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Is the Lexus HS the Sybil of the automotive world?

Is the Lexus HS the Sybil of the automotive world?-049_hs_250h-prv.jpgThe 1973 best-selling book Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber, along with its film adaptations from 1976 and 2007, tells the true-life story of a woman who was the most notorious case of multiple personality disorder (dissociative identity disorder) on record, with 16 reputed separate personalities. And, while such an array of personalities in a human being is, arguably, the ultimate in dysfunction, in an automobile such versatility can, in fact, be a virtue.

Hybrid gasoline-electric cars seem to fall into two categories. On the one hand, most people associate hybrids with the parsimonious, fuel economy-at-all-costs school best exemplified by the Toyota Prius (which has become the Kleenex or Scotch Tape-like synonym for hybrid cars) as well as both iterations of the Honda Insight and the Honda Civic Hybrid. At the other end lie Lexus' trio of hybrid versions of the GS and LS sedans and RX crossover SUV, as well as the failed hybrid version of the Honda Accord, which emphasize improved acceleration and performance over a modicum of improved city fuel economy. Leave it to Lexus to bridge these two extremes with its fourth hybrid entry, the HS 250h, the world's first dedicated, hybrid-only luxury sedan.

Following the pattern first set by our story on the Lexus IS F Press Preview, this account will focus primarily on the new bits of information made known to us about the Lexus HS. For basic information, we suggest reading Lexus' latest official Press Release, as well as our initial Front Page story on the HS 250h, which, itself, contains links to further information.

Chief Engineer as symphony conductor?
As with the launch of the Lexus IS C retractable-hardtop convertible, this my.IS Editor was invited to The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, California for the Lexus HS Press Preview. We were first met by a very welcome and familiar face: Chief Engineer Hiroyuki (Hiro) Koba, whom my Club Lexus Editor colleague Ryan (Flipside909) and I had the pleasure of dining and chatting with at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show Press Conferences.

In his presentation, Koba-san reveals that "I thought of myself not as a chief engineer but as a conductor, trying to direct the different amounts of each concept element into a balanced symphony, one that would end in the creation of a harmonious sedan, the HS...A Lexus symphony would not be complete without an infusion of luxury. We were focused on creating a feel befitting the first-ever luxury dedicated hybrid."

The "Lexus Prius" question, revisited
While our previous HS 250h Front Page story, especially in its Lexus Prius? Or more than just that? and IS alternative, mini-ES, or something else altogether? sections address the issue of the vehicle's parentage and relation to other Toyota models at length, there is enough misinformation out there that the topic should be revisited. The Lexus HS 250h relates to the 3rd-generation Toyota Avensis sedan (a larger-than-Corolla, smaller-than-Camry model built exclusively in Derbyshire, England) in much the same way as the Lexus ES and the Toyota Camry have always been related. In fact, the HS and the latest Avensis share an identical 2700mm (106.3") wheelbase, 184.8" (4695mm) overall length and double-wishbone with trailing arms independent rear suspension.

The Toyota Prius also shares the same wheelbase, but uses a much simpler, less sophisticated and less capable torsion beam rear axle. It is hardly unheard of for a given automotive platform or vehicle to offer alternative rear suspensions. A prime example of this is the 1999-2004 Ford Mustang Cobra, which came with an independent rear suspension as opposed to the four-bar link solid rear axle used on base and GT models. And those of you of a certain age (or who are really into automotive history) may recall that the British Triumph TR4A came in both solid rear axle and IRS (independent rear suspension) versions.

A number of haters both within and beyond our site have disparagingly compared the Lexus HS to the Toyota Corolla, but the latter sits on a shorter 2600mm (102.4") wheelbase. Admittedly, as with the NC platform that underpins the Lexus HS, Toyota Avensis and Prius and Scion tC, the Corolla platform comes in both double-wishbone independent rear suspension (Toyota Matrix XRS and AWD) and torsion beam rear axle (base Matrix and all Corollas) versions.

