2010 Lexus HS 250h
Not even a year old, Lexus HS 250h has already endured its fair share of criticisms: It's not as fuel efficient as the Prius. It's more expensive than the Prius. Its brakes will kill you dead... While I can agree that at least two-thirds of these complaints are valid, I can't help but feel that the idea behind the hybrid Lexus is a good one.
Since those of us living in North America dont associate luxury with economy - fuel or otherwise - it will be a long while before we 'Murricans are willing to pay premium prices for luxurious compact cars. But we are willing to pay extra for "green" technologies, and a vehicle like the tech-laden Lexus HS250h hybrid is a clever way to introduce economical luxury cars to the North American market.
But in the case of this Lexus HS, let's not associate "economical" with "small". The HS certainly looks small in photos - an image exaggerated by its small bonnet and the fact that it appears taller than it is wide. But in reality, the HS is a rather large car that manages to dwarf family-friendly cars like the late '90s Camry.
The spec sheet of the Lexus HS 250h reads like a proper luxury car: eco-friendly materials are nestled among the high-tech command center and in the heated front seats; safety features including numerous stability control systems and 10 airbags all come standard. But despite all these niceties, I can't help but feel that the HS 250h is missing... something.
The HS 250h is a bit like a Corolla in a tuxedo, with a borrowed Breitling watch for extra flair. Despite all the gee-whiz technology and fancy accoutrements, the HS still feels like a typical economy car. The doors and trunk feel and sound flimsy, and the HS delivers a fairly rough ride with uninspired handling. Considering that this luxury-branded sedan starts at a hair under $35K, these traits left everyone who experienced the HS feeling underwhelmed.
Get inside and shut those tinny doors and things get decent. The tall greenhouse and steeply raked A-pillars help give the cabin an airy feel and allow for plenty of headroom. The comfy seats and stellar ergonomics are greatly appreciated, too. I love the force-feedback "mouse" that is finding its way into the new Lexus hybrids; it controls just about everything, is mounted high up and is conveniently placed right off the steering wheel. And while I really like having all the media and HVAC controls within easy reach, I dislike the fact that theyre placed on a tall ledge that cuts right through the front of the cabin, practically forming a wall between the two front seats, making an otherwise spacious cabin feel claustrophobic.
Tech geeks may get off on using the tiny console-mounted wand to select the HS' one forward gear, but this little stick makes the HS feel like its more a toy than a real car. Selecting "D" with that wand allows drivers to access the 147 lackadaisical horses that are corralled in the HS' gas engine; 141 apathetic ponies are found somewhere in the electric motor.
Lexus claims that the HS 250h has a 0-60 time of 8.4 seconds - a very respectable number - but since the HS' two powerplants are mated to an unenthusiastic CVT, the car never feels like it wants to move with any sense of urgency. To be fair, the HS 250h feels fine while driving around town, and it's surprisingly pretty good at keeping up with freeway traffic. Merging onto or passing while on said freeways, however, leaves one relying more on the power of prayer than the power of the car itself.