Many manufacturers claim credit for lots of stuff, but when it comes to gasoline-electric hybrids, Toyota certainly deserves credit for pushing forward with a concept that many doubted. Toyota was also the first to offer luxury hybrids via Lexus. Two of the manufacturer’s newest hybrids came to town recently, the 2010 Toyota Prius and 2010 Lexus HS 250h, and while they share a lot of technology, they’re quite distinguishable.
The third generation of Toyota’s revolutionary little car is basically all that and a bag of chips.
The redesign maintains the basic aerodynamic triangle shape of the predecessor but with distinctive design features. The flaming headlamps, however, do borrow a bit from Nissan’s latest design cue. Can you tell the Maxima from the Prius?
Still, the redesigned Prius is sleeker than its predecessor, a little bigger, and most importantly, offers improved fuel economy—51 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city, 48 mpg on the highway, and a combined 50 mpg. The estimated combined fuel economy on the previous model was 46 mpg.
A larger engine on the Prius allows for more power, an improvement of 24 horsepower over the previous generation, while at the same time improving fuel economy. Fuel efficiency, however, is only half of the green transportation goal. Lower emissions also matter and the new Prius is certified as a Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV).
Interactivity between the driver and the car expands with three new driving mode buttons. The base model comes with an Eco mode, so that the Prius performs at optimum fuel efficiency, and a Power mode for moments when a surge of energy comes in handy, e.g. a freeway on-ramp. The available EV mode enables driving on battery power alone for about a mile, at low speeds, and in certain conditions, e.g. crawling along in bumper-to-bumper traffic or coasting home on neighborhood streets.
All Priuses come with a push button start and a unique PRNDL, or shift knob, that’s actually an RNDB that the driver taps into the proper mode, e.g. reverse or drive, and with a button for park.
On most cars, technology operates practically undetected, but on the Prius, it’s in your face, beginning with a standard center-dash mounted multi-information display panel that monitors fuel and energy consumption, among many things. During my week with the Prius, the best fuel economy I achieved, according to the monitor, was 46.4 mpg.
A groovy new techie feature includes the available Touch Tracer Display that shows steering wheel touch controls on the instrument panel when manipulated.
Practicality is not ignored with a split rear seat that folds flat for more storage. My favorite functional feature was a tray below the center console with a rubber surface, perfect for keys or garage door openers that tend to occupy cup holders in most of the cars I drive.
Solar panels, another first, appear on the Prius in the optional sunroof to operate a ventilation system that matches the car’s interior temperature to the ambient temperature while parked.
The Prius comes equipped with safety features, like side curtain air bags, the anti-lock braking system (ABS), and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC).
I happened to get a fairly loaded model, the Pruis V, with heated leather seats and the Advanced Technology Package ($4,500) that included a JBL six-disc stereo, Intelligent Parking Assist, a Pre-Collision System, and Lane Keep Assist.
Pricing for the Prius starts at $22,700. Pricing as tested came to $32,520.
Lexus HS 250h
Like the Prius, the 2010 Lexus HS 250h is a hybrid-only model. The first of its kind in a luxury segment, the HS also comes with features that are optional on the Prius.
The HS 250h body design received considerable attention to aerodynamics, which is laudable, but the HS’s distinctive grille, with flattened slats to keep air out and unlike any other Lexus, borrows a little too much from Ford. Can you tell the Fusion from the HS?
Even non-techies, like me, find the technology on a hybrid fascinating. Like all Toyota hybrids, the HS is a full hybrid, which means it can run on electricity alone, gasoline, or both. The Power, EV, and Eco mode buttons to further accentuate the hybrid driving experience are all standard on the HS.
The HS employs an Exhaust Heat Recovery System that captures the heat of exhaust gases to accelerate engine coolant warm-up, improving fuel efficiency by as much as seven percent.
Lexus’s first four-cylinder gas engine and latest hybrid system produce a peak output of 187 total system horsepower and achieve an EPA-estimated 35 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway for a combined 34 mpg, and SULEV emissions rating utilizing regular 87-octane gasoline.
Underlying the HS 250h’s forward-thinking interior design is bioplastic material that uses plant sources as raw material. Utilized for parts of the interior upholstery in the HS 250h, the application is a world first.
Beyond the technology, the HS reflects the standards of elegance expected from a Lexus. The striking digital display screen includes a power gauge that lets the driver know when driving in the “green” zone, i.e. the most fuel efficiently. It uses high-contrast organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology for maximum visibility. My fuel consumption in the HS peaked at 33.3 mpg.
Back to technology, the onboard telematics system (digital display with functions like audio, climate, Bluetooth, and navigation) was one of the most user friendly I’ve experienced in the luxury segment. A cursor mounted in the center console easily navigates through the menu and select buttons on both sides of the control allow the driver to program the system more intuitively.
Safety features include a 10-air bag Supplemental Restraint system including side curtain air bags, ABS, VSC, and a one-year trial subscription to Safety Connect, onboard emergency assistance system. The optional Pre-Collision System (PCS) with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Driver Monitor uses millimeter-wave radar to measure and maintain a pre-set following distance from a vehicle traveling ahead.
Lexus does trail the competition with its lack of lane change warning systems that warn drivers of objects in the blind spot before changing lanes. A lane departure system, that warns drivers who drift out of their lane, however, is available.
Leather-trimmed seats are standard as are a 10-speaker, 137-watt Lexus premium audio system featuring a six-disc CD changer, and dual zone air conditioning.
Pricing for the 2010 HS 250h starts at $35,075. With additional options like navigation and two-tone leather seats, the as tested price came to $39,355.
The success of hybrids confirmed that consumers wanted to do the right thing concerning the environment, no matter the cost. In a Toyota Prius or a Lexus HS 250h, car buyers continue to make a statement by shopping green.