Is the Lexus HS the Sybil of the automotive world?-p1010076.jpgLEaDing the way
Although halogen projector beam headlamps are standard on the Lexus HS 250h, Light Emitting Diode (LED) headlamps are available as an option. This places it in the rarified company of its RX 450h and LS 600hL siblings, Cadillac's Escalade Platinum monster SUV and Audi R8s outside of North America as the only vehicles to offer this technology, and all (except the RX 450h) cost tens of thousands of dollars more than the Lexus HS. This option is packaged with Headlamp Washers, an Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS) that pivots the headlights in the direction of travel for improved cornering visibility and Intelligent High-Beam headlights. The latter feature automatically switches between high and low beams by detecting, via a smart beam camera mounted forward of the rearview mirror, the headlights of oncoming vehicles and the taillights of vehicles in front. The system will automatically dims lights up to approximately 2,625 ft. (800 m) when approaching another oncoming vehicle and up to approximately 2,000 ft. (600 m) when approaching another vehicle from the rear.

Naturally, LEDs are also used on the taillights and on the center high-mounted brake light.

Step inside...
There is much to discuss regarding the Lexus IS 250h's interior, and, counterintuitive as it may seem, the best place to start may be the back seat. At any rate, that's what Bob Allan of Lexus College did in his technical overview. The rear air conditioning vents, located at the aft end of the front center armrest/console, have their own blower to help reduce the rear seat temperature more quickly. Slim, contoured seatbacks ensure excellent rear seat legroom, almost 4" more than in the 2nd-generation Lexus IS sedan, to be precise. Attractive and modern as they are, their quest to maximize rear seat room comes at a minor price: the loss of the handy front seatback pockets for stowing papers, magazines and brochures that have been a Lexus mainstay for so many years.

Is the Lexus HS the Sybil of the automotive world?-img_0800_sized.jpgMoving up front, a conventional instrument cluster mounted in front of the steering wheel is flanked by a not-so-conventional short jutting front center console that resembles a ski slope (or Jay Leno's or Michael Schumacher's chin, if you prefer a more anthropomorphic simile). Meanwhile, the lower, flat portion of the front center console houses two cupholders covered by a rotating door. This door, as well as the door-mounted window switch trim plates feature a metal-meets-plastic-meets-Corian finish (shown at left) that, while not unattractive, somehow seems to clash with the upper console's brushed metal finish. Optionally available (either as a stand-alone option in conjunction with heated seats or as part of the Premium Package) are wood trim plates, in a typical-for-Lexus Bird's Eye or Walnut finish. In this author's opinion, the modern, even avant-garde interior of the HS is crying out for more adventurous trim options. A blue-tinted metal to match the blue of the starter button and the Remote Touch Controller's illumination, for instance. Or, in keeping with the HS's eco-credentials, why not do an Aston Martin and offer bamboo wood trim, which is the world's most easily and quickly renewable wood.

Ah, yes, the Remote Touch Controller. That would be the computer mouse-like control at the base of the upper center console that made its debut in the just-launched 3rd-generation Lexus RX. This “haptic” (force-feedback) remote controller consolidates and simplifies control functions and layout and, as such, is Lexus' reply to BMW's iDrive, Audi's MMI and Mercedes-Benz's COMAND systems. Remote Touch promises to be a quantum leap over the German systems, but a definitive opinion will await our chance to sample it hands-on. Lexus HS models not equipped with the Navigation Package (and, thus, lacking Remote Touch) receive an additional storage compartment in its place (as shown below right).

Is the Lexus HS the Sybil of the automotive world?-p1010065.jpgWhile the HS 250h is only the second Lexus to feature the Remote Touch Controller, it marks the debut in a Lexus vehicle of a trio of automotive technologies. The first of these is a Heads-Up Display, which projects vehicle speed, audio status, a visual projection of the steering mounted controls, turn-by-turn navigation directions and warnings for the Pre-Collision and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control systems on the windshield. The display is adjustable for height and illumination, and can be turned on or off via a dash switch.

The second new feature is a Lane-Keep Assist adjunct to the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control system available on other Lexus models. Lane-Keep Assist actually comprises two functions: Lane Departure Warning (LDW), which alerts the driver of an unintentional lane departure through a buzzer and gentle countersteering, is active at speeds over 28 mph; and Lane-Keeping Assist (LKA) proper, which is active at speeds over 45 mph and is slightly more assertive about keeping you in your lane. The system utilizes two cameras, one mounted behind the rear view mirror that detects lane-markers, and the other, mounted on the steering column, detects a drowsy or distracted driver (the so-called Driver Monitor function, which works even if the driver is wearing sunglasses, as it maps the whole face and not just the eyes). The LDW function, is available when the dynamic radar cruise control is not active, as long as it's outside of the operational range of the LKA function. LKA, on the other hand, is only available when dynamic radar cruise control is active.

