2010 Lexus HS 250h Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
August 28, 2009

The new 2010 Lexus HS 250h packs some noteworthy technology features, though those expecting either Prius fuel economy figures or a sportier driving experience might be disappointed.

The 2010 Lexus HS 250h has been test-driven by the editors of TheCarConnection.com, who have assembled this Bottom Line that sums up this new vehicle and compares it to rival hybrids and green cars. A full review also researches reviews from other sources, bringing you some of the most useful highlights.

The 2010 Lexus HS 250 is an all-new hybrid model and the first dedicated hybrid sedan for the Lexus lineup. Though it shares some components with the Toyota Prius hatchback, it has an entirely different body style and doesn’t have in common any body panels with the Toyota. The HS is 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.

The HS 250 looks somewhat blunt-nosed from the side, with distinct, cab-forward proportions that don’t seem nearly as beautiful in silhouette as Lexus’s IS compact sport sedan, but the attention to details gives the design some pop. A crease leading off the corner of winged headlamps trails to the HS’s waistline, while the hoodline rises higher to the windshield. Small sections of the front windows extend ahead of the front of the doors, and the curvature and angles around the rear pillar are quite elegant, with a tail that ends up looking like an abbreviated form of the LS flagship, with nicely detailed tail lamps. Smooth air management gives the HS a slick aerodynamic coefficient of only 0.27; the grille’s bars actually form a solid surface for guiding air, while the underbody has extensive covers and a diffuser to help with airflow. Inside the HS, the instrument panel 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 trackball-style controller that’s simpler and more intuitive than other complicated interfaces.

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A version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive hybrid system in the HS 250h combines 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. As such, the HS 250h can accelerate to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds, according to Lexus. The EPA fuel economy ratings for the HS are 35 mpg city, 34 highway. TheCarConnection.com finds those figures to be perhaps slightly optimistic, as they often are for hybrids. This editor saw about 30 mpg keeping with fast-moving Orange County traffic but reached a 46 mpg average in exceptionally gentle, controlled conditions on level roads.

The HS 250h doesn’t feel like a performance car, or even particularly perky, but it’s not sluggish either. 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 (or the Camry Hybrid). The electric-assist steering has a rather quick ratio and actually conveys some feel of the road, 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.

The 2010 Lexus HS 250h is tight and quiet inside, thanks to details like an acoustic windshield and triple-layer door seals, but engine noise is more present than some buyers will expect in a Lexus. Any even moderate press on the accelerator is met, after slight delay, with a surprisingly vocal drone; we’re surprised Lexus didn’t work more to mute the gasoline engine’s coarse character. The Achilles’ heel of the HS 250h is its roofline; versus the Prius, the sedan loses a little bit of headroom in front and a lot in back. In front, the seats are mounted quite high, and tall drivers such as this one can’t lower them enough. In the backseat, the HS doesn’t feel as roomy as a Camry due to the restricted headroom. Trunk space in the HS 250h is impressive; official capacity is 12.1 cubic feet, but it somehow feels larger. For those who keep track in terms of golf bags, the HS will fit four of them. But those who expect a little more versatility will be disappointed; the HS lacks folding backseats—or even a pass-through—because of battery placement.

Lexus doesn’t hold anything back with respect to safety in the HS 250h, including a class-leading 10 airbags, with the expected front, side, and side-curtain bags, plus several features—rear side seat-mounted bags and knee bags for both the driver and passenger—that are rare even among the most technologically exclusive vehicles. Electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, and hill-start assist are also included. A Pre-Collision system—which alerts the driver of an impending collision and primes the braking and safety systems—is included with the optional Dynamic Radar Cruise control.

There’s an exceptionally long list of technology options available on the 2010 Lexus HS 250h. LED headlamps are a segment first, according to Lexus, and paired with Adaptive Front Lighting, Intelligent High-Beam, and headlamp washers. 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. Additionally, the HS 250h is the first Lexus available with the “Enform with Safety Connect” system, which combines subscription-based information and safety services. Enform will allow a suite of services, including crash notification and roadside assistance to assistance with programming a destination into the nav system. XM provides live traffic, weather, sports, and stock information—all of which can be accessed through a streamlined voice command system.

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2010 Lexus HS 250h

Styling

The 2010 Lexus HS 250h doesn’t break new styling ground like the first-gen Prius or RX 350 did, but it looks the part of a hybrid and won’t offend with its styling.

