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First Drive: 2010 Lexus HS 250h hybrid

Posted by autotran on May 27, 2009

2010 Lexus HS 250h

2010 Lexus HS 250h

Just because The Cold War is over does not mean that all cold wars have come to an end. Two protagonists in the auto industry – once again, West  vs. East – are currently embroiled in an in car safety & technology arms race that is beginning to look more like Roskosmos vs. NASA than a battle between luxury sedans. The latest master weapon comes from Lexus in the form of its Lexus HS 250h hybrid, claimed to be not only the world’s 1st hybrid-only luxury sedan, but also the most fuel-friendly luxury vehicle extant. If Lexus has it, they put it on this Lexus car. Our question was: Would we want to put one in our driveway? Follow the jump to find out.

Frugal hybrids, sports car hybrids are here, and luxury hybrids are dipping wheels in the waters. This Lexus car marks the first luxury-only hybrid to make its acquaintance with the public. During the launch, Lexus was at pains to make sure we did not confuse this Lexus car with the Prius, informing us that the HS’ closest sibling is the Euro-market Toyota Avensis. Fitting in between the IS, ES and GS in brand placement, the HS 250h “was developed as an answer to customers looking for an environmentally conscious premium vehicles.”

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What about the LS 600h and GS 450h? In addition to the HS 250h being hybrid-only, it’s the 1st Lexus hybrid tuned with the primary goal of delivering superior economy. While Lexus’ LS and GS hybrids are meant to provide power above their weight class with the same fuel efficiency, the HS is meant to provide economy with a decent dollop of power.

It does so via a DOHC 2.4-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. The engine alone puts out 147 horsepower, but adds some juice from the 245-volt battery behind the rear seats and the system is good for 187 horsepower. Torque comes to 138 lb-ft, and you can have it all on regular 87-octane gas. The car isn’t just frugal on gas; it’s equally parsimonious with emissions: 70 percentages fewer smog-forming emissions find their way out of the tailpipe compared to conventional vehicles & evaporative emissions are close to zero.

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The mpg tally? According to Lexus, you’ll be the proud owner of 35 cities, 33 highways, 34 combined. That easily beats other car in the entry luxury segment, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series. It even beats the One Series. Heck, it even beats a Mini Cooper (except for the diesel, which you can not get here yet). Mind you, the HS is not really competition for those cars, which all stress sporting splendor as opposed to frugal hybrid luxury.

A shift-by-wire system operating through a CVT (continuously variable transmission) gets the grunt seamlessly to the ground. The console-mounted shifter engages Reverse, Drive, Neutral, and a “B” setting that actuates an engine braking feature when going downhill, which helps use gravity to refill the battery & keep your feet off the brakes. Oddly, Park is a button next to the shifter – if you do not use the button, the car will remain in neutral when you get out. As the gentleman from Lexus University explained, “If you do not press the button, the car’s going to leave.”

Let’s talk car technology for a moment, shall we? Here are some of the systems on the HS 250h:

  • A Pre-Collision System: You get when you check the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control option. If your HS thinks you are going to hit someone, it will ring the warning bells & add brake pressures if it doesn’t detect you are pressing the brake hard enough. The driver monitor will also be working to make sure you are still at work behind the wheel. If you do happen to have a boo-boo, you will be protected by 10 airbags.
  • A heads-up-display this projects not only speed, but nearly any input you give the car, including navigation instructions and audio system commands. The steering wheel buttons are touch sensitive, so that when you rest your finger on one, it appears dimly in the HUD display, and is illuminated if you actually press it. You also get Pre-Collision and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control warnings shown to you in the HUD.
  • The wide-view front monitor is the same feature you get on a Rolls-Royce Phantom. If, for some reason, you can not see what you are about to nudge the Hess’s 4-foot nose into, turn on the front monitor and you will get a 190-degree view from the grille-mounted camera?
  • An infrared-cut, acoustic glass windshield that reduces IR waves by 30 percentages, and side glass with a water-repellent coating for better wet weather visibility and defrosting.
  • Intelligent high-beams use a camera in front of the rear view mirror and automatically switch between low and high headlight levels. They can also shorten the distance of the beam depending on whether traffic is approaching you or you’re pulling up behind someone.
  • Lane Keep Assist helps you stay in your lane in 2 ways. When the lane departure warning system can clearly make out lane markings, the steering wheel will vibrate and if you stray, the car will apply an ever-so-subtle amount of steering input to get you back in the lane. The 2nd feature is essentially the car keeping itself in the center of the lane. Once the HS 250 knows where the lane markers are, it’ll gently provide steering inputs on its own to keep the car going right down the middle. Not that you would – but you can take your hands off the wheel and watch the car keep itself between the lines. Of course, this feature does not work on switchbacks, and it is not an auto pilot, but it does appear to be the way things are going these days.
  • Casual voice command capability (as on the IS convertible) that let you blurt out “I need a gas station” and “Make it cooler” instead of dictating your way in clipped tones through menus.