The third feature is a Wide-View Front Monitor adjunct to the Backup Camera/Rearview Monitor available on other Lexus models. A feature shared with the Rolls-Royce Phantom (heady company, indeed), the front camera is integrated into the front grille opening just below the hybrid blue-accented Lexus emblem. It can either be activated manually via a switch or set to function automatically whenever the gear selector is set to a forward range but, in either case, will stop functioning when vehicle speed exceeds 7.5 mph (12 km/h).

These new features are bundled with the familiar Pre-Collision System (PCS), Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Intuitive Park Assist (IPA) (this being the bumper-mounted round parking sensors and not the Lexus LS's self-parking option) in a Technology Package, while the Wide-View Front Monitor and IPA alone comprise a Park Assist Package. Both of these packages require the Premium and Navigation Packages as well.

There is actually a fourth feature that debuts in the Lexus HS 250h: Lexus Enform with Safety Connect, an all-new telematics system that is Lexus' reply to GM's OnStar, BMW Assist and Mercedes-Benz's TeleAid. As such, it is the successor to Lexus Link. Rather than discuss its fine points here, we refer you to an official Lexus Press Release on the subject.

Is the Lexus HS the Sybil of the automotive world?-068_hs_250h-prv.jpgThe HS' 4-mode Hybrid System. One-up on the IS F's 3-mode VDIM?
Nah, we're just indulging in a little hyperbole, for comparing the two systems is an apples-to-oranges proposition. The four hybrid modes, however, are key in the Sybil parallels that started our story. As Matt Stone of Motor Trend magazine so aptly described them, "Unique is the HS's programmable engine-management system. The car starts in Normal mode, which is designed to deliver linear throttle response and everyday balance between performance and economy. Three buttons on the instrument panel allow a choice between Power, Economy, and EV modes. Power is obvious, calibrated for the best performance...Economy mode softens the throttle response at takeoff with the intent to educate drivers to be smoother away from the line, when most fuel is wasted." As for EV Mode, it allows for electric motors and batteries-only, no gasoline engine running provided one drives no faster than 20 mph and the batteries have a 50% or greater available charge. On average, figure you can use EV Mode for 3 or 4 miles' worth of driving, tops.

A hybrid assembly process worthy of the Lexus pursuit of perfection
After Bob Allan of Lexus College wound down his presentation, Mark Templin, Lexus USA Group Vice President and General Manager took the podium and, as part of his presentation, informed us on the HS 250h's assembly process. What follows are excerpts of his comments.

"It's only fitting that the hybrid transaxles and motor generators for the HS are built at the world's only dedicated hybrid unit manufacturing plant. I'm referring to the Kokura factory, which is part of the award-winning Kyushu manufacturing complex, where the HS will be assembled (as are some Lexus IS sedans, all IS C convertibles and RX 450h crossover SUVs).

The Kokura plant, which opened last August, was built in order to isolate the manufacture of the hybrid system. Because the main component of the hybrid system is an electric motor, great emphasis has been placed on the plant's cleanliness and particle-free atmosphere.

An atmospheric pressure control system was engineered to minimize contamination by fine airborne particles. The system pressurizes the air inside of the building so that it's constantly being forced outside of the plant. Not only is the inside air pressure set at a different level compared to the outside, but the inside pressure is fine-tuned in specific areas. The further downstream the manufacture process is the higher air pressure becomes.

Components are taken one way through the plant, while air flow is directed in the opposite direction to again help minimize airborne particles and keep them from settling on parts. The relatively low ceilings in the Kokura plant were designed specifically to help reduce the volume of air inside.

Temperature and humidity are measured and recorded daily at the plant in order to help ensure a stable and consistent environment all year round.

Finished hybrid units are put on a conveyor and sent to the plant's enclosed loading dock via an airlock so that particles cannot enter the plant. The one entrance and one exit to the loading dockare controlled to ensure that they're not both open at the same time. Once loaded, the parts are trucked to the Kyushu facility for final vehicle assembly.

