2012 Lexus HS 250h Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

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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2012 Lexus HS 250h

Styling

The styling of the 2012 Lexus HS 250h isn't as sleek as other models in the Lexus line, but its interior conveys a futuristic luxury.

Among Lexus sedans, the 2012 Lexus HS 250h may be the least sleek and beautiful. Its high cowl and slab sides combine with long front and rear overhangs to give it a chunky, high-ended silhouette that's quite different from the IS sport sedan or the ES 350 mid-size family sedan. But some of the details redeem the design, whether it's the winged headlamps leading to a corner crease trailing back to the waistline or the way the hood line rises to the base of the windshield.

The tail may be the car's crispest, most elegant view, resembling an abbreviated version of the large LS flagship. The angles and curves of the rear pillars neatly lead into that back end, and the small front window sections that extend ahead of the door lines are intriguing.

Nonetheless, the HS 250h manages a drag coefficient of just 0.27, with the grille bars actually a solid surface to guide air over the hood. Extensive covers over the underbody further smooth aerodynamics, as does a diffuser at the rear to separate the airflow as it leaves the car.

Inside the 2012 Lexus HS, the instrument panel design delivers a health dose of futurism. Audio, infotainment, and climate controls are grouped in a center stack that's angled outwards. The navigation system (an optional feature) is housed in a display screen that pops up from the top of the dash, operated by a Remote Touch mouse-style controller mounted in the center console. This is laudably simple and intuitive to operate, though the driver's eyes may be off the road longer to follow the icons on the central display.

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2012 Lexus HS 250h

Performance

The 2012 Lexus HS 250h won't win many stop-light drag races, and it's happiest (and most fuel-efficient) under light loads, but it's safe and comfortable regardless.

The 2012 Lexus HS 250h powertrain is essentially taken from that in the Toyota Camry Hybrid, with a 147-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated to Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system, including a 40-hp electric motor, for a total maximum power output of 187 hp. The battery recharges while the car decelerates or brakes, and excess engine power also keeps it topped up, allowing the motor to supplement lower engine power or even drive the car solely on electricity at lower speeds and under light loads.

The HS offers a 'power' mode as well as 'normal' and 'Eco' driving options. Most fun by far is the 'power' selection, which takes the 2012 HS out of the realm of sluggish and moves it toward perky, if still far from a sport sedan or performance car. Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph takes 8.4 seconds, Lexus says, which is faster than many compact and mid-size sedans, but slower than the luxury models that may be the most direct competition for the HS. The car is heavy enough (600 pounds more than a Prius) that moving away from a stop doesn't feel all that quick, but in the 20-to-60-mph range, it's better--and the high-speed cruising easily outdoes the Prius in confidence and poise. Its 'Eco' mode is somewhere between frustrating and punishing, however, though it likely delivers better gas mileage.

As in all Toyota products, the electric power steering is quick but largely feedback-free, even if it's nicely weighted. The soft suspension in the HS makes it lean on corners and nose-dive under braking. Overall, its handling is competent enough but unexciting, and far from the sport-sedan feel other Lexus sedans aspire to. The available Touring Package retunes and stiffens the suspension, along with adding 18-inch alloy wheels, making the handling firmer. The brakes are predictable, if again somewhat numb.

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2012 Lexus HS 250h

Comfort & Quality

The refinement of the 2012 Lexus HS 250h is undercut by a raucous engine note under load and a lack of both front headroom and overall rear-seat space.

The 2012 Lexus HS 250h is compromised by its low roofline, which clashes with the odd high seats. The high-mounted front seats are slightly short on headroom, and it's worse in the rear. In front, the sharp edge of the center console presses uncomfortably on a driver's leg, and tall drivers will find they can't lower the seat enough to be truly comfortable. In back, the HS suffers in comparison to its Camry relative--and even compared to a compact Corolla--due to the limited headroom. Getting three adults in the rear requires staggering their shoulders, so it's effectively a four-seater for any endurance travel at all. There's plenty of interior storage, though, with a big box in the console and several other bins, cubbies, and trays.

Interior materials are luxurious, despite 30 percent of them being derived from "green" plant sources, but the impression is more of an upscale sedan than a true luxury car. It's tight and quiet inside, though, with triple-layered door seals and an acoustic windshield among the many details added to suppress noise and vibration. Unfortunately, the engine noise under hard acceleration is far more obtrusive than you'd expect from a Lexus. There's no obvious vibration, but the high howl of the specially tuned engine being asked to move this heavy car swiftly isn't a pleasant one. Lexus may have "perfection" in its slogan, but this is far from perfect--or even preferable.