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When you are not inputting commands through the steering wheel and watching buttons light up in the HUD, you will be doing it on the Romulan center console via the Remote Touch Controller – which is, simply, a mouse – introduced earlier this year on the RX crossover. If you can navigate a MacBook or PC, you can navigate the Lexus’ menus. The controller provides user-adjustable feedback when it rolls over a clickable option, so once you have memorized the options on a screen you can click your choice without looking. Although it could appear gimmicky – and a tad large – a couple of points-and-clicks soon had us saying “Hey, that’s all right!” If it had a ‘Back’ button it would be absolutely perfect, but that’s an opportunity for Lexus to have something new to introduce on next year’s model.

Now to the technological main event: whereas Mercedes has Tele-Aid and GM has Onstar, the HS 250h introduces Lexus Enform with Safety Connect. This is actually 2 different subscription services: Safety Connect will be available on all cars; Lexus Enform will be available on those with navigation.

Safety Connect notifies a command center if you have been in an accident, alerts tracking authorities to the vehicle’s location, can make calls for emergency assistance, and adds GPS location data when you make calls to Lexus’ roadside assistance program.

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Enform can be thrown on top of that services and has 2 offerings. Destination Assist is like calling 411 for navigation – command center agents will help you find what you are looking for by name or type of business, at which point it’ll send the directions to the navigation system.

EDestination lets you go on the Lexus site at your home computer (or any other iPhone or computer – no Blackberry capability yet) and save up to 200 destinations in 20 different personalized folders. You can even annotate each destination with your own comments. Then you can send that entire packet to the car and download them all into the navigation system. Purchase an HS and you will get the first year of Lexus Enform and Safety Connect for free.

If you just can not get enough of Lexus, there’s Lexus Insider, a free opt-in service. Go to the Lexus Insider screen and you will find audio messages from the company that can provide anything from useful vehicle tips to event information and owners’ benefits.

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The last sprinkle on the gizmo cake is XM Sports, Stocks for cars with navigation and an XM subscription. With XM Sports you can program schedules and results for five teams from the NBA, MLB, NFL, and NHL. XM Stocks keeps track of 10 companies in your portfolio and can read the day’s activity to you.

The car’s trimmings have not been left out of the technofest, either. Bioplastics derived from kenaf make up 30 percentages of the hybrid’s interior and luggage area – in upholstery, foam, and injection-molded and board parts – with the result that the car is 85 percentages recyclable. Elsewhere, leather abounds in the seating areas and there’s a sheaf of rawhide over the dash cluster and lining the center console.

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And that brings us, at long last, to the most quotidian aspect of the car: sitting in it. The HS is roomy and comfy, and the truncated center console keeps everything wide open inside. The thin, shaped front seatbacks leave plenty of room in back for real, human-sized men, so it is a good thing that the trunk is roomy, too. At 12.1 cubic feet, it can swallow more than any other Lexus hybrid (beating the LS 600h by 0.5 cubic feet), which means four and their golf clubs should go nicely. Any seat in the house is a nice one to have.