From casting to machining and assembly, the hybrid units installed in both the HS and the all-new RX are manufacctured entirely at the Kokura plant. Throughout this process, the hybrid units are repeatedly subjected to a range of stringent inspections to help ensure their high quality."

7 reasons why the HS and Camry Hybrid powertrains aren't identical
As the Press Preview presentations ended and the floor opened for questions by the assembled journalists, one jumped out in this author's mind: Given that the Lexus HS 250h shares the Toyota Camry Hybrid's 2AZ-FXE 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, 187 hp Atkinson cycle gasoline engine with 650V electric motors and NiMH 245V traction battery plus electronic continuously variable transmission (ECVT) powertrain, are the Camry Hybrid's mechanicals also built at Kokura, thus benefitting from Lexus' extra-stringent quality control?

No, we were told, and, further, the Lexus HS 250h is not simply a Toyota Avensis with revised sheetmetal, extra sound deadening and a straight Camry Hybrid powertrain swap, for there are seven key changes that were made to those mechanicals before making their Toyota-to-Lexus move. The most prominent of these is an Exhaust Heat Recovery System positioned after the heater core that captures exhaust heat to reduce coolant and engine warm-up time, thus improving fuel economy and allowing the gasoline engine to be shut off sooner and more often.

Conversely, while quick warm-up is essential to increased fuel economy and efficiency, so is a lubrication system that stays as cool as possible. Thus, additional oil cooling capability, including an electric oil pump is the second major HS upgrade. The third is the addition of an Inverter to the Power Control Unit. This converts 244.8 Volts of Direct Current from the battery up to 650 Volts of Alternating Current for the electric motor/generator and, conversely, during regenerative braking, works in the opposite direction to recharge the battery.

The powertrain's transaxle and engine-management systems also received further upgrades, with shift-by-wire capabilities and additional driving Modes (Power and EV) absent from the Camry Hybrid comprise the fourth and fifth Lexus upgrades. Finally, variations in engine mounting (both due to the different vehicle platform and to allow for additional Lexus-worthy sound insulation measures) and battery layout construction (for much the same reasons, plus to allow the largest trunk - 12.1 cubic feet- of any Lexus Hybrid sedan) are the final two major changes made to the 2AZ-FXE powertrain in its migration from the Camry Hybrid to the Lexus HS.

One weighty question. The others, not so much.
In our initial Front Page story on the HS 250h, we mused that its curb weight "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." It was intriguing to speculate just precisely what impact the extra Lexus levels of sound insulation, the larger engine (Avensis offerings top out at 2-liter gasoline and 2.2-liter diesel engines) and the hybrid components would have. In short, the Lexus HS 250h weighs 3682 lbs, a scant 2 pounds more than the larger Camry hybrid.

Lexus claims a 0-60 mph time of 8.4 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 16.6 seconds for the HS 250h. These figures, incidentally, either tie or are just a tenth or two off the figures for the Lexus IS 250C we'd driven the previous day. As to fuel economy figures, the HS 250h is expected to deliver EPA estimated 35 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and a combined 34 mpg. It is interesting to note that the exclusive-to-the-Lexus HS tweaks described earlier give it 2 mpg better city fuel economy than the Toyota Camry Hybrid of similar powertrain and weight, but, conversely, sees the Lexus HS 250h deliver 1 mpg less on the highway. Combined mileage is the same for both vehicles, however.

Another question that intrigued me was if an Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine such as that used on the Lexus HS could be used without the hybrid battery pack and deliver some fuel economy benefit without the extra weight and expense of those batteries. Chief Engineer Hiro Koba explained that the full torque curve and shift points on a non-hybrid Atkinson, especially one without a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), would render it virtually undrivable. A Wikipedia article explains more on the intricacies of Atkinson-cycle engines and, indeed, notes that only hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles use them.

