Given some of the questionable vehicles that have filled local lots in recent years, it may be hard to believe that getting a design past layers of corporate approval is a daunting task. Just take a look at all of the concept cars unveiled during a single year of auto shows, and then compare that with what actually makes it to production. For the models that do get the green light, you can be sure that someone has made a very strong business case.
So it is with the 2010 Lexus HS 250h, the first mainstream luxury hybrid vehicle that exists as a stand-alone model, meaning that it's not simply a gas/electric variant of an existing Lexus sedan. It seems that luxury hybrids are here to stay, as indicated by Mercedes-Benz's consideration of a hybrid-only S-Class lineup in the years to come. Proven by the HS 250h, these cars deliver a level of quality and refinement not found in your run-of-the-mill Insight or Prius, even if the available features are much the same and fuel economy less impressive.
Photos courtesy of Lexus.
#10. Pricing for both HS 250h models starts in the mid $30,000s.
With a base price of $35,525, the 2010 Lexus HS 250h is one of the company's most affordable models. Standard amenities are plentiful and include items such as leather upholstery, power-adjustable front seats, a dual-zone climate control system, a push-button ignition system, and the typical array of amenities like power windows and door locks. The base sound system uses 10 speakers but generates a rather wimpy 137 watts, though it does offer Bluetooth audio, 90 days of complimentary XM satellite service, as well as an auxiliary jack and USB port. Safety has been addressed, in part, by 10 airbags and a stability control system.
Shoppers with a bit of additional disposable income might want to consider the 2010 Lexus HS 250h Premium. Priced from $38,295, this model swaps 18-inch alloys for the standard 17s and tacks on a driver settings memory feature, heated and cooled front seats, upgraded leather and wood trim, and more.
#9. Desirable options bring the 2010 Lexus HS 250h into the $45,000 range.
As complete as the HS 250h's list of standard equipment may appear to be, many of the high-end features luxury-car buyers crave are reserved for the options list. You can get stand-alone add-ons like adaptive front headlights and a rear spoiler, or stress the ol' budget with one of several equipment packages. The Touring Package, for example, ups the base 2010 Lexus HS 250h's ante with bits including a sport suspension and two-tone interior, while the Navigation Package delivers voice controls, real-time traffic and weather information, and Bluetooth connectivity.
Other features the HS 250h buyer will want to consider include a 330-watt Mark Levinson sound system, a heads-up display that's especially handy when local law enforcement is on the prowl for speeders, systems that let you know that you're about to venture out of your lane and actually work to prevent you from doing so, and intelligent cruise control technology that maintains a pre-set distance between you and traffic up ahead. With all of these goodies on board, the HS 250h's price climbs to about $45,000.
#8. Operating the HS 250h's primary controls is a simple affair.
The 2010 Lexus HS 250h has the whole desirable features thing pretty well covered. More important than that, however, is how it all comes together. After spending days and hundreds of miles familiarizing ourselves with the new Lexus hybrid, we found lots to praise and relatively little to criticize.
Our test car featured the optional navigation system, which was controlled with a large dial located on the center console. We've grown accustomed to touch-screen setups and missed them with the HS 250h, but at least there's voice recognition and a screen that folds neatly into the dash. Radio and climate controls are clearly labeled and instantly accessible, though drivers will need to use the central dial to adjust audio settings and activate the dual-zone temperature control. Other buttons, managing everything from the brightness of the heads-up display to triple-setting heated and cooled seats, are easy to find and identify. Pairing and using your Bluetooth-enabled phone requires following a few simple steps.
#7. Comfort is top-notch. Rear amenities are not.
luxury cars, even hybrid models, are built to be comfortable, and our loaded-up 2010 Lexus HS 250h test car was no exception. Up front were niceties like a padded and sliding center armrest, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel with integrated controls, as well as features like a power lumbar adjustment and driver's memory settings. Seats were plenty spacious, though a flat lower cushion had us wishing for added glutei maximi support. On a more positive note, we did thoroughly enjoy the multiple heating and cooling settings for those leather-clad buckets.
Rear-seat passengers are treated to a comfy, soft and nicely padded bench. Front seat backs are hard, unfortunately, but they are curved to maximize leg room. Head and foot room is generous. A flat load floor and center head restraint makes the center hump passable for seating in a pinch, but that's definitely the least comfortable spot in this luxury ride. Elsewhere in the rear quarters you'll find a padded, fold-down center armrest with two cupholders; there are another two cupholders in the door panels. If there's anything to criticize back here, it's the lack of any real storage or amenities. For a luxury-branded car, we expected second-row passengers to enjoy more than just adjustable air vents.
#6. If for no other reason, consider the HS 250h for its rich interior materials.
