS 450h and LS 600hL sedans and the RX 450h tall wagon. At the other end of the spectrum, a trio of more affordable hybrids currently sports Toyota badges, including the just-released third-generation Prius. Lexus is Toyota's upscale brand. With the exception of the Prius -- and now the HS 250h -- all Toyota/Lexus hybrids have nonhybrid counterparts.
The HS 250's front-wheel-drive platform is actually Prius-based, although the structure has been stiffened and the suspension updated to improve ride-and-drive characteristics. That said, the HS takes its own styling route, swapping out the Prius's wind-cheating hatchback look for a steadfast and sturdy four-door-sedan shape. It's visually similar to the more sporting IS-series, but the HS is about 2.5 inches taller and 4.5 inches longer.
That translates into generous space for five passengers along with a decent-sized cargo boot. Drivers will enjoy the attractive dashboard and control panel containing the three-position (drive, reverse and neutral) toggle shifter.
The HS 250h might have some Prius in its genes, but instead of using that car's 134-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine/electric motor combo, the Lexus presents a 2.4-liter four-cylinder (the first four-cylinder for any Lexus automobile) that combines with its electric companion to produce 187 horsepower. Not coincidentally, it's the same value ascribed to the Toyota Camry Hybrid since it's the same powertrain. However, the HS includes extra fuel-saving tricks such as an exhaust-heat-recovery system that warms up the engine faster, thereby allowing the electric drive motor to function on its own sooner after start-up and for longer periods in solo mode. Expect a fuel-economy rating of about 35 miles per gallon in the city and 37 on the highway, although that number can swing, for better or worse, depending on driving habits.
The HS uses a special windshield that reduces the amount of heat-generating ultraviolet rays entering the cabin, which is intended to reduce the amount of time that the electric-powered air conditioning system is used. Available light-emitting-diode headlights also help conserve precious battery power when compared with conventional headlights.
The goal of reducing emissions has been extended to other areas as well. For example, petroleum-free bioplastics have been used for about 30 percent of interior trim items, such as the seat cushions, door-sill plates and the package tray behind the rear seat.
As befits any Lexus, the HS shows up with leather-trimmed seats, power moonroof, premium sound system and a total of 10 air bags. Also standard is adaptive cruise control that maintains a safe distance from the vehicle in front. Other goodies include a high-tech multimedia package consisting of a hands-free Bluetooth communications link with voice recognition, satellite radio and USB connectivity for personal audio players such as iPods.
From that point, a variety of leading-edge gear can be had, such as the navigation system that operates using a special controller positioned on the center console. Also on the options list is a grille-mounted front-view camera for monitoring difficult-to-see areas.
Lexus will also make available its new Enform safety and assistance service. Similar to General Motor Corp.'s OnStar program, subscribers can be linked to an operator who can supply to the navigation system directions to shops, restaurants, businesses and other locations. Enform will also automatically summon emergency roadside assistance, as required, and keep tabs on the vehicle if stolen.
The launch of the hybrid-exclusive Lexus HS 250h gives Toyota Prius buyers a step up when the time comes to give up the keys. The attraction is more power, more technology and luxury while still keeping things green. These happen to be actors that will also pull in current owners of entry luxury machines of all stripes who think that their future is in hybrids. For them, Lexus is just about the only game in town.