No need to Curb Your Enthusiasm
(since that show's star and creator Larry David is, along with Cameron and Leo, among many Hollywood A, B, C and D-listers that may be looking to move up from Toyota's Prius
) that Lexus has just launched the world's first dedicated luxury hybrid, as well as its most economical to date: the HS 250h
. And, if you're not particularly enthralled at the prospect of a "Lexus Prius", stay with us, and you may come to appreciate the virtues of the brand's 9th distinct model line, as this author did during its debut at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show. It is fitting that this groundbreaking vehicle would make its premiere on the 20th anniversary to the day of another event at the same location that would send seismic shocks throughout the automotive industry: the launch of Lexus, Toyota's luxury brand, built to challenge the world's great luxury marques, such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Cadillac. In these all-too-quick 20 years Lexus has gone, as they remind us in a Press Release, From Question Mark to Landmark.
Lexus Prius? Or more than just that?
What some pundits call the "Lexus Prius" can just as accurately be described as a gussied-up, hybrid Scion tC sedan. Or the more Euro-centric members of our community may think of the HS 250h as a Lexus Avensis with a Camry Hybrid powertrain swap. Such is the flexibility of Toyota's NC platform that it underpins all these disparate front-wheel-drive models whose size slots neatly between the sundry worldwide variants of the Toyota Corolla and the ubiquitous Toyota Camry (and its Lexus ES 350 sibling). The Japanese Domestic Market also offers its own NC variants, such as the recently discontinued Caldina station wagon whose styling strongly influenced the 2nd-generation Toyota-in-GM-drag Pontiac Vibe
; as well as the Allion and Premio sedans whose first generation's arrowhead side rear-quarter window styling
went on to become an archetypal Lexus styling cue in the latest IS and LS sedans. (If you want further proof of how blurred the lines can be between Toyota's "Vibrant Clarity" and Lexus' "L-Finesse" design languages, look no further than the rearmost side/D-pillar sculpturing on the new Toyota Venza
, which would be right at home on a Lexus)
A "magic number" for all these Toyota/Lexus platform-mates is 2700, as in 2700 millimeters, or 106.3 inches, which is the wheelbase length that all these cars share. The Lexus HS 250h's overall length of 184.8" (4695mm) is identical to the 3rd-generation Avensis sedan's and is exceeded only by the 3rd-generation Avensis Tourer's (sportwagon) 187.6" (4765mm) among NC variants. (By contrast, the Scion tC coupe, at 174", or 4420mm, is the shortest). The HS 250h's overall width is 70.3" (1785mm), and it is the tallest of the NC family at 59.3" (1506mm). The added height appears to be a by-product of the Lexus using larger wheels and tires than the other NC variants (17x7" wheels on P215/55R17 tires are standard, with 18x7½" wheels on P225/45R18 tires as shown on the photo cars being optional).
IS alternative, mini-ES, or something else altogether?
Admittedly more relevant than the above inter-NC family comparisons, however, is how the Lexus HS 250h compares to its current-generation IS and ES siblings. At 184.8" (4695mm), the HS is 4.7" (121mm) longer than the IS, but 6.3" (159mm) shorter than the ES. On the other hand, the HS wheelbase, at 106.3" (2700mm) is 1.2" (30mm) shorter than the IS, and 3" (76mm) shorter than the ES. The HS, at 70.3" (1785mm) is also the narrowest of the three, falling 0.6" (15mm) under the IS and 1.4" (36mm) under the ES. And, as with comparisons with its NC family siblings, the HS is the tallest car here as well. At 59.3" (1506mm), it is 2.2" (56mm) taller than the ES and 3.2" (81mm) taller than the ES.
Interior room, on the other hand, soundly trumps the IS and is surprisingly close to the ES. The HS has a greater couple distance (distance hip to hip between front and rear passengers) than any other vehicle in its class other than the ES. The contoured front-seat backs also add to increased rear-seat legroom. No specific numbers, however, have been released at this point.
Another great current unknown is its curb weight, but it is likely to be a bit higher than the 3rd-generation Avensis sedan's 1545 kg, or 3400 lbs, but, probably, less than the Toyota Camry Hybrid's 3680 lbs.
