Launched last year as the first “dedicated hybrid” from Toyota’s luxury brand, the 2011 Lexus HS 250h blends an attempt at Lexus levels of luxury with the gas mileage advantage of a hybrid-electric drivetrain. But it hasn’t done so quite as successfully as the 2011 CT 200h compact hybrid hatchback that followed it this year, and the HS 250h is presently a low-volume entry in the expanding Lexus lineup.
The Lexus HS 250h offers some nifty technology and is EPA-rated at 35 mpg city, 35 mpg highway, and 34 mpg combined. But it doesn’t quite deliver either the comfort of the brand’s more upscale sedans or the driving experience of its sportier entries. It has a blunt nose, a high cowl, and slab sides, far from the grace of some of more elegant Lexus models.
It leaves us wondering, frankly, exactly who it is that buys the HS 250h.
The heart of the HS is a 147-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (as used in the Camry Hybrid), mated to Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, including a pair of motor-generators and a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. Total output is 187 horsepower. More than 600 pounds of extra weight, compared to a Prius, keeps the HS 250h at modest performance levels unless you select the “Power” mode. It’s happiest between 20 and 60 mph, and runs out of steam fairly quickly above that level.
Inside, the seats are mounted high despite the sedan’s low roofline, meaning that front passengers are tight on headroom and rear-seat riders are positively slouched. The result is a rear compartment far less spacious than that of a Camry, or even a Corolla. The trunk is large, but the rear seat doesn’t fold down.
Interior materials are luxurious, but tend toward quiet good taste rather than overt opulence. Sound deadening is very good, except for the coarse howl of the engine when it’s under high loads. It’s much more noticeable given the hush under normal circumstances, and far louder and less “Lexus” than almost any buyer would expect.
The suspension is soft; the HS 250h clearly falls into the “comfort” end of the Lexus scale, though a Touring Package with 18-inch wheels includes a retuned suspension. Absent that, the Lexus HS both leans on corners and nose-dives under braking—though the brakes themselves blend regenerative and friction braking almost imperceptibly.
The interior has a faintly futuristic feel, with an angled center stack and an optional Remote Touch mouse/trackball controller for the navigation system and other controls. The standard features list is impressive, but the list of available options hits heavily on the high-tech. Just consider the headlights: No other compact offers all-LED headlamps, which are paired with adaptive lighting (they swivel around corners), automatic high-beam dimming, and washers. Then there’s the Lexus park assist system, adaptive cruise control via radar, a heads-up instrument display, cameras showing both rear- and front views, and lane-keeping assist, which will warn you if you drift out of the lane—and then guide you back in automatically if you ignore it.