Also included in Mark Templin's remarks is an estimate for 25,000 U.S.-market Lexus HS 250h sales in its first full year. Those with sharp memories will note that this is down from the 30,000-a-year figure Mr. Templin predicted during the 2009 Detroit Auto Show Press Conference that launched the HS. Obviously, the deteriorating economic climate has forced this downward revision, and the ever-volatile price of gasoline (again on an upward curve as we write this) make sales predictions for such a hybrid-powertrain vehicle extra-tricky to gauge. Yet, as Kevin RE Watts notes in an entry on his The Lexus Enthusiast blog, even that lowered estimate brings expected HS sales to a level just below those current enjoyed by the IS. In other words, Lexus expects the HS to become their fourth-best selling line in the U.S., below the RX, ES and IS model ranges.

As we exited the Press Preview to sample the HS 250h vehicles Lexus had assembled for us, Hiro Koba tracked me down, thanked me for my questions and asked for my business card. As I handed him the last one I had left, he asked me the proper pronunciation of Joaquín, then duly jotted it down phonetically, in Japanese characters. For some reason, I got a huge kick out of seeing this. He then insisted on joining me and Ryan (Club Lexus Editor Flipside909) on one of our test drives. We were, of course, happy to oblige.

Is the Lexus HS the Sybil of the automotive world?-img_0741_sized.jpgTwo test drives. Two special guests
As Ryan and I made our way to the Resort at Pelican Hill's courtyard, we located a Black Sapphire Pearl HS with "Water Grey" interior and the Premium, Technology and Navigation packages. The works, in other words, including the 18" wheels and tires of the Detroit Auto Show pre-production prototype. Albert Kramer of Lexus Product Planning asked to join us on our drive. As we drove along in comfortable, quiet Lexus luxury, Mr. Kramer pointed out further details, such as the fact that the Lexus HS uses a 50/50 blend of synthetic oil right from the factory, and that it is the third Lexus model (after the GX and LS) to feature individual tire pressure sensors, as opposed to the generic "OK, a tire is low on air, now go and figure out which one" warning light on other Lexus models. This, like active head restraints, is an HS feature that is long overdue on other Lexus models.

Upon our return, we scoped out a Tungsten Pearl exterior/Black interior HS 250h with the Touring Package. Yes, Koba-san had kept his word and convinced the powers-that-be at Lexus to offer this, which includes the all-important sport-tuned suspension (essentially firmer shock damping), heated front seats, illuminated front scuff plates, a very attractive two-tone black/water grey leather interior and a unique finish for the 18 x 7½" alloy wheels that Lexus describes as "high-gloss" but is more graphite than anything else. Arguably the most overt way to distinguish a Touring Package HS, however, is by the sport pedals that will be utterly familiar to anyone who's ever owned a Lexus IS, be it first or second generation. And, speaking of Koba-san, he almost magically appeared at that point, and we whisked him aboard for our second drive.

Is the Lexus HS the Sybil of the automotive world?-img_0848_sized.jpgThe initial electric motor-only startup is so silent that I absentmindedly pushed the starter button to turn the car on, but, instead, turned it off. Yes, it was running in the first place, and, as I finally got my act together and my head straight, we motored off in an amazingly eerie dead silence. That didn't last too long, though, for here we were with the car's Chief Engineer, who is a die-hard enthusiast that regularly autocrosses his modded Toyota MR-S (MR2) Spider and, for his next assignment, applied for the Toyota Formula 1 team. Unfortunately, the cutbacks imposed by our stark economic climate nixed that possibility.

This author has had the distinct privilege of personally meeting three Lexus Chief Engineers: Suguya Fukusato (2nd-generation IS sedan), Junichi Furuyama (Lexus IS C) and Hiroyuki Koba (Lexus HS), and all are charming and friendly gentlemen, but I'll admit to having developed a special rapport with Koba-san. Thus, in his honor, and from one enthusiast to another, this author hit the PWR MODE button at the next stop, and proceeded to drive in a brisk manner befitting the pedigree of its Chief Engineer. And, needless to say, the car did not disappoint. Unfortunately, the halfway point where Ryan and I had to switch off driving duties arrived all too soon, and it was precisely at that point where Koba-san revealed "the secret of 'B'", without my actually being able to sample it. What's that, you ask? You'll have to wait, just like I did, to learn the answer...