While the laws of engineering and physics dictate that a front-wheel-drive car is unlikely to be as exhilirating a drive as a rear-wheel-driver, don't blindly assume that the Lexus HS is merely a shrunken ES in dynamics and feel. For one thing, Prius aside, the Lexus HS's most popular NC platform siblings are the Scion tC coupe and the European-built Toyota Avensis, both of which compete in markets and segments that simply won't tolerate the Lexus ES's soggy marshmallow handling feel. Believe me, Lexus HS Chief Engineer Hiroyuki (Hiro) Koba (pictured at the top of this story) won't stand for that, either. This Editor, along with his Club Lexus counterpart (and my.IS Moderator) Flipside909, were fortunate enough to dine with Koba-san on the eve of the public unveiling of his latest creation. Being quite articulate in English, he proudly told us that his daily driver is a Toyota MR-S (MR2) Spider, with some TRD modifications and goodies. He also gushed about how much he loves the Lexus IS F. Further, he hinted at the likelihood (subject, of course, to input from the accountants and the marketing folks) that the HS 250h will offer a Sport Package that may include the discreet rear lip spoiler appearing on the Detroit Show car, illuminated door sill plates and, most importantly, a sport suspension with increased damping rates.
While such a suspension might take some cues from the "tuned front and rear stabilizer bars and rear springs and shocks" from the Toyota Prius' Touring Package, keep in mind that, unlike the Prius' relatively crude torsion beam rear axle, the Lexus HS uses a more sophisticated double-wishbone rear suspension, as do the Avensis and Scion tC.
Electric power steering is something that tends to raise alarm bells among hard-core car enthusiasts. Its packaging and fuel economy advantages, plus much-reduced power losses, tend to be overshadowed by its lack of feel versus a conventional hydraulic power steering system. As engineers become more familiar with its intricacies, however, we find improvements in steering feel, such as those the 2nd-generation Lexus IS received as part of its 2009 mid-term upgrades. And, for the HS, the EPS system utilizes a brushless motor on the steering column, which provides improved steering feel and a reduction in harsh feedback.
So, how does it look?
Much is made about how certain cars look different (usually better, occasionally worse) "in the metal" than in photos. As far as the Lexus HS 250h, the photographs tend to flatten the sides and hide the subtle flaring around the wheel openings in the fenders that make the car more interesting and attractive, when viewed from the side, than the photos would indicate. In fact the side of the HS might be described as a 7/10-scale, 4th-generation Lexus LS with a stubby nose. And that nose, unfortunately, may be the exterior's Achilles' heel. While upscale Lexus styling cues such as available LED headlights that strongly echo those of the flagship LS 600hL and vertical bumper sculpturing rising from the lower grill that is reminiscent of the IS F are evident, they are overshadowed by a grille whose three broad, brushed-metal bars shout "Ford" far more loudly than they say "Lexus". We're near-certain that having such an "enclosed" top to the upper grille brings aerodynamic and fuel-efficiency benefits, and the Lexus "Circle L" logo is prominent, present and accounted for, with the translucent blue surround accents that indicate its hybrid powertrain, but it is still a notable departure from the "typical" Lexus look. Admittedly, though, that "enclosed" grille references back to prior Lexus concept cars such as the LF-S
The lower, "exposed" area of the upper grille is punctuated by a small, camera lens-like circle which turns out to be... a camera mounted in the front grille. This available wide-view front monitor helps the driver to check hard-to-see areas by projecting a 190-degree front view on the Navigation screen with the push of a button on the steering wheel.
The subtle curvy swooshes evident in both the front bumper sculpturing rising from the lower grille and the upper grille's chrome frame are echoed in the front-side's bumper-to-fender seam line in a detail that works quite well. The short door edge-to-wheelwell distance and longish front overhang, though, are as diametrically opposed to the 2nd-generation IS as you can imagine, as is the Toyota Prius/8th-generation Honda Civic-like triangular window before the front doors' leading edge.
It is a minor surprise to learn that the subtle "ground effects" body kit on the four bumper corners, lower side sills and diffuser fins are not only standard, but reduce turbulence and, thus, deliver concrete benefits in lowering the coefficient of drag and, by extension, improving fuel economy. Then again, it is only natural that a car such as the Lexus HS 250h, a dedicated hybrid design more focused on optimum fuel economy than its three other Lexus Hybrid siblings, would be styled and shaped first and foremost to help achieve that goal. As an official Lexus Press Release informs us,
its 0.27 drag coefficient (Cd) makes it among the most aerodynamic in its class. A unique gull-wing-shaped roof-panel design reduces mass and overall vehicle height, thus reducing drag and improving fuel efficiency. Smooth A-pillar shape and the optimized angle and curvature of the bumper side panels also reduce wake turbulence, as does the increased taper of the fender side panels. The under-floor covers have been optimally positioned for reduced drag, while airflow restriction in the engine compartment has been lowered by optimizing the air-duct profiles around the radiator. Aerodynamic design has also contributed to decreased wind noise. A smoother transition between windshield (complete with a sound-insulating inner layer) and roof line has improved air flow and reduced turbulence.
