First Drive: 2010 Lexus HS250h

The cockpit is designed with Lexus's new ergonomic concept, which includes a center console that juts out between the front seats. It's a marvel of efficiency, which is only slightly diminished when fitted with the optional navigation system. That system, which debuted on the 2010 RX crossover, uses a joystick controller that eliminates a few dashboard buttons, making some tasks more complicated.

The HS250h can be loaded with an enormous assortment of impressive technologies (including lane-keep assist, a head-up display, and a truly fabulous infotainment and navigation system that will accept destinations you've uploaded from your home computer), but all of those systems fail to mask the HS's econo-car roots. On the road, you're treated to the drone of a four-cylinder engine whining endlessly when climbing long hills, accelerating onto the highway, or just keeping up with traffic. Luxury-car customers aren't used to that--when was the last time you heard four-cylinder thrum in a Lexus? (Hint: never.)

By using the platform from a narrow European economy sedan rather than the ES, the HS winds up being an awkward-looking vehicle that isn't as good at coddling its passengers as other Lexus models are. Then again, judging by the success of the Prius, maybe Lexus is on to something--the HS could just be the perfect combination of smug, snooty, and dorky that well-heeled potential Prius buyers are looking for.

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