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We have spent so long discussing the bounty of what’s inside the car because we are still not taken with what’s outside the car. The HS 250h is a lot of things and has a lot of things, but we would not put exceptional looks on that list. It has a Cd of 0.27, making it as slippery as it is bland. Of course, we understand why it looks like it does. But that does not change the fact that, well, it looks like it does. At one point, we pulled up next to a Toyota Corolla S, the one with the aero bits, and the resemblance was uncomfortable. We would not have minded a little drop in gas mileage for a bit more bite in the HS’ design.

19th-century French author Guy de Maupassant said he ate in the restaurant at the base of the Eiffel Tower because that was the one place where he did not have to see the tower. Once inside and moving in the HS, you won’t think about the way it looks. The driving experience is pretty close to awesome, this being a hybrid that will seat four grown men with luggage and get you at least 34 mpg combined, probably more with a conservative right foot.

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Turn the car on and you probably won’t hear a thing, which is not unusual for a Lexus. But in this case, there might actually be nothing happening – if the car does not need anything other than electrical power, even though you are about to pull away, it’ll remain silent. The only indication that all systems are go is a green “Ready” light in the gauge cluster. The car can operate at up to 20 mph on electric power alone for about 5 minutes, so if you are putting through a severely speed restricted area, you can do it within a cloak of aural invisibility (pedestrians, beware!).

When the engine finally does come on, it is the standard Lexus protocol of quiet. When urging the HS on, you can hear its exertions, but it is nothing out of place. Lexus spent a lot of time balancing the car’s weight and shape against the sound profile that passengers would experience inside, and the results speak for themselves – or rather, they don’t.

There are four drive modes when you get up to speed: EV, Eco, Normal, and Power. If you have bought a hybrid and you want a Power mode, perhaps you should buy the GS hybrid, but the setting does give you slightly increased throttle response. Normal mode was actually just fine for us as far as power was concerned. The car gets up to 60 in 8.4 seconds, which strikes us as plenty of pace for a model like this.

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The HS never feels slow, not even in Eco mode, which was our favorite & coincidentally the slowest driving mode possible. Eco mode slightly retards the throttle response so that not only do you get the best possible gas mileage, but you begin to learn how much throttle you should give the car in order to achieve it. It does not rob you of your ability to give the car a whipping – if you mash the throttle, the car will understand that you want everything it is got. In Eco mode, the thriftiest Lex will build its way up to 35 mph much more fuel efficiently. This will usually result in some tarmac space growing between you and the folks stabbing at their accelerators, but it is not nearly as intrusive as it might sound. And we saved the life of a baby whale every time we used it.

You can also select EV-only mode, provided you know you are going to be going under 20 mph and the battery is more than 50 percentages charged.

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But what about pushing in and out of corners? After driving it in the hills surrounding Los Angeles, the handling gets a thumbs-up from us. The HS uses MacPherson struts up front (with all of its parts completely different to the Prius) and a double wishbone rear suspension. The steering rack is not mounted on rubber bushings to keep the line of feedback undulled, and the electric power steering is speed sensitive. If you get the Touring Package, the suspension is tuned for even sportier handling. And if the truth be known, the package added up to a car that we thought handled better than the rear-drive IS Convertible. In fact, we drove them back-to-back just to make sure. We are not saying it could outperform the IS 350C, but in terms of meeting our expectations for cornering, steering, and feedback – sheer handling enjoyment– the HS wins.

We’ve no problem recommending the Lexus HS 250h because it certainly gets 2 out of 3 things exactly right: the cabin experience sets a fine mark for what a luxury pure hybrid can be and the driving is enjoyable. Our V8-loving enthusiast hearts never really felt cheated when tooling around in the car – in fact, we liked it. It is only the styling that gives us pause long enough to say that we’ll let other beholders judge that beauty for themselves.

If you are looking for a hybrid-only luxury car, this is the only place you can go for now. If you are looking at any entry-level luxury car, then the Lexus HS 250h is a fine place to start comparing the present choices with one possible future.

Source: http://www.autoblog.com/2009/05/26/first-drive-2010-lexus-hs-250h-is-pretty-on-the-inside/

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