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Detroit show: Lexus HS steps aside for 'baby'

Lexus latest: Hybrid HS250h could be two years away for Australia.

Lexus prioritises coming A3-style hatch for Australia

13 Jan 2009


LEXUS’ Detroit-stopping HS250h hybrid may be delayed but not sidelined for Australia as the Japanese luxury brand concentrates on the arrival a volume-selling luxury compact.

Due to be unveiled sometime later next year or in 2011, the so-called ‘BS’ baby Lexus is expected to be the vital volume fillip alongside the established BMW 3 Series-rivalling IS range.

Believed to be based on the next-generation version of the latter, the ‘BS’ essentially will be Lexus’ ‘A3’ to lure younger and more urbane buyers, and will probably share the IS rear-wheel drive platform to bolster its appeal with the European-centric clientele.

This is in stark contrast to the US-focused HS250h, which follows the same basic front-wheel-drive formula to the new-generation Prius dedicated hybrid that was also presented at the North American International Auto Show this week.

31 center imageSo the Japanese-built HS250h may take as long as two years before it is released in Australia.

Lexus in the US is making much of the HS250h’s role as the “world’s first dedicated luxury hybrid vehicle”, and is expected to particularly appeal to image-conscious buyers desiring to make a green-car statement over there.

In the US, the aerodynamic (0.27Cd) four-door, five-seat sedan is slightly longer than an IS but just as wide, and slots between that car and the continuing (and still popular) Toyota Camry-based ES sedan range in both price and positioning.

Lexus abandoned the previous-generation ES for Australia more than a year ago because it did not fit into the brand’s desired BMW-style sporty rear-wheel drive line-up alongside the IS, mid-sized GS and flagship LS models.

But according to Lexus Australia’s corporate manager of product planning Peter Evans, the HS250h – which was only just confirmed for right-hand drive production on the first day of the Detroit motor show – may reverse the front-wheel drive decision for Oz-bound models when it does finally arrive. Nevertheless, Lexus is cagey on whether Australia will even see the HS250h.

“At the moment there are no plans,” Mr Evans told GoAuto at the NAIAS this week. “But we have put our hand up for HS250h. It’s a priority thing. I think in terms or market size and market potential, I think an Audi A3 or Mercedes A-class style competitor is probably a better opportunity for moving forward.

“That would be our request for our colleagues at Lexus’ development centre in Japan.

“This (hybrid) would probably be second for us … especially considering the global economy, where people are more likely to buy a sub-IS than an above-IS (vehicle) … particularly as an entry-point, where it gives us a much better opportunity to conquest the premium mass brands.” As GoAuto reported late last year, the “BS” Lexus will also likely materialise with a hybrid set-up.

Based on the latest Prius’ “multi-car” floorpan with connections to the current Corolla platform, the HS250h features a MacPherson strut front and a new double wishbone rear suspension set-up with anti-roll bars all-round, as well as an electric power steering system that is designed to maximise energy efficiency.

Under the bonnet is a new 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with VVT-i variable valve timing – part of the company’s “Hybrid Drive System” that includes an electric motor and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to transfer torque to the front wheels.

In US guise, the HS250h delivers 139kW of power.

Among the mechanical innovations is a new exhaust heat recovery system that cuts engine warm-up times so it can start and stop at traffic lights earlier, more often and for longer, thus improving efficiency.

An infrared-ray-reducing windscreen keeps the cabin cooler, while power-saving LED headlights are also available.

The HS250h is the first Lexus to employ carbon-neutral “Ecological Plastic” materials in the cabin, while the aerodynamic shape has been enhanced by airflow management under and behind the car, as well as above it. The upshot here is leading refinement and quietness, says Lexus.

Backing this up are dampers at each engine-mounting point to reduce noise and vibration, resonators to improve intake-air noise, an optimised exhaust flow with much quieter operation, high quality door, bonnet and mudguard seals, vibration-dampening suspension mounting points, and super-quiet and soft-closing power window speed controllers from the latest LS sedan.

A low-spring-mount suspension system contributes to better packaging and superior cargo space.

Standard HS250h features include 10 airbags, VSC stability and traction controls, leather upholstery, a sunroof and an advanced Bluetooth multi-media system.

Among the options available to US customers are a new lane-keep assist system with “steering torque” to help keep the car on the straight and narrow via the use of a lane-marker detection camera, a Pre-Collision safety system, radar-based automatic cruise control, a head-up display that can be easily read in bright sunlight and a hard disc drive-equipped satellite navigation system with “casual speech” voice recognition and a front and rear-car camera view set-up.

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