Is the Lexus HS the Sybil of the automotive world?-072_hs_250h-prv.jpgJoaquín the hypermiler? Who'da thunk it?
This author's "plug the gap" driving style is the very antithesis of a hypermiler's. Drive as fast as possible (speed limits are just a pesky suggestion) to fill the open gaps in traffic, drive as in a strategic chess game looking ahead to see what combination of lane changes it takes to fill those gaps and brake at the last possible minute is my customary style. Yet, something about seeing a no-options (but hardly bare-bones) Silver Opal Mica exterior/Black interior HS 250h, complete with smaller, yet quite attractive 17" wheels inspired me to turn my usual driving style on its head and drive as an inveterate hypermiler would.

As we started out, I made sure to hit the ECO MODE button and keep an eye on the Hybrid System Indicator that replaces a more customary tachometer (as shown above right). Its display is simple and intuitive enough: CHG, at the left of the dial and underscored by a blue ring, indicates that the electric batteries are actually being recharged; then the ring transitions from dark green to light green to white and PWR at the right of the dial. In other words, keep the needle to the left, and you'll earn the Sierra Club's undying gratitude. Keep it more to the right, and the No-Fun Society will frown upon you. Yet, even though ECO MODE makes a noticeable difference in throttle response, at no time did it ever feel inadequate nor lethargic.

Is the Lexus HS the Sybil of the automotive world?-img_0919_sized.jpgAs our drive evolved, this author realized he'd forgotten to reset the trip computer to calculate our mileage. Doing so coincided with a period of long downhill portions that kept our momentum going with a minimum of throttle. Of course, we were creeping along in the right-hand lane and I was driving like a 90-year old great-grandpa rather than my customary 18-year-old trapped inside a 52-year-old grandpa driving style. A traffic stop allowed us to hit the EV button (or tree-hugger mode, as Ryan referred to it), and I made every effort to keep it under 20 mph. To further the cause, we turned off the radio and the air conditioning. Fortunately, a parking lot in the environs of the University of California's Irvine campus allowed us to unobtrusively and silently creep along, as if driving the world's fanciest golf cart. Finally, the Multi Information Display said "no más" (actually, it said "EV MODE NOT AVAILABLE. LOW BATTERY"). At that point, we scrolled through the trip computer, which revealed that, over a 6.4-mile drive, I'd averaged an eye-popping 73.4 miles per gallons. Hypermiler, indeed! Upon our return, the folks at Lexus were suitably impressed by this feat.

Time to play with all the toys
For our fourth Lexus HS 250h drive, we found another "hi-tech with all the toys" sample. It was much like the first one we drove with the Premium, Technology and Navigation packages, except that this one had an Obsidian (black) exterior and a Parchment interior. For this go-round, Ryan and I concentrated on the HS's unique technological features and how well they worked.

Before setting off, your Editor first decided to get a feel for the Remote Touch Controller. This was, admittedly, my first-ever hands-on use of a central mouse-like control on an automobile, and my initial apprehension was soon displaced by awe at how simple and intuitive Lexus' system is. Just use the central raised oblong "button" like a computer mouse to scroll left-to-right for functions such as climate control and audio and hit the "ENTER" button on the side (be it driver or passenger) with your thumb, and you're there.

As we departed, we saw that the navigation screen was truly multifunctional, as it can easily access all sorts of bar graphs and records of past and current fuel consumption patterns, as well as an Energy Monitor pictograph that graphically shows activity and use of the gasoline engine, electric motor and battery. The Heads-Up Display was quite clear and visible without being obtrusive, and, as we drove on our chosen route to nearby Newport Lexus, it was cool to see that the navigation system's instructions were supplemented by a sequentially-flashing arrow pictograph in the HUD to indicate upcoming turns.

Of all the Technology Package features, it was the Lane-Keep Assist System that we were most intrigued about. Activating the Lane Departure Warning shows a simple black-and-white pictograph within the large Hybrid System Indicator gauge on the left of the instrument cluster. This shows two converging lines that simulate the lane you're travelling in. If the lines are thin, then either the road is too twisty or the lane markers aren't clear or prominent enough. In this instance, the LDW/LKA functions wil not work. Hit a relatively straight route with clearly-defined lanes, however, and the lines on the display will thicken noticeably. That's the cue that lets you know that LDW/LKA is working for you. At that point, this writer did his best impression of an erratic, drunk driver (and, yes, it was just an impression), veering leftward. The HS 250h subtly and intuitively nudged back rightward and into the proper lane path. Yes, Lexus really hit one out of the ballpark with the feel and function of the Lane-Keep Assist System. It feels just perfect, intuitive and natural, never striking "Big Brother just took over my car" feelings or fears. And, as someone with a major pet peeve about drivers failing to use their turn signals, the LDW/LKA nanny will NOT kick in if you do as you're supposed toand signal a lane change. Hmmm... if you don't signal a lane change, it'll think you're distractedly veering off and will, instead, keep you in your lane. Sounds like the perfect antidote for folks wanting to change lanes but refusing to signal their intentions like they should...

