2012 Lexus HS 250h Review

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John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
January 25, 2012

The 2012 Lexus HS 250h offers lots of technology along with its high gas mileage, but it's not engaging to drive, nor is its level of luxury particularly spectacular.

The 2012 Lexus HS 250h hasn't exactly set the sales charts on fire, and with the arrival of the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid last year, it lost its title as the luxury hybrid sedan with the highest gas mileage. Introduced as a 2010 model, it uses some parts from the iconic Toyota Prius hybrid, along with a larger 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and hybrid system like the one used in the Toyota Camry Hybrid. It has relatively less in common, though, with the newer Lexus CT 200h luxury hybrid hatchback, which is slightly smaller inside.

The blunt nose and cab-forward body give the HS 250h distinctive silhouette, but it's nowhere near as sleek as other Lexus sedans. Size-wise, the HS 250h is larger than the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Lexus IS, the compact Lexus sport sedan, though it's about six inches shorter than the softer Lexus ES sedan.

Inside, the instrument panel has a futuristic design with a center stack that's wedged outward, containing the audio, climate, and infotainment controls. If the optional navigation system is included, its screen pops up from the center of the dash. It's controlled with the Lexus Remote Touch mouse controller on the console, which is more intuitive and simpler than many of the screen-controls systems in other luxury brands--though it does require the driver to focus on the screen, rather than the road, for a long time.

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The 147-horsepower, 2.4-liter Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine is paired with Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which uses a pair of electric motor-generators that can run the car on electric power alone at low speeds. They also add supplemental torque to the engine, and recharge the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack on engine overrun and regenerative braking. Maximum power between the engine and drive motor is 187 hp. While the HS 250h isn't slow, it's not tuned for a sporty performance feel. The "power" mode makes it perkier (and the "eco" mode takes it close to sluggishness). It accelerates well in the critical 20 to 60 mph range, and accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds--quicker than the Prius, despite a weight penalty of 600 pounds.

The EPA rates the 2012 Lexus HS 250h at a combined 35 miles per gallon, one-third lower than the stellar 50-mpg figure of the Toyota Prius, but certainly better than the mid- to high 20s of most small luxury sedans--including both the Lexus IS and ES. It's also lower than the combined 42-mpg of the smaller CT 200h, which is more rewarding to drive as well.

The handling of the HS is safe but not particularly inspiring. The car leans a lot on cornering, a penalty of its soft suspension, and the nose dives on braking as well. The electric power steering is quick and fairly well weighted, but ordering the Touring Package is the best way to make the Lexus HS enjoyable to toss around. It includes sport-tuned suspension and larger 18-inch alloy wheels. Brakes are a high point of the HS, with none of the touchiness or non-linear action found in hybrids from makers with less experience than Toyota in blending regeneration and friction braking.

Despite the tall cowl, the HS 250h is slightly short on headroom in front and very short in the back. The front seats are mounted high, and can't be lowered enough to make tall drivers comfortable. In addition, the sharp edge of the center stack is uncomfortably close to the driver's right knee. In the rear, the HS feels more cramped than a Camry and even a Corolla. Three adults isn't really a possibility for the rear seat. Interior materials are luxury, and the mix of optional leather and the many electronic features conveys an upscale impression, though not quite one of outright luxury.

Noise is well suppressed inside the car, with an acoustic windshield and three-layer seals on the doors isolating occupants from whatever nastiness is occurring outside the HS. The downside of this, though, is that the engine is remarkably obtrusive when revved hard--when you need power for a passing maneuver, perhaps. It simply shouldn't be that loud in any car from a luxury marque with the word "perfection" in its slogan.

Standard features on the 2012 Lexus HS 250h are appropriate to a near-luxury small sedan, but the list of options is long, and lavish on the technology side. Lexus says the all-LED headlamps were a segment first, and they can be paired with Adaptive Front Lighting, Intelligent High-Beam, and headlamp washers. Other available offerings including dynamic radar cruise control, both front and rear views on the monitor, a new heads-up display (which works quite well), and the Intuitive Park Assist system. There's also a lane-keeping assistance feature that first warns drivers when they start to stray out of their lane, and then applies correction to the steering to guide the car back between the lines.

As you might expect on a Lexus, the 330-Watt Mark Levinson audio system sounds fine. Connectivity is provided via Bluetooth and a USB port, a 12-Volt power outlet is standard, and SiriusXM satellite radio can be ordered as well.

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