2010 Lexus HS 250h Review: Driving Impressions


We spent a warm spring day in the Lexus HS 250h driving the Coast Highway around the Newport Beach, California, and the hilly roads leading inland. The roads varied from two-lane highways to winding canyon roads with briefer stretches of wide-open four-lane highway driving. Our test unit was equipped with most of the available amenities, including the navigation package and the Remote Touch controller.

Driving Impressions

The HS 250h is set up to ride and drive like a compact family car. While the HS is maneuverable and responsive, it's clear the chassis is built for ride quality rather than extreme speeds and road-holding. Lexus has succeeded in achieving a comfortable, easy-to-drive character for the HS 250h, isolating the driver from harsh road irregularities and textures that might come through to the cabin in a sportier car.

In keeping with Lexus priorities, there has been a conscious effort to keep noise to a minimum. Suspension noise is absent, and the car is very well sealed against wind noise. Lexus uses acoustic glass on the front windshield, which helps make it easier to hear conversation while driving. Overall, the car is very quiet at normal cruising speeds and of course, when operating on battery alone. The exception is when full throttle is applied, at which point, a surprising amount of engine noise can be heard.

Electric steering is much improved compared to early applications. It's a low-effort setup, making the HS easy to park and maneuver. At speed, it's reasonably firm and on-center, and around town it has the ease and quickness of a luxury car. Lexus gets a 3 percent fuel economy benefit from the electric steering system, so it makes sense to use it, though we suspect drivers who try to operate the HS as a sports car would be disappointed. We noticed a modest amount of front-end dive upon hard braking; cornering stability seems consistent with a well-designed passenger vehicle.

Fuel economy for the HS 250h is an EPA-estimated 35/34 mpg City/Highway, with combined city/highway fuel economy rated at 35 mpg. Traditional gas-engine cars usually offer their best efficiency on the government's City test, but the electric motors come into play on the hybrid-powered car for substantially improved fuel economy in slower, stop-and-go city-type driving.

We tried each of the four different drive modes. In Eco Mode, the HS feels subtly, but noticeably, different from the Normal mode. Acceleration becomes more gradual as the computer reduces fuel flow, and cabin airflow is reduced somewhat as it minimizes air conditioning use. We wouldn't choose to drive around this way all day, but if we were low on gas in an inconvenient area to refuel, this setting could be quite useful.

The Power mode feels about the same as the Normal mode, except that full-throttle acceleration is enhanced a bit by faster fuel delivery. It's noticeable, but probably not enough of a difference to add all that much quickness.

In EV Mode, the HS is eerily quiet, but range is limited. After about a mile of largely downhill stop-and-go driving, the engine switched itself on to recharge the batteries. We imagine EV Mode would be a useful emergency measure if we actually ran out of gas on the freeway, or for use in areas where only electric cars are permitted.

Brakes are regenerative brakes, so with light pedal pressure, they feel a little bit different at the top of the pedal. Pedal feedback is smooth and progressive, encouraging the kind of long, gradual braking intervals that are most efficient at converting momentum into battery power. With a little more pressure, they quickly transition into a power-stop mode. At that point, when you really need to stop, they grip very well and feel like strong four-wheel discs. We found that we could feel the subtle difference between regen mode and stopping mode, and could operate the brakes to work either way.

The latest human/machine interface from Lexus features a mouse-like controller that sits low on the center stack, within easy reach of the driver. Like any other mouse, it can be adjusted for sensitivity. It controls a cursor on the Navigation screen, which is mounted at the top of the stack where it can be seen at a glance.

It may sound complicated, but the mouse/screen operation should be intuitive to anyone who has ever used a computer. We found we never needed to look down to select audio or climate functions, or to operate the navigation system. Some of the controls, such as audio volume, are duplicated on the steering wheel, so even less movement is required to make selections.

It's on the highway that the HS 250h clearly outshines the Prius, which can be noisy and harsh at interstate speeds. High speed cruising is well settled and relaxing, and the car remains composed and quiet. Wind noise is very low at speeds below 80 mph.

By John Stewart