Though the 2010 Lexus HS 250h may not display the perfect balance between front- and rear-seat accommodations, there's no denying that quality materials and construction are hallmarks of the car's entire cabin. Soft, premium bits are used to decorate the entire interior; from the visors and pillars to the padded dash cap and instrument panel. This upscale treatment continues with premium leather upholstery and equally impressive hides on the steering wheel and center console. Rubber is used on the air vent knobs instead of hard plastic, a point that demonstrates the HS's designers' intent to focus on even the minor details. As expected, hard plastics can be found when you go looking for them - check out the glovebox or any of the lower interior panels - yet nothing you touch inside this Lexus hybrid feels cheap, either in terms of materials or assembly.
#5. That slight surging feel gets old.
At the heart of the 2010 Lexus HS 250h is the same hybrid powertrain used to propel the Toyota Camry hybrid. It's all based on a 2.4-liter four-cylinder, an engine that's paired with two electric motors and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The system generates 187 horsepower, all of which is delivered to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
With a test drive of the Toyota Prius fresh in our minds, we hit the streets in the HS 250h, only to find that we missed the relatively seamless operation of the former. Unlike the Prius, this Lexus exhibited the slight surging that's reminiscent of previous hybrid efforts, a characteristic that was particularly annoying when operating in ECO mode. We switched to PWR (power) mode in an attempt to smooth things out a bit, but ultimately set the intelligent cruise control as often as possible to give us a break from constantly adjusting throttle input.
In terms of actual power and that seat-of-your-pants feel, the 2010 Lexus HS 250h was satisfactory, though it felt like at least some of those 187 horses were slow to react to a good prodding.
#4. The EPA suggests 35 mpg overall. We averaged slightly less.
According to the EPA, drivers of the 2010 Lexus HS 250h will average 35 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 35 mpg overall. Compare that to the Toyota Camry Hybrid, which uses the same powertrain yet yields 33 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway and overall.
During hundreds of miles of testing, our HS 250h averaged 33.7 mpg. We spent a fair amount of time on the highway with the cruise control set at about 70 mph, conditions that are ideal for most cars but served to rob our Lexus of its best possible fuel-economy results.
#3. Handling is uninspiring and the ride a bit too loud.
Behind every Lexus badge, car shoppers expect to find a sophisticated, refined ride befitting a luxury vehicle. Hop behind the wheel of a 2010 HS 250h and, instead, you'll discover a suspension and tire combination that's a little too far on the stiff side of the ride-comfort equation. Road and suspension noise were also more pronounced than we'd anticipated; we'd hoped for better sound insulation from a Lexus with an as-tested price of roughly $45,000.
While we heard more than we would've liked, the HS 250h did reward us with easily modulated brakes, something that's not always guaranteed in a gas-sipper sporting a regenerative braking system. Steering feel was disconnected, and we wished for more assist at slow speeds and while turning in tight quarters.
#2. The 2010 Lexus HS 250h has been recalled for braking issues.
If you've seen the Toyota or Lexus name in the news lately, chances are the word "recall" has also been mentioned. From acceleration problems to faulty spare tire cables, Lexus and its parent company have been forced to address an unusual array of issues. Among them is a problem relating to brake feel and the ABS system on the 2010 HS 250h, something that's corrected by updating the car's software. Recall notices were sent out to owners in February 2010 and target models built between May and December of 2009. If you're considering the purchase of a new 2010 Lexus HS 250h from your local dealer, check the vehicle's build date and verify that any necessary updates have been performed.
#1. Despite its imperfections, the Lexus HS 250h represents a sound value for the efficiency-minded luxury shopper.
At the end of every road test we ask ourselves one important question: Does this vehicle provide consumers with a good value? For the 2010 Lexus HS 250h, the answer depends on how important a luxury nameplate, top-notch materials and style are to a potential buyer. That's because the HS's most direct competition, from a practical perspective, comes from its corporate cousin, the Toyota Prius. Priced about $10,000 less when fully-equipped with nearly all of the same must-have technology, the Prius steals the show with greater usability and versatility, significantly better fuel economy, and smoother power delivery. That being said, the HS edges out that more popular hybrid with arguably sexier styling, a noteworthy jump in materials quality, and for some, a chance to hob nob with a more affluent clientele at the Lexus dealership.
Of course, there are other competitors to consider, like the much sportier BMW 335d, a diesel-powered sedan that gets 23 mpg around town but betters the HS 250h with a 36-mpg highway rating. Yet, when comparably equipped, the 335d easily climbs into the $50,000s. Put it all together and you're left with a Lexus sedan that, albeit imperfect, represents the entry-level luxury sedan market's best combination of efficiency and affordability.