The advantage to the high-tail styling, in addition to better aerodynamics, is that the Lexus HS provides an impressively large trunk. The capacity is officially 12. 1 cubic feet, but it looks and feels larger. It will fit four full golf bags, which is pretty good for what's really a compact car. There's a compromise here, too, though: Because of the battery pack placement, the rear seat doesn't fold down--or offer even a pass-through for skis and the like--so it's the trunk or nothing.

The ride quality is acceptable, but the HS offers neither the pillowy suspension of the Lexus ES 250 nor the flatter, measured sport-sedan handling of the IS series. At times the ride is busy, with lots of vertical motion over rough surfaces, railroad tracks, and the like. Those same rough surfaces also produce an inordinate amount of road noise, more than in any other Lexus--possibly due to harder, low-rolling resistance tired. Then, once the HS enters a corner, it leans over with lots of body roll. Overall, it's simply not up to the caliber of the rest of the Lexus line.

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2012 Lexus HS 250h

Safety

The 2012 Lexus HS 250h hasn't been tested under new, more stringent crash-test rules, but it includes or offers a large number of advanced safety technology features.

When the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tested the Lexus HS 250h, it rated it "Good" (the top score available) for both frontal and side impacts. It received only a "Marginal" rating for rear impact, however, and a so-so "Acceptable" in the newly-added roof-crush test. In our road test, we felt rearward visibility from the driver's seat was better than in most small sedans, though the rear roof pillars are thick, somewhat impeding the rear three-quarter view.

Still, the 2012 Lexus HS 250h comes with a host of standard safety features, along with some optional active-safety features, that shoppers who focus on safety should feel comfortable selecting the HS. It has no fewer than 10 airbags, the most in the class, including rare side-mounted bags in the rear seats and knee bags for not only the driver but the front passenger as well. Those are rare on most cars of any class, let alone entry luxury. Anti-lock brakes, brake assist, electronic stability control, and hill-start assist are all standard. Buyers who opt for the Dynamic Radar Cruise control feature will get a Pre-Collision system packaged with it, to warn the driver if it senses an impending collision at the same time it primes the braking system and other crash-safety features.

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2012 Lexus HS 250h

Features

The 2012 Lexus HS 250h has a large suite of technology features, but costs can add up quickly, with a fully loaded HS more than $10,000 pricier than the base model.

Like any Lexus, the 2012 HS 250h offers a good array of standard features. But the options list is a wonder to behold, with an impressive number of high-tech features that will gladden the heart of gadget fiends and luxury lovers alike. Lexus says its all-LED headlamps are the first in the segment, and come packaged together with Intelligent High Beam, Adaptive Front Lighting, and washers for the lamps themselves. Then there's a new heads-up display, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, front- and rear-view monitors, Lane-Keeping Assist--which not only alerts drivers who drift out of their lane but also applies a steering correction--and Intuitive Park Assist.

The optional multi-speaker 330-Watt audio surround-sound system comes from Mark Levinson, and XM Satellite radio is included even on standard models, as is Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port.

A further option is the "Enform with Safety Connect" system. This pairs subscription-based safety and information services, including roadside assistance and crash notification with an enhanced navigation system that includes XM real-time traffic and weather data, as well as sports and stock information delivered to your car. Access is via voice commands or through the fixed Remote Touch mouse-like controller on the console, which requires drivers to take their eyes off the road to maneuver a cursor on the central display screen.

The challenge for buyers may be the cost of multiple options. While the starting price of the 2012 HS 250h is about $37,000, but adding in those high-tech options may require specifying several bundles of packaged features that can add more than $10,000 to the total. A fully loaded HS 250h Premium model approaches $50,000.

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2012 Lexus HS 250h

Fuel Economy

Compared to plainer hybrids, the fuel economy of the 2012 Lexus HS 250h may not seem all that impressive. But its gas mileage ratings look much better when compared to likely luxury competitors.

It may use a similar hybrid system to the Toyota Prius, but the sedan shape, more powerful engine, and considerable added weight of the 2012 Lexus HS 250h mean it doesn't achieve gas mileage anywhere near that of the ur-hybrid. The EPA rates the HS at 35 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, for a combined overall rating of 35 mpg. The Prius, which has more room inside--albeit far less luxury--delivers a combined 50 mpg.

And from our experience, that 35-mpg figure for the HS may be slightly optimistic--as those for hybrids driven to keep up with traffic sometimes are. In a fast-moving mix of Southern California traffic, our test car averaged just 30 mpg. In very gentle, carefully controlled conditions on quiet, level roads, though, it delivered 46 mpg. A different test car managed 32 mpg over about 100 miles of mixed traffic and road conditions.

And the 2012 HS 250h is no longer even the most economical Lexus, that title having been captured last year by the 40-mpg CT 200h compact hybrid hatchback which is, to boot, far more rewarding to drive.

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