HS as closet sports sedan?
As Ryan and I returned for our final drive of the day, we located another Obsidian HS, this time with the Touring Package and the two-tone Black/Water Grey interior. While this one featured the Navigation Package, it did not feature the Premium or Technology Packages of our previous HS tester. This is hardly accidental, as Lexus' USA marketing arm has determined that the Touring Package cannot be ordered in conjunction with the Premium Package; and the Technology Package, in turn, must be ordered with the Premium Package. In other words, if Driver’s Seat Memory, Power Passenger-side Lumbar Support, Ventilated Front Seats, Power Tilt/Telescope Steering Wheel with Memory, Rain-sensing Wipers and Electrochromic Side-view Mirrors with Memory & Reverse Tiltdown (the bulk of the Premium Package contents) are important to you, then you'll have to turn to the aftermarket for a sportier HS suspension (and no, to our knowledge, there are no F-Sport HS accessories in the works).

Is the Lexus HS the Sybil of the automotive world?-069_hs_250h-prv.jpgTo someone that has never driven a Toyota Prius, the "drill" for driving a Lexus HS is curious once you get past the more familiar (to 2nd-gen Lexus ISers, at any rate) push of the POWER button. The gear selector is a small knob sprouting from an "h"-shaped indent (Merely a happy coincidence or a deliberate play on the "h" that marks Lexus hybrids?) Things get "curiouser and curiouser", in the immortal words of Alice in Wonderland, when one notices that there is no "P", or Park position. Instead, that is a separate oblong-shaped button below the shifter. The shifter itself, when pushed to the left "gate" has Neutral in the middle, Reverse on top, and Drive at the bottom. Move the shifter to the right and down, to the right "gate" and you'll find the enigmatic "B". Nominally an alternate "Drive" position that enhances the regenerative braking function (thus allowing more use of the electric motors with less use of the gasoline engine), it also has the perverse (in a good way) side-effect of maximizing accelerative punch.

Thus, in a drive more in character with this author's "usual and customary" driving style, the shifter was placed in "B" mode and the PWR MODE button pressed, and away we went, as fast as it was safe to go. The Lexus HS 250h is, as noted earlier, credited with a nominal 0-60 mph time of 8.4 seconds that is very close to that of the Lexus IS 250C we'd driven the previous day, but, unlike the IS 250C, never felt underpowered or gutless. Perhaps it's the right-now, instant-torque-off-the-line nature of the electric motors, or the couple of hundred pounds less of mass that the HS is lugging around versus the IS C. Also, Lexus never did say (and this author didn't think to ask) what driving mode those 0-60 times are based on, but "D" and "Normal" seem the likeliest answer. Thus, the "B"/"Power" combo might be good for a tick or two off those figures.

Our drive took us on a short twisty section of road, and the HS was quite entertaining and composed, handling with aplomb. The 2AZ-FXE let out a nice, unexpected snarl when we stepped on it (and no, we didn't hear any bleating cows). A passage from Jonathon Ramsey of Autoblog's HS 250h review stating that, "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're 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" surely raised some eyebrows, yet he's not really far off the mark. Most likely, the point Ramsey is trying to make is that one approaches the IS C, the open-topped offshoot of an excellent sporting rear-wheel-drive sedan, with high expectations that are then tempered by the effects on performance of the added mass of the retractable hardtop. Conversely, one harbors lower expectations for a seemingly mild-mannered front-wheel-drive, eco-weenie, gussied-up distant cousin of the Toyota Prius and are then very surprised to find that it can be hustled along quite nicely in a sporting manner. It must be noted, however, that the fun isn't altogether guilt-free by the parsimonious standards of the Earth-First Society, for, on our final drive, the on-board computer revealed an average of 19.1 miles per gallon. Yes, your mileage will definitely vary...

