When I wrapped up the 2008 Lexus ES350 a couple of weeks ago, I alluded to replacing it with a Lexus that virtually no one wanted. Several commenters quickly zeroed in on the HS250h as the potential culprit, and most comments were some variation of the title of this post (hope you didn’t buy one of those!) Well, I did lease one, and had my reasons for doing so. Ultimately, though, I did draw the same conclusions as many people did about the car and shuffled it off for something more interesting.
The basic reason for considering the HS was that I wanted a hybrid (I actually liked the Prius) but wanted something in the Lexus line. At the time, the ES hybrid hadn’t yet been introduced so the only hybrid was the GS450h, which was a bit pricey. (OK, it was shockingly expensive, for what you got.) When Lexus announced the HS hybrid as a stand-alone model that was at a price point around the regular ES that I was currently driving, that got my attention.
The Lexus HS shared a platform with the Japanese domestic market Toyota Sai, although the Lexus reached the market first in Japan. Toyota believed that there was a market for a dedicated hybrid sedan in the luxury market, as my desire for one proved. However, the car that Lexus introduced was perhaps not the most suitable for this market. The car was relatively compact, being somewhat larger than the (admittedly small) IS but not as large as the ES. The car was a bit taller than the IS or ES, which made interior headroom quite good but contributed to the oddly-proportioned styling. Overall, the styling was relatively conservative (especially when compared to later Lexus or Toyota models) but was still not what one would call attractive.
The HS hybrid drivetrain was based on the Camry Hybrid system with a 2.4 liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine and electric motor producing a combined 187 horsepower. Acceleration times were listed in the brochure as 8.4 seconds to 60, but the car provided much slower seat-of-the-pants acceleration times. Fuel economy wasn’t that amazing, either, especially considering what a current hybrid or downsized turbocharged engine can do, at 35 mpg combined. Handling was safe and unexciting, as well.
Interior fitments were certainly typical for Lexus, with high-quality leather seating and soft-touch surfaces all around. HS Premium models received a special interior leather as well as walnut wood trim, heated/ventilated memory seats, and 18 inch wheels.
I made my purchase of the HS not long after it was introduced in August 2009. It appears based on information online that the vast majority of people who were looking for a unique Lexus hybrid sedan like the HS bought one in the first year, as roughly 11,000 were sold in 2010 and less than 3,000 in 2011. It also appears, based on those numbers, that there weren’t really that many buyers overall that wanted an oddly-styled hybrid that cost as much as a more conventionally-styled sedan. By 2012 the HS was discontinued, replaced by the smaller, cheaper, and more efficient CT hybrid and the ES hybrid. I recall wondering at the time the HS was introduced why Toyota didn’t simply put the Camry hybrid system in the ES instead of creating a separate model to use the same system, since the ES and Camry were closely related. Apparently a number of other potential buyers asked the same question and waited for the ES hybrid. (I suspect that it had to do with the specific platforms being used and their compatibility with the hybrid system.)
In my case, I wasn’t looking for an enthusiast sedan, which might be obvious since I’d been driving Camrys and ES sedans, but this car really didn’t meet even the relatively low performance expectations I had. Acceleration was pretty slow but fuel economy wasn’t that good, and handling was safe but somewhat ponderous. I certainly didn’t expect BMW M3 dynamics, but had expected something a bit better than this car provided. Part of the problem was that the car was smaller than the ES (7 inches shorter and 2 inches narrower) but weighed about 200 pounds more (just over 3,700 pounds for the HS).
The HS that I leased was a Premium model with navigation. I would have liked to have the car in what Lexus called Matador Red to give it some visual excitement, but there weren’t any in stock at the time so I chose Smoky Granite Mica (gray) instead. As the photos show, the gray color made the car blend in with its environment a bit better than red would have. The navigation system was very good for the time, with sharp graphics and extensive databases of points of interest on a screen that swiveled out of the top of the dash. On the downside, this was one of the early Lexus vehicles that used the haptic feedback mouse for controls, which I found somewhat difficult to use as the mouse pointer was quite sensitive especially when trying to hit small buttons on the screen. A touch screen placed closer to the driver would have been better, I think.
The navigation/infotainment system also included iPod connectivity, something that previous cars in my fleet hadn’t offered (most came with just the 3.5 mm headphone jack). The Lexus system was advanced enough to be able to catalog and work with my iPod Classic with 15,000+ songs on it – other iPod interfaces could only handle music players with 5,000 songs or so. Unfortunately, accessing any of those 15,000 songs required using the touchy mouse and the USB connector was placed on the center console in clear view instead of being hidden in the center console bin.
Lexus dealer support was still amazing, though. The HS sedans were recalled in early 2010, roughly 4 months or so after I bought the car, for a software update related to blending the hybrid regenerative braking and the conventional brakes. Since it was a software upgrade, the dealer came to my house to reprogram the hybrid system computers instead of making me travel to the dealer, and they gave me a nice box of chocolates as an apology for the inconvenience. The Lexus dealer experience still remains as the best service interactions I have had in my car-owning career.
So, a quick summary – I rushed myself into buying an HS that I didn’t like for reasons that didn’t make that much sense, replacing an ES that I did really like, and being disappointed almost immediately because the car didn’t perform as I expected. My disappointment with the HS was magnified when I changed jobs and two things happened: 1) I spent a lot more time driving the car as my old commute was 5 miles one way and the new one was 25 miles one way, and 2) my wife and I began commuting together as our offices were now closer to each other and in the same direction, so I began driving her car more frequently (and wishing mine were more exciting). I managed to keep the HS for about two years despite not liking it that much (I was at least smart enough not to make another dumb car move like I did with the 2002 Camry that cost me a fortune). Even so, I did take a financial hit in getting rid of the HS and replacing it with what would turn out to be my last Lexus, at least for a while. At least it was sportier…