The easiest comparison for the 2010 Lexus HS 250h would be to juxtapose it with the Toyota Prius, but despite similar green-friendly intentions and styling elements, the HS 250h shares little design-wise with its corporate cousin.

The 2010 Lexus HS 250h is Lexus’s first fully hybrid sedan, a five-passenger vehicle available in just one trim level. Edmunds remarks that Lexus’s newest sedan “effectively represents the Lexus idea of luxury, safety and convenience in the same way that its six- and eight-cylinder stable mates do,” but some other reviews read by TheCarConnection.com take exception with the Lexus HS 250h’s styling. Automobile Magazine is particularly incensed; they feel it would be easier for Lexus to make the ES sedan a hybrid, “but there’d be one problem: the ES is a great-looking car,” and they don’t think the same can be said of the HS 250h. Cars.com reports that the 2010 Lexus HS 250h, which is “based on the European Toyota Avensis,” features “a more mature of the IS sedan’s front end.” Jalopnik reviewers, meanwhile, find the styling derivative of a few other Toyota vehicles, claiming it “looks like a Toyota Corolla or even, as we first thought, the last-gen Prius jazzed up with the L-Finesse styling language.” Overall, Car and Driver simply recommends that you “think of it as the Prius of Lexuses or the Lexus of Priuses—your choice—and you won’t be far off.”

The Lexus HS 250h’s interior is par for the course, but there’s nothing spectacular in the overall execution or design. Automobile Magazine feels the interior is a giveaway that the Lexus HS 250h “is the de-facto new entry-level model for Lexus,” as its “narrow dimensions and awkward front quarter-windows make it feel much more like a tarted-up economy-car than the true entry-luxury car that Lexus says it is.” Few other reviewers are quite so harsh, and ConsumerGuide appreciates that the Lexus HS 250h’s “gauges are placed directly in front of the driver,” while the audio and climate controls are “within easy reach.” Popular Mechanics considers the dash “forward looking and provides a fun and futuristic vibe,” although Jalopnik asserts they’ve seen it before on the “Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h.”

One of the major pluses inside the 2010 Lexus HS 250h’s cabin—and a prominent design element for the instrument panel—is the trackball-like Remote Touch control system that Popular Mechanics says is “so good it makes every other system seem outdated.” Reviewers universally approve of the system, and Edmunds finds it so intuitive and simple that “it’s utterly amazing nobody came up with this execution before.”

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2010 Lexus HS 250h

Performance

The 2010 Lexus HS 250h rides and drives like a Lexus in most respects, but it can’t come close to matching the most fuel-efficient hybrids on the market in terms of efficiency.

The 2010 Lexus HS 250h’s overall performance is pretty bland and, well, Lexus-like. While it doesn’t offer anywhere near the fuel economy of the Toyota Prius, the HS 250h is somewhat more engaging to drive.

Due to the extra weight of the Lexus HS 250h’s luxury features, the standard Prius powertrain is deemed insufficient for this new Lexus hybrid. Although the 2010 Lexus HS 250h looks somewhat similar to the Prius, Popular Mechanics points out it “shares a powertrain with the Toyota Camry hybrid,” an “Atkinson-cycle 2.4-liter four-cylinder [that] is linked to a 40 hp electric motor.” Overall power levels are adequate, and Car and Driver reports that the HS 250h has a total “system output of 187 hp,” enough to get “the 3740-pound HS 250h to 60 mph [in] 8.4 seconds, which is 1.4 seconds faster than the last Prius” they tested. Still, it’s far from a sports car, and ConsumerGuide says that if you floor it from a stop, “it takes about 20 feet before real power arrives.” For drivers seeking a more spirited driving experience, Car and Driver observes that the Lexus HS 250h offers an “eco” mode that “accelerates battery recharging and retards throttle response,” while a “power mode does the opposite,” and there’s “a canyon of difference between the two modes.”

Like most fuel economy-oriented vehicles, the 2010 Lexus HS 250h comes exclusively with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that Jalopnik says is “backed up with heavy duty aerodynamic optimization and driver assistance tools” in order to offer peak fuel economy. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com don’t contain many positive words regarding the CVT; Edmunds claims it gives you “lots of furiousness, but not much speed,” since “that’s what you get with a CVT” in nearly every application.

