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The Lexus HS 250h was introduced this past year, as the highest-mileage luxury hybrid sedan. Though it doesn't share any body panels with the Toyota Prius, it does borrow some pieces from the iconic hybrid, while its Hybrid Synergy Drive system utilizes a stronger 2.4-liter engine. The HS is actually larger and wider than the Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3-Series, or Lexus IS—or about six inches shorter than the Lexus ES and about six inches longer than a Toyota Corolla sedan.
With a blunt nose and distinct, cab-forward proportions, the 2011 Lexus HS 250 doesn't look nearly as beautiful in silhouette as Lexus's IS compact sport sedan, or have the sleek, elegant aura of the ES 350. But the attention to details gives the design some pop. Inside the HS, there are some futuristic elements to the instrument panel design, which groups audio, climate controls, and infotainment into a center stack that wedges outward. Models with the navigation system get a pop-up screen and a centerpiece Remote Touch mouse/trackball-style controller that's simpler and more intuitive than other complicated interfaces (though it does require taking one's eyes off the road for longer periods).
The hybrid powertrain in the 2011 Lexus HS 250h is essentially what's tried and true from the Toyota Prius (and Camry Hybrid); it's a version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system, here combining a 147-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine with a 40-horsepower electric motor system to produce 187 horsepower altogether. A power control unit manages to recharge the battery while decelerating or braking, or to deliver an electric assist when accelerating. The HS 250h doesn't feel like a performance car, or even particularly perky, but it's not sluggish either—especially if you select 'power' mode rather than the rubber-band-like 'eco' mode. Thanks to the gasoline engine's torquey response, coupled with the electric motor's instant torque, the HS feels reactive in the 20-to-60-mph range and cruises at higher speeds more confidently than the Prius; the dash to 60 mph takes 8.4 seconds, according to Lexus, which makes it faster than most four-cylinder compact and mid-size sedans but slower than most luxury ones.
The rest of the driving experience is safe but uninspiring. The electric-assist steering has a rather quick ratio and reasonably good weighting, but soft suspension tuning means there's plenty of lean (and nosedive when braking); overall the HS handles in an unexciting but safe way. A Touring Package includes sport suspension tuning and 18-inch alloys, firming up responses somewhat. Braking is one of the high points; while hybrids often have touchy, jerky brake-pedal action due to regenerative action, the HS 250h stops predictably and without a hitch.
The Achilles' heel of the HS 250h is its rather low roofline, clashing with the odd, scooped-up seating arrangement. The sedan is a little short on headroom in front and very short in back. Compounding the matter is that, in front, the seats are mounted quite high—with the center stack's sharp edges against the driver's leg all the time; and tall drivers can't lower the seat enough. In the backseat, the HS doesn't feel nearly as roomy as a Camry—or even a Corolla—due to the restricted headroom, and three adults isn't really a possibility as they'd be jockeying shoulders. Materials inside are luxurious, even though the HS 250h has 30 percent of its interior materials derived from plant-based sources; but the overall impression is upscale, not opulent.
The 2011 Lexus HS 250h is otherwise tight and quiet inside, thanks to details like an acoustic windshield and triple-layer door seals. But there's a down side here, too: Engine noise is much more present than some buyers will expect in a Lexus. It's when you need any quick burst of power, or if you're just more of a leadfoot, that you'll find way too much engine noise. Although there's never any discernible vibration in the cabin, it's loud, and out of place from any luxury marque that has had the word 'perfection' in its slogan.
The HS 250h comes with an reasonably good roster of standard features, but it's the exceptional list of high-tech options that impresses. All-LED headlamps are a segment first, according to Lexus, and paired with Adaptive Front Lighting, Intelligent High-Beam, and headlamp washers. Other high-tech options include Intuitive Park Assist, a new heads-up display, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, front and rearview monitors, and Lane-Keep Assist, which warns you if you're straying out of your lane and actually applies a steering correction. As can be expected on a Lexus, there's a fine-sounding 330-watt Mark Levinson audio system available. With respect to connectivity and entertainment, the HS 250h has you covered there, too. Bluetooth, a USB input, and XM Satellite Radio are included, and of course there's a fine-sounding Mark Levinson surround-sound system to wrap it all together.