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2011 Lexus HS 250h Overview
Now in its second year of production, the Lexus HS 250h sails into 2011 with nary a change but some color adjustments. Apparently Toyota thinks they got it right with their eco-lux, touted as the first luxury sedan to be designed from the ground up as a dedicated hybrid. Exterior color choices for 2011 drop Golden Almond Metallic for Satin Cashmere Metallic, while Black Sapphire Pearl is lost to make way for Deep Sea Mica. Aurora White Pearl is gone without a trace.
Lexus pits this 4-door, 5-passenger hybrid between the IS and ES in terms of size and within its lineup, although buyers didn’t seem to agree with that in terms of sales. While starting its first few months as the top-selling Lexus hybrid, recalls to the braking and fuel systems scared away buyers enough to drop it to the bottom of their sedan sales.
For its front-wheel-drive powertrain, the HS 250h utilizes a 2.4-liter gasoline engine with a pair of electric motors, one exclusively as an engine starter and a generator for the batteries. The twin-cam 4-cylinder engine gets variable valve timing and produces 147 hp for a total of 187 in combination with the electric motors. There are many attempts at maximizing efficiency here, including an exhaust heat recovery system, electric oil pump and electric steering, not to mention aerodynamic enhancements all around. Front and rear spoilers, side skirts, underbody ducting and more add up to a 0.27 coefficient of drag that Lexus will make sure you don’t forget. A continuously variable transmission provides further efficiency, if not quick shifting.
This is a problem with the HS 250h – it never provides the kind of performance you’d expect from a luxury sedan. Even the most sedate entry in the class has some stout acceleration, but more important is the experience of getting up to speed. The HS 250h will reach 60 mph in 8.4 seconds – not exactly slow – but it just accomplishes the task. It has no style or grace in doing so. The transitions are muted, power delivery is delayed, and the engine screams under acceleration, sounding like the fasteners are going to come off when pushed hard. This runs contrary to the huge attempts at sound and vibration isolation that Lexus has made sure you know about in its press releases. Even the electric motors whine obtrusively as the generators recharge the batteries under deceleration.
Still, at a $35K entry price, the HS 250h is an approachable hybrid luxury sedan – as long as you don’t want too much luxury. That price will net you a Base trim that isn’t a stripper with power front bucket seats in leather, a 6-CD and MP3 player, tilt and telescoping leather steering wheel and a full power package including sunroof. However, for real luxury items like wood trim, a power steering wheel, heated/vented seats with upgraded leather and larger 18-inch alloys, you’ll have to move up to the Premium trim, which will cost you an additional 2 grand.
Where you really end up getting screwed is on the options list. The navigation system alone will run you $2,000, while the full Tech Package, with the pre-collision system, lane departure and keep, adaptive cruise and head-up display, will add $4,000 to your bill, with the navigation system requirement. Two clicks and you’re uncomfortably close to 50 grand.
Of course, this would be fine if the HS 250h handled and drove like a $50K car, but it just doesn’t. The suspension is stiff and abrupt, the handling varies from too light to near-numb, and the noise is a constant annoyance, varying only when wind noise eventually supersedes engine noise at cruising speed, right before tire and road noise rise triumphant above them all.
It’s ambitious and noble for Lexus to be taking this dedicated approach to its eco-minded projects. We’ve been reminded continually about how the HS 250h contains 30% plant-based plastics and how it’s 85% recyclable, including its big evil batteries, but that’s just not enough. An ecological approach to automotive design can’t take sacrifices into account as part of the design process. A hybrid, especially a luxury hybrid, has to perform comparably to its conventional counterparts, or it’ll remain a quirky addendum instead of a viable option.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.