The CVT might be a hassle to live with on a daily basis, but it does return respectable fuel economy for a hybrid sedan. According to the official EPA estimates, the Lexus HS 250h should get 35 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway, which Car and Driver points out “doesn’t even come close to the Prius’s 51/48 figures.” However, Jalopnik reviewers consider the EPA test “really pessimistic,” and in one of their tests, an editor “managed an astounding 57.9 MPG” with the Eco mode engaged. TheCarConnection.com’s editors saw fuel economy at best in the mid-40 mpg range during their test drives.

Out on the road, reviewers find that the 2010 Lexus HS 250h has better performance characteristics than the Toyota Prius, but there’s still not much to be had from pushing the car hard. Car and Driver reports that “road feel is pretty much zero, even with the optional 18-inch wheels,” and Popular Mechanics agrees that “the driver and the machine do not meld into one seamless unit.” Jalopnik, however, says, “The car is actually not a total dud…handling corners in a way we didn’t think a hybrid could” and offering a ride that “delivers the comfort Lexus is known for, but it’s definitely not fall-asleep soft.” ConsumerGuide adds that the HS 250h “wasn’t tuned for a plush ride,” but it does offer a “firm and controlled” ride. Many hybrids suffer from a jerky brake pedal thanks to their regenerative braking characteristics, but Automobile Magazine remarks that “the response of the brake pedal is linear and free of any sign that the computers are continually switching between regenerative and friction braking.”

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2010 Lexus HS 250h

Comfort & Quality

Lexus has taken a few missteps with the awkward interior packaging, lack of space, and apparent lack of powertrain deadening in the 2010 HS 250h.

Unlike its airy corporate cousin, the Toyota Prius, the 2010 Lexus HS 250h struggles to find enough room for its full five occupants—or even the front two, for that matter. The HS 250h also suffers from a decidedly un-Lexus-like level of cabin noise, particularly from the droning four-cylinder gasoline engine.

Although the 2010 Lexus HS 250h has seat belts for five occupants, it doesn’t quite have the capacity to seat them all comfortably. On the positive side, Popular Mechanics reviewers find that “the seats are extremely comfortable for long journeys,” but that statement should come with a disclaimer—tall drivers beware. ConsumerGuide reports that the Lexus HS 250h’s front seats “offer a comfortably snug fit,” as “drivers over six feet tall may find legroom tight and their right knee hitting the dash protrusion.” As a Lexus, the HS 250h does get “ten-way power leather seats [as] standard,” according to Cars.com, but the rather cramped quarters remain.

The rear bench seat suffers from the same problem, according to TheCarConnection.com’s research; ConsumerGuide reports that “headroom is sufficient only for those up to about 5’11,” and overall “the seat itself isn’t wide enough for three adults.”

Passengers may find space at a premium inside the 2010 Lexus HS 250h, but reviewers observe plenty of cargo space in the trunk and respectable in-cabin storage. Edmunds credits “ongoing improvements to hybrid component packaging” with allowing the Lexus HS 250h to have “a normal-size trunk with more than 12 cubic feet of cargo space.” Not only is the trunk decent-sized, but Car and Driver says the Lexus HS 250h “has the largest access slot of any Lexus sedan.” Despite the generous volume of the trunk, ConsumerGuide is still disappointed by the fact that “the battery pack…prevents having a fold-down rear seatback,” which limits the trunk’s overall utility. Inside the passenger cabin, ConsumerGuide also reports that the Lexus HS 250h offers “a decent-size glovebox, small console box, two covered cupholders, [and] two small bins.”

Lexus would never let itself reduce costs by cutting corners with interior materials quality, and the 2010 Lexus HS 250h easily meets the materials expectations set by its price tag. Jalopnik observes that “high quality materials reside throughout, with 30 percent of materials derived from plant-based sources,” which is very much in keeping with this hybrid’s environmentally friendly theme. Edmunds calls this the “new Lexus message: in the future, luxury has to be responsible and careful with finite resources.” While the Lexus HS 250h’s materials are decidedly upscale, drivers expecting to be swaddled in opulence might be in for a bit of a surprise—ConsumerGuide characterizes the “overall look [as] more subtle than rich,” though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

What is most certainly a bad thing is the amount of engine noise that invades the HS 250h’s cabin and assaults the ears of its occupants. Every review surveyed by TheCarConnection.com mentions the unexpectedly high levels of engine noise, prompting Automobile Magazine reviewers to ask “when was the last time you hear a four-cylinder thrum in a Lexus? (Hint: never.).” Car and Driver reviewers could do without the “powertrain’s pitiful drone,” and they complain of “a fair amount of tire noise and low-level reverberations from road impacts.” Edmunds comes to the defense of the 2010 Lexus HS 250h, reporting that “when used in urban settings…the new Lexus is remarkably smooth and quiet,” but with a Lexus badge on the front drivers should expect a quiet ride at highway speeds as well.

