Lexus has been the only manufacturer to market hybrids as top-tier luxury trims instead of frugal, more expensive economy cars. The V-8-powered GS 450h sedan, RX 450h crossover and flagship $115,000 LS 600hL are not models in restraint, nor are they fuel-efficient. Saying "hybrid" to a Lexus dealer just meant another item checked off on an already lengthy list of features.
But even the affluent are cutting back and downsizing in this dour economy, all the better to introduce the Prius-based HS 250h, the "world's first dedicated luxury hybrid," according to Lexus. A 2.4 liter four-cylinder in a Lexus is also a world first, but those worried about noise, vibration, and harshness should know that Lexus surely did - and that the car probably has enough dampers, insulation, and seals to muffle five screaming babies.
Styling, however, is typical Lexus, a hybrid of attractive lines and copycat curves. With its large blue oval "L" in the middle of a three-bar chrome grill, the front fascia practically screams "Ford Fusion" (a good thing for Ford). Flat, square body panels shape the doors, trunk, and roof into a mold of the last-generation Mazda 6, but they contribute to a slick 0.27 Cd drag coefficient.
EPA estimates and pricing haven't been released, but Lexus says the HS 250h will return 30 percent better mileage than its most efficient model, the combined 24-mile-per-gallon IS 250. Expect the first models to arrive "late summer," right when gas prices should peak. Lexus really does think of everything.
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