In a curious omission, the much-touted solar-powered ventilation system moonroof that uses an electrically powered air circulation fan to help keep the interior cooler in summer and the remotely operated air-conditioning system debuting on the 3rd-generation Toyota Prius is not offered on the Lexus HS. Instead, the HS 250h features a conventional moonroof as standard equipment. A solar moonroof may be available as an option in the future, however.
Moving rearward, the style is, again, familiar Lexus, with its fastback rear roofline, mostly clear LED-laden taillights whose design echoes, particularly, those of the new, 3rd-generation Lexus RX (is this the evolution of L-Finesse taillight design?) and bumper-mounted red reflectors with a very 2nd-generation IS feel to them. As Club Lexus Editor Flipside909 noted, however, the LEDs illuminating the rear license plate of other recent Lexus models are replaced in the HS 250h by more conventional bulbs. When this detail was pointed out to Chief Engineer Hiroyuki Koba, he duly jotted it down in a notepad. Might an upgrade to LEDs come in time for production or, perhaps, as a running change in a future model year?
How is it inside?
Step inside, and the first thing that becomes apparent is the high, sloping center stack/console that comes to a halt just beyond a raised, computer mouse-like control. Has Lexus contracted the dreaded iDrive-itis disease? Thankfully, no. Rather, that is the all-new “Remote Touch” controller for the optional Hard Disk Drive (HDD) Navigation System. Besides having the natural ergonomic feel of a computer mouse, you can even control the tension on the cursor by adjusting the amount of feedback you prefer. At the opposite, top end of the center console is the retractable navigation screen. Its position well back and up front in the dash helps improve visibility and reduce driver eye movement. The Navigation System also includes a new casual-speech voice recognition feature. This allows drivers to give more flexible, conversational commands for easier access and control of the audio, climate and navigation functions. Also included are XM NavTraffic and NavWeather, along with XM Sports and Stock information.
As that center console ends behind the “Remote Touch” controller, it drops off into the leading edge of a wood-trimmed (likely as an option) panel hiding the cupholders, only to rise again into a storage compartment covered by an armrest.
As is typical and befitting of Lexus, the list of standard equipment and amenities is extensive, and includes 10-way power leather-trim seats, a moonroof, Lexus premium audio systems, and a new standard multi-media package. The media features include Bluetooth technology, integrated satellite radio (subscription required), voice recognition, and USB iPod connectivity controlled via steering-wheel controls or a display screen. And, thankfully, the instrument cluster consists of Lexus-worthy electroluminescent gauges positioned directly in front of the driver, as opposed to a Prius, Yaris or Scion-like center-mounted instrument pod.
The exposed array of buttons to the left of the steering column seems to indicate that the clever but oft-panned drop-down door concept to hide these secondary switches pioneered by the 3rd-generation Lexus GS is an idea that, like chronograph-styled gauges, likely won't be repeated.
A couple of options make their first appearance on a Lexus vehicle. The first of these is a Heads-up Display (HUD). The HUD uses high-intensity LEDs to make the display bright enough to be read even in direct sunlight. the other is a Lane-keep Assist feature. This new technology is designed to alert the driver of an unintentional lane departure and adds steering torque to help the vehicle stay in center of its lane. The feature, which can also be turned on and off at the driver's discretion, is powered by the electric power steering motor.
The Lexus HS's back seats are quite a revelation for those used to the IS's tighter confines, with artfully-contoured front-seat backs helping to increase rear-seat legroom.
This being a Lexus, safety equipment is certainly prominent. A class-leading 10 airbags will be standard on the all-new HS 250h as well as active front head rests (finally!), which help passengers in case of certain types of rear-end accidents. The HS also will feature Lexus’ Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) system and optional Pre-Collision System with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Also making its debut is Lexus' take on OnStar telematics: Lexus Enform and Safety Connect. Safety Connect will provide automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, 24/7 emergency and roadside assistance. Lexus Enform’s Destination Assist features operators who will help drivers look up points of interest such as shopping centers or other business locations like Zagat-rated restaurants, and then wirelessly send directions directly to the vehicle’s navigation system. Lexus Enform’s eDestination service will allow customers to pull up multiple points of interest on any computer and send them directly to the car’s navigation system. This innovative new feature will allow drivers to send a total of 200 destinations at a time to their vehicles.
Yes, it's green...