Hopefully, this sheds some light on the rationale behind the Sybil multiple-personality analogies that opened our story. The only way to expand upon them further is to add a hatchback and a folding rear seat, à la Toyota Prius, and, perhaps, turn up the sporting quotient another notch or two. And that, rumo(u)r has it, is what Lexus' upcoming C-Premium model brings to the party. Stay tuned for yet another update on that story...

And now, the Thank Yous
We at my.IS would be remiss if we didn't thank all those responsible for making this memorable opportunity possible, starting with the aforementioned Mark Templin, Lexus USA group Vice President and General Manager; Lexus HS 250h Chief Engineer, Hiroyuki (Hiro) Koba and Bob Allan of Lexus College. Equally important and pivotal roles were played by Dave Nordstrom, Lexus' U.S. Vice President of Marketing; Brian Bolain, Lexus' National Marketing/Lifecycle Strategy Manager; Julie Alfonso, Manager of Lexus Division Communications; Albert Kramer of Lexus Product Planning; Greg Thome, Toyota Division Communications Manager; and Craig Taguchi, now Scion Public Relations Specialist. As for their hospitality, we'd like to thank the staff of The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, California as well as Jenece Waid.

Photo Credits
Photos 1, 5, 8 & 10: Lexus USA Newsroom
Photos 2 & 4: jruhi4
Photos 3, 6, 7 & 9: Flipside909
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-13-2009, 03:34 PM Thread Starter
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Some additional pictures that didn't fit into my article's 10-picture-max allocation:

Standard 17" wheels

For more:
Flipside909's Gallery :: 5-14-09 HSh & ISc Press Preview Day2 - Newport Coast, CA
Lexus Vehicles : Image Library / Toyota

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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-14-2009, 04:43 PM
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Thank you so much for that article, superb!

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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-14-2009, 10:49 PM
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Great write-up! I'm waiting to trade-in my dad's 2nd-gen RX for this car. BTW, how does the HS 250h's "modded" inline-4 + electric drive compare against the IS 250 V6 in terms of refinement?....The 4GR-FSE is no powerhouse, but it's certainly one of the most refined mid-capacity engines.
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-15-2009, 06:49 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by wlk20 View Post
Great write-up! I'm waiting to trade-in my dad's 2nd-gen RX for this car. BTW, how does the HS 250h's "modded" inline-4 + electric drive compare against the IS 250 V6 in terms of refinement?....The 4GR-FSE is no powerhouse, but it's certainly one of the most refined mid-capacity engines.
Glad you liked it.

There is a bit of drop-off in the "powertrain refinement" since, as you noted, it's a 4-cylinder versus the V6. Also, notice the engine compartment picture in the second post of this thread, and you'll see less engine shrouding/cover than in the 2nd-gen IS.

Having said that, I do feel that the overall refinement level is Lexus-worthy. And a significant reason for the extra engine shrouding on the 2nd-gen Lexus IS is to cover up the extra ticking noise of the GR-FSE's direct injectors. This sort of noise is NOT a factor in the HS, since it doesn't use direct injection.

BTW, has Lexus even announced that the HS will be sold in Singapore? And do you get a chance to test-drive the car before taking delivery?

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Great write-up.....

No plans in trading in but what's the estimated MSRP for this hybrid?

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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 06-15-2009, 10:04 PM
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Originally Posted by jruhi4 View Post
BTW, has Lexus even announced that the HS will be sold in Singapore? And do you get a chance to test-drive the car before taking delivery?
I was afraid the local dealer wouldn't bring the HS250h in, they're quite selective as to which model & subtype they bring in e.g. there's no ES350 here because it can't be the intermediate model between the IS (only 2.5L avail) & GS (only 3.0L avail). But I've just checked with my sales rep & he tells me the HS250h will be launched here in 1Q10. Will definitely test-drive before I buy (unlike when I pre-booked my IS250 6months in advance); not sure if I'll like, or get used to the electric + CVT feeling.

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Originally Posted by taks_is300 View Post
Great write-up.....

No plans in trading in but what's the estimated MSRP for this hybrid?
Right now, most guesses are for a US$33,000 base price, but Lexus hasn't officially announced anything yet.

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