A vine-ripened tomato

2010, Lexus, HS250h

In a small Japanese town far far away Chief engineer Hiroyuki Koba sits at his desk asking the age old question: are Americans more interested in performance or fuel economy? Lexus says that when they ask that question their customers say that if there were a luxury hybrid sedan they would buy it. They need wait no longer.

It's a cool start to the summer in California, the home of hybrids. The 2010 Lexus HS 250h won't be here till late Summer, well after the tomatoes have ripened on the vine, closer to the start of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. The two may seem at odds at first glance, but trust me, the only tomato served at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance will be vine ripened. Earthy elegance, only the best, most exclusive will be eaten at the Lodge at Pebble Beach.

There are very few manufacturers that will admit that one of their own vehicles will compete with another of their models. Lexus says that two of their models, the ES and IS are competitors of the HS. They also mention the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3-Series as competitors. My husband would like the HS the best for its height. The HS is 2-3 inches higher than any of its competitor.

Similar to the Lexus RX 450h, the HS employs an Exhaust Heat Recovery System that captures the heat of spent exhaust gases to speed engine coolant warm-up and allow the hybrid system to stop the engine earlier and more often in the driving cycle when it's not needed, for example in low power demand conditions in city driving. This is fast becoming a must have for fuel economy and emissions reduction. Even Rolls-Royce has a version on its newest concept car.

Toyota says the iconic Toyota Prius has nothing in common with the Lexus hybrid. Uh, snooo-tee! Lexus is the premium brand of Toyota Motor Corporation. Even though the Prius is the iconic hybrid that sells more hybrids than any other, Toyota is the common folk's car, and never the twain shall meet.

You know those vine-ripened tomatoes I was talking about, the ones being served at the Lodge at Pebble Beach? There are two groups that know the distinct difference in taste of tomatoes. One is the very rich that can afford the vine-ripened tomato and the other is the grassroots person that grows their own tomato. In this instance, however, it is the Prius, the grassroots people, that has put hybrids on the map. It is the Prius that has mandated that the socially conscious celebrities have a hybrid.

Lexus could make the HS 250h an Advanced Technology - Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV), but it is a Super Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV). I was told by some Lexus folk it was because Lexus wants to compete in the mid-size luxury sedan classification where SULEVs reside. Lexus says that SULEV emits about seventy percent fewer smog forming emissions than a regular new vehicle. An AT-PZEV emits about 99 percent fewer smog forming emissions than an internal combustion engine vehicle in its segment.

Unlike most premium cars, the HS250h takes regular 87-octane unleaded gasoline. The EPA ratings are 35 miles per gallon city / 34 mpg highway, higher than any other Lexus in the line-up, better than the 3-cylinder Smart car.

This is the fourth hybrid in the Lexus line-up. Lexus has integrated an infrared reduction glass in the car to block out rays in the windshield that will help keep the car cooler requiring less use of the air conditioning. LED lights have been used which requires less power from the car. Thirty percent of the interior and trunk are ecologically based materials.

As we drove along Southern California roads Charles Hubbard, Senior Dealer Education Manager for University of Toyota, talked about some of the attributes of the car. I'm used to looking for the information about the car in the instrument panel, but Lexus has three ways to find the information: the navigation system,a multi-information display and a heads-up display above the instrument panel in the windshield.

The driver can select among four modes: Power, Normal, Eco and EV. Each mode allows for better fuel economy than the next. Don't expect to spend too much time in eco-mode. A slight hill, a tip of the pedal a little too hard and you are out of eco-mode.

Lexus, like most premium vehicles includes a boat load of technology. The optional Technology Package, available only on the Premium model, includes the Heads-Up Display (HUD); Lane Keep Assist (LKA) with Lane Departure Warning (LDW); Pre-Collision System with dynamic radar cruise control; Driver Monitor and Intuitive Park Assist. HUD projects a miniature display on a small portion of the windshield in front of the driver, helping to reduce eye movement to see frequently viewed information such as vehicle speed, turn-by-turn navigation arrows, drive-assist warnings, audio information and Touch Tracer (sensors on steering-wheel switches will show an image of switch layout in the HUD). Another new feature to the Lexus line, LKA, helps drivers stay within their chosen lane and works in cooperation with the LDW function and the dynamic radar cruise control.

The engine is a 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve with intake VVT-i that produces 147 @ 6,000 rpm (not including hybrid drive), with 138 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,400 rpm (not including hybrid drive). When you're include hybrid drive you get 187 horsepower.

Standard features on the HS 250h include leather-trimmed seats; 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat with eight-way power-adjustable front passenger seat; a 10-speaker, 137-watt audio system with a six-disc CD changer, a subwoofer and center speaker; Bluetooth for phone and music streaming capabilities; integrated subscription satellite radio (includes 90-day trial); USB/ iPod connectivity operated via steering wheel controls or the display screen; and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels. I don't know of another car that offers ten standard airbags and front active head rests.

The HS 250h Premium model adds heated/ventilated front seats trimmed in semi-aniline leather; 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels; rain-sensing windshield wipers; heated electrochromic exterior mirrors; genuine wood interior trim; and a new memory system that allows individual driver settings for seat, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, outside mirrors and air conditioning settings that can be recalled automatically by individual key fobs.

The HS 250h will be assembled at the Kokura factory inside Kyushu, Japan factory. It is the only dedicated hybrid factory for Toyota.

The 2010 HS 250h, Lexus is available in standard and Premium models. The standard version will have an MSRP of $34,200, while the Premium model will carry an MSRP of $36,970. You have to include a delivery, processing and handling fee of $875.

To not acknowledge similarities between the third generation Prius and the new Lexus HS250h is to not understand the market of the vine-ripened tomato. The Lexus HS250h is a great hybrid, but so is the Prius. One car is bought by the tomato growers that appreciate the taste of the vine-ripened tomato, the other by the wealthier that can afford the extra cost of vine-ripened tomato. Sometimes those lines cross and a Prius owner will want more luxury and will be willing to pay the price because they know the difference.

By Lou Ann Hammond

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Images of the 2010, Lexus HS250h

2010 Lexus HS 250h hybrid
2010 Lexus HS 250h hybrid
You pick eco-mode
You pick eco-mode
Lots of technology
Lots of technology
LED lights
LED lights