The HS 250h is the Lexus marque's first model to be powered by a four-cylinder gasoline engine. The powertrain is one that has been thoroughly tested, tried and true in the Toyota Camry Hybrid. It consists of the 2AZ-FXE 2.4-liter 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle gasoline engine, which produces 147 hp (108 kW) and 138 lb/ft (187 Nm) of torque. It is supplemented by 650V electric motors with a NiMH 245V traction battery with a maximum output of 40 hp (29 kW) to produce a peak total of 187 hp (140 kW). The power is transmitted through an electronic continuously variable transmission (ECVT). And bear in mind that all hybrids are not created equal, as the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive / Lexus Hybrid Drive is capable of running on electric-only power longer than some other systems such as Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) or General Motors' so-called "mild hybrids". Naturally, the Lexus HS 250h has been certified as a SULEV (Super-Low Emissions Vehicle) by the U.S. Environmental Protection agency (EPA). And, notably, the HS is calibrated to run on 87-octane regular gasoline.
Other fuel economy-aiding enhancements include an exhaust heat recovery system reduces engine warm-up time, thus allowing it to stop earlier, more often, and for longer periods. This system will actually make its debut in the all-new 2010 Lexus RX 450h. And a windshield with infrared-ray (IR) reduction properties, which helps keep the interior cooler, has been adopted in order to decrease the amount of air conditioning needed to lower the cabin temperature.
While EPA Fuel Economy numbers have not been determined as of this writing, there are several clues as to what to expect. The Toyota Camry Hybrid, which shares the Lexus HS 250h's powertrain in a larger and, presumably, heavier car, reports 33 mpg (city) and 34 mpg (highway). Most intriguingly, Lexus' U.S. Vice President and General Manager, Mark Templin, at the Detroit Auto Show Press Conference unveiling stated that "the HS will be the most fuel efficient Lexus...we expect it will offer the best combined mpg of any luxury vehicle in the U.S. In fact, its city mpg should be higher than the two-passenger Smart micro car". That number, by the way, is the same 33 mpg (city) as the Camry Hybrid. Sounds like the Lexus HS will be seeing at least 34 mpg (city)...
Perhaps some of you might be perplexed at the difference between those estimates and the 50 mpg combined
estimates for the 3rd-generation Toyota Prius mentioned by the brand's U.S. Vice President and General Manager, Bob Carter during the Prius debut Press Conference.
We must remember that the Prius is a lighter car, with a smaller (1.8-liter vs the Lexus HS's 2.4-liter) gasoline engine, an even lower aerodynamic coefficient of drag (0.25 vs Lexus HS's 0.27) that lacks the weight-adding extra luxury features and "quietness measures" (such as dynamic dampers at each engine-mounting point, special coatings that dampen both engine and road noise and improved seals around doors, hood and fenders to reduce wind-noise penetration) found in the Lexus HS.
In this day and age, ecological awareness ("greenness", so to speak) goes beyond exemplary fuel economy numbers. And, while Lexus isn't going to the extremes of upstart (and, some say, vaporware) carmaker Fisker, who promises to use wood only from fallen trees that have succumbed to age, burned in forest fires or sunken on lake bottoms; and offering, in a bid to save the cows, Bamboo Viscose textile seating instead of leather, Lexus is nevertheless taking a significant number of eco-friendly measures. The HS will be the first Lexus to utilize plant-based, carbon-neutral “Ecological Plastics” or bio-plastics. Among the areas of utilization will be an industry-first use in luggage-trim upholstery. Other areas are the cowl-side trim, door scuff plate, tool box area, floor-finish plate, seat cushions, and the package tray behind the rear seats. Overall, approximately 30% of the interior and luggage area is covered with Ecological Plastic. Further, 85% of the HS, including the battery, can be recycled.
...but you can't get it in green.
As hinted at in our previous my.IS Front Page story
, the multiple "build your Lexus" kiosks located throughout the carmaker's Detroit Show stand also revealed the exterior and interior colo(u)r combination options available for the HS Hybrid. One unexpected surprise is the utter lack of green and light/bright blue shades in the exterior colo(u)r palette. These colo(u)rs that are usually identified with ecological ("green", dare we say it) themes tend to go in opposite cycles, car colo(u)r pundits inform us. In other words, when blue is popular (as it is at present), green tends to fall from favor, and vice versa (as was the case throughout the 1990s). Still, something like Breakwater Blue Metallic or Cerulean Blue Metallic would seem to be a natural HS Hybrid colo(u)r choice.