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2010 Lexus HS 250h

Safety

Even without crash-test data, it’s pretty clear the 2010 Lexus HS 250h is a safety-first sedan.

Like most luxury brands, Lexus has begun to offer a vast array of high-tech safety features, some of which are better received than others in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com.

The 2010 Lexus HS 250h hasn’t yet been crash tested by either of the major testing authorities (the federal government’s NHTSA and the insurance industry’s IIHS), but the Lexus HS 250h is packed with enough standard safety gear to make all but the most demanding safety-conscious shopper forget about the lack of crash-test data. Stay tuned to TheCarConnection.com for the latest updates on the HS 250h’s crash-test results, which we’ll bring you as soon as they become available.

Inside the tech-heavy HS 250h, drivers and passengers alike will be protected by a number of electronic safety features, as well as the more standard safety fare. Cars.com reviewers  note that “standard safety features include 10 airbags, active front-seat head restraints, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system.” One of the Lexus HS 250h’s more unusual features, according to Jalopnik, is its “front camera, which provides a 180 degree view so you can poke your nose out of obstructed view area[s] into traffic and see what’s coming.”

Most luxury vehicles like the 2010 Lexus HS 250h offer an available rearview camera, but few can match the front-view camera that will be sure to prevent a number of fender benders. Not all reviewers are impressed, however, and Edmunds says the camera “seems to display pretty much what you see out of the front anyway, and it just won’t switch off and go away.” On the options front, Cars.com reports that the 2010 Lexus HS 250h can be equipped with “Lane-Keep Assist, which uses a camera to monitor lane markings and can alert the driver if he or she strays,” as well as “adaptive cruise control,” a system that “maintains a following distance behind the car ahead” and can warn drivers if they approach an obstacle too quickly.

One of the benefits of the extensive glasswork found on the Lexus HS 250h is that it affords better-than-average driver visibility, which can be considered an important safety characteristic. ConsumerGuide remarks that “visibility over the driver’s left shoulder is blocked by a thick roof pillar,” but otherwise “rear-corner visibility is good,” as is the view straight back.

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2010 Lexus HS 250h

Features

The 2010 Lexus HS 250h doesn't come with a lot standard, but if you check a lot of pricey option boxes, you can get a hybrid loaded with luxury and advanced tech features.

With a starting price that hovers around $35,000, the 2010 Lexus HS 250h is at the very low end of the Lexus MSRP range. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you’ll be forced to go without many of the trademark high-tech features Lexus is known for; what it does mean is that you’ll have to pay more for the options packages that contain those features.

The 2010 Lexus HS 250h can be jam-packed with high-end features, but the base HS 250h model doesn’t offer all that much in the way of standard features. Car and Driver states that “the list of features that come standard on the HS is long, but not much longer than that of a reasonably well-optioned Prius.” The standard fare on both the base and Premium versions of the HS 250h include “technology like Bluetooth, a USB iPod jack, and XM Satellite Radio,” according to Cars.com. Meanwhile, Automobile Magazine is less than impressed with the Lexus HS 250h’s features load, claiming that the standard systems “fail to mask the HS’s econo-car roots.”

If you want to turn the standard 2010 Lexus HS 250h into a true luxury car, then you’ll probably want to spend some time looking over the extensive options list. Here, Automobile Magazine concedes that “the [Lexus] HS 250h can be loaded with an enormous assortment of impressive technologies (including lane-keep assist, a head-up display, and a truly fabulous infotainment and navigation system that will accept destinations you’ve uploaded from your home computer).” Other reviews surveyed by TheCarConnection.com reveal even more top-notch features, and Edmunds reviewers are particularly fond of “the amazing Mark Levinson surround-sound stereo system” and “Lexus driver-snooze monitor.” Cars.com also points out the availability of “a head-up display, which projects information on the windshield,” on the 2010 Lexus HS 250h. The head-up display serves both a practical purpose and a safety role, as it keeps the Lexus HS 250h’s driver focused on the road rather than the instrument or optional navigation system.

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Styling 7
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