In 2010, Lexus introduced its HS250h, which the company described as "the world's first hybrid-only luxury vehicle."
Although it shared its platform with the European Avensis sedan, Toyota claimed it was built from scratch, and wasn't just an existing model with a different drivetrain retro-fitted.
It featured a 2.4-litre four-cylinder gas engine based on the powerplant of an existing model – the Venza – mated to an electric motor, with a nickel metal hydride battery pack made by Panasonic, and a continuously variable transmission, for a total power output of 187 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque. Under way, you could choose between "Power" and "Eco" modes, and the performance difference was dramatic. Still, the overall driving experience of the HS250h would have to be rated as reassuring and placid, rather than spirited and exciting, and performance was comparable to that of a four-cylinder Camry sedan.
Lexus claimed impressive fuel consumption figures for the HS250h: 5.7 litres/100 km combined rating, which put it ahead of anything else in this class. At the time, it was the only four-cylinder/hybrid luxury car on the market, and Lexus was putting it up against the Acura TSX, BMW335d and Mercedes-Benz C300.
All kinds of engineering features here, including a unique heat recovery system that takes heat from the exhaust system and utilizes it to warm up the engine's coolant more quickly. This in turn allows the hybrid drive system to revert to battery power and shut off the gas engine more readily when it's not needed and in the process, improve fuel economy by more than 7 per cent, according to Lexus. As well as upping fuel economy, it means a warmer cab, faster, when the mercury starts to drop. Because of the hybrid drive system, the back seat did not fold down or have a pass-through.
Lexus also made fairly extensive use of ecologically friendly material in the construction of the HS250h. Seat cushions, luggage trim and various upholstery parts were made from plant matter such as castor beans, and the volume of recycled material used throughout the car was claimed to be 50 per cent more than that of most other conventional models. As well, the HS250h will emit 33 per cent fewer emissions overall during its life cycle than a non-hybrid vehicle in the same market segment.
Standard equipment level was typically high, and you could order Lexus' centre-console-located Remote Touch System; this is essentially a stationary mouse that lets you access the sound system, climate control and GPS. In this application, it was virtually identical to the same feature found in Lexus' RX350 SUV.
But it was all for naught. With mediocre sales numbers, Lexus dropped the HS250h in 2012.
Three safety recalls are on file with Transport Canada. One concerns rear suspension locking nuts that could fail if tightened improperly, resulting in loss of vehicle control; another involves reprogramming the ABS control unit, while the third is a compliance issue for loss of fuel in an accident situation.
Relatively little in the way of complaints or technical service bulletins from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In addition to the rear suspension issue (also found on the 2011 Toyota RAV4), NHTSA has but one owner complaint on file, and here it is: "I was parallel parking the car. I pulled alongside the curb and stopped the car. With the car stopped and my foot on the brake, I moved my right hand to press the park button and to my surprise the car leaped (5 feet) forward." Whoops.
Consumer Reports gives this one its highest marks in every department, with the exception of paint and trim. But all is not hunky-dory. "Unlike other Lexuses," the magazine remarks, "the HS feels unrefined," adding that it has a "jiggly" ride with intrusive wind and drivetrain noise. Some comments from owners: "Shame they discontinued the model," "Console and controls are user-friendly" and "Would not want to take a road trip in the car."
Market research firm J.D. Power is less than enthusiastic about this one. While receiving an "above-average" grade for dependability, it gets a below-average mark for overall performance and design.
From a starting price of less than $40,000 three years ago, the HS250h has held its own. Expect to pay in the mid to high 20s for the base Premium model, going up to the low 30s for the Ultra.