Instead, upon glancing at the exterior colo(u)r choices, the first impression is how it is a snapshot of current colo(u)r popularity trends, with a preponderance of pearl white and silvery shades that seems to border on overkill. Besides the Starfire Pearl so popular at the present, the HS 250h offers two exclusive shades: Aurora White Pearl (shared only with the 2010 RX 450h) and Moonlight Opal, the latter being the silvery-white shade of the pre-production HS that appears on the Detroit Auto Show Lexus stand and in the photographs that accompany this article. At the other end of the spectrum, Black Opal Mica, another hybrid-centric colo(u)r (to date available only on the GS 450h and LS 600h) is also offered on the HS 250h. The rest of the HS Hybrid exterior colo(u)r palette is quite familiar to Lexus stalwarts, and will be listed at the end of this section, in conjunction with their available interior colo(u)r choices. Besides the familiar Parchment, Light Gray (as shown on the Detroit pre-production prototype) and Black, Lexus' third two-tone interior - Black & Light Gray - is available. For the latter, picture black seat surrounds/bolsters and a gray center seat section in the interior photos shown earlier in the story, and you've got the picture.
Here, then, is a list of the Lexus HS 250h U.S.-market colo(u)r combinations for the 2010 model year, listing exterior colo(u)r first, followed by available interior colo(u)rs:
Starfire Pearl / Parchment, Light Gray, Black or Black/Light Gray two-tone
Aurora White Pearl / Light Gray or Black
Tungsten Pearl / Light Gray, Black or Black/Light Gray two-tone
Moonlight Opal / Parchment, Light Gray or Black
Golden Almond Metallic / Parchment or Black
Black Sapphire Pearl / Parchment, Light Gray or Black
Matador Red Mica / Parchment, Light Gray, Black or Black/Light Gray two-tone
Smoky Granite Mica / Light Gray, Black or Black/Light Gray two-tone
Obsidian / Parchment, Light Gray, Black or Black/Light Gray two-tone
Black Opal Mica / Parchment, Light Gray or Black
Is the HS a niche or core Lexus model?
A visit to the Lexus Worldwide index page
and following its links reveals that Lexus' model lineup can be loosely divided into core and fringe (or niche) models. The core models would be those sold in virtually all markets with an official Lexus presence, while the fringe models are those only sold in certain regions of the world.
Core Lexus models are the three rear-wheel-drive sedan ranges (IS, GS, LS); the RX crossover SUV (especially now with its imminent introduction to the Japanese Domestic Market wearing a proper Lexus badge); and the SC (although its plunging sales volumes and probable death at the hands of the upcoming IS C makes its status increasingly tenuous). The large LX SUV, surprisingly, is almost a core model, were it not for its exclusion from Japan and virtually all of Europe. The ES must qualify as a fringe model as well, since it is sold in America (including Brazil), China, Taiwan, South Korea and the Middle East but not in Japan, Europe or Oceania (Australia/New Zealand). And the Lexusized Toyota 4Runner, the GX, is for North American comsumption only.
The HS, given its status as a smallish, low CO2, eco-friendly fuel economical vehicle is surely a shoo-in as a core Lexus vehicle, right? Wrong! To much surprise, Lexus has determined that the HS 250h will be sold only in Japan and North America, pointedly excluding it from other markets such as Europe and Oceania. It seems that the HS 250h's CO2 numbers are not low enough for the demanding European market, while Lexus Australia, according to a Drive.com.au article
that quotes both chief executive John Roca and product planning manager Peter Evans, appears to want it but also fears straying from its current RWD-centric-sedans-only strategy there. Further muddying the waters is the fact that the HS is actually longer than the IS, and seemingly, many Lexus markets (especially Europe) prefer a car that is clear-cut smaller than the IS, such as the long-rumo(u)red C-Premium hatchback
. While yet another new GoAuto story by Byron Mathioudakis
still holds out hope that C-Premium will be rear-wheel-drive, this author is becoming skeptical, and has braced himself for the probable reality of a Corolla-derived C-Premium. Might the answer come around this time next year?
When can we get our hands on one?
The Lexus HS 250h will be built at the Kyushu plant in Japan alongside Lexus' IS, ES and RX, as well as the Toyota Highlander, and Lexus' U.S. Vice President and General Manager, Mark Templin, forecasts 30,000 sales in the Lexus HS' first 12 months in that market.
Mr. Templin's closing comments at the Sunday 11 January 2009 Press Conference
(which ran from 10:50 to 11:15 am) debuting the Lexus HS 250h are a perfect summary of where Lexus has been and where it is going: "We started out twenty years ago relentlessly pursuing perfection, we got passionate about it, and now we are pursuing perfection and innovation in ways our customers never thought possible. The HS 250 is the anniversary present we are sharing with you today. The HS is all hybrid and all Lexus and we can't wait until it goes on sale late this summer."
We at my.IS would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Lexus USA for the privilege of our presence in Detroit at the launch of this significant new model.