2011 Lexus HS 250h Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 18, 2011

The 2011 Lexus HS 250h pairs nifty technology features with high mileage ratings, though it fails to provide impressive comfort or an engaging driving experience.

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.

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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.

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2011 Lexus HS 250h

Styling

The 2011 Lexus HS 250h is no styling standout from the outside, though its interior has a particular sci-fi-influenced fashion sense.

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. 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, 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).

Review continues below
7

2011 Lexus HS 250h

Performance

The 2011 Lexus HS 250h has performance that's pretty bland, but adequate and safe.

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 isn't reassuring in feel, but the HS 250h stops predictably and without a hitch.

Review continues below
6

2011 Lexus HS 250h

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Lexus HS 250h has a refined cabin feel, but it comes up short with a lack of interior space and a powertrain that's too raucous for Lexus.

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.

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. Seating aside, the interior layout is smart, though, with a big console box and other smaller bins both included.

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.

Overall, the HS 250h has neither the firm, measured handling response of the IS 350 and IS 250 sport sedans nor the pillowy ride comfort of the Lexus ES 350. The ride feels somewhat firm and busy, but pitch it into a tight corner and you get lots of lean; additionally there's an element of bounciness over railroad tracks and particularly rough surfaces, and there's more road noise over rough pavement in the HS than we've experienced in any other Lexus product.

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9

2011 Lexus HS 250h

Safety

The 2011 Lexus HS 250h doesn't have particularly impressive crash-test ratings, but its feature list is strong.

The 2011 Lexus HS 250h has only been tested by one of the major crash-test agencies, and its results were less than top-notch, but it comes packed with enough standard safety gear—and available active safety features—to make all but the most demanding safety-conscious shopper feel secure.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has tested the HS 250h and given it top 'good' ratings for frontal and side impact. But in the seat-based rear-impact test the HS 250h scored only 'marginal,' and in the new roof strength test it scored a lackluster 'acceptable.'

But Lexus doesn't hold anything back with respect to safety features 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, and 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.

Rearward visibility from inside the HS 250h is better than that of most small sedans, although the rather thick rear pillar can get in the way.

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9

2011 Lexus HS 250h

Features

The 2011 Lexus HS 250h is a tech powerhouse, but you have to check some pricey option boxes to get the good stuff.

The 2011 Lexus 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.

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 includes 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. The only issue with the system—and the navigation system—is that some functions require the use of Remote Touch, a mouse-like controller in the center stack that's not only in an awkward place for some drivers but requires that they take their eyes off the road for extended periods to use it.

However, equipping the HS 250h with some of those high-tech features will drive the price well past the its starting $36k. what it does mean is that you'll have to pay more for the options packages that contain those features. One test HS, a HS 250h Premium, fully loaded, totaled nearly $47k.

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.

Review continues below
8

2011 Lexus HS 250h

Fuel Economy

While the HS 250h might present fuel economy numbers that aren't impressive to the hard-core green shoppers, it's one of the greenest luxury picks on the market.

Depending on what your expectations are of this high-tech compact, the EPA fuel economy ratings for the 2011 Lexus HS 250h, of 35 mpg city, 34 highway, will either impress or leave you wondering why you wouldn't simply get a higher-mileage hybrid.

Our editors have found 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. In a follow-up drive with the HS, we saw 32 mpg over about 100 miles of mixed conditions.

That said, 35 mpg in city driving is pretty impressive, and beat only by a few other vehicles.

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Styling 7
Performance 7
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