How I Got 85 Mpg in the Lexus HS 250h

For months, auto journalists have been coaxing 50-plus mpg out of the Lexus HS 250h. Lexus auto editor Clark Heideger decided to beat them all.

AUTOMOTIVE JOURNALISTS are a skeptical bunch, especially when it comes to fuel economy ratings. We’ve become jaded by vehicles that don’t seem to be capable of consistently getting the mileage obtained in EPA testing.

Enter the Lexus HS 250h, which Lexus is billing as the most fuel-efficient luxury car on the planet.[1] Driving this all-new hybrid vehicle has been a pleasant surprise for many skeptical journalists, as they find themselves not only meeting the vehicle’s EPA combined rating of 35 mpg, but actually exceeding it, and in many cases smashing it to smithereens.

This topic came up in a recent conversation I had with Charles Hubbard, Senior Dealer Education Administrator at Lexus College. Charles blithely informed me that he got 47.4 miles to the gallon on a recent 300-mile trip. What was this, I asked, some kind of experimental test under ideal conditions? No, he told me, just a regular highway drive of rolling hills. What Charles did was put the car in Eco mode, which modulates responsiveness for maximum economy. He also kept an eye on the vehicle’s Eco Light, which indicates when the HS 250h is operating at peak fuel efficiency, but he didn’t obsess on it too much.

Snoqualmie PassLexus HS 250h85.1 mpg reading

Well as far as I was concerned, the gauntlet was thrown. So a few days later when I was given a press car to drive, I decided to show Charles a thing or two. After fueling up at a service station near Washington State’s Snoqualmie Pass (elevation 3,022 feet), I eased the HS 250h onto I-90 and set off downhill for Seattle, delighting as I watched the Hybrid System Indicator pointing steadily at “charge.” The net result of this somewhat silly and totally unscientific exercise was a whopping 85.1 miles to the gallon. 85.1! Take that Mr. Senior Dealer Education Administrator!

Okay, I’ll admit it: this exercise proved nothing except my ridiculous competitive streak and willingness to cheat (especially since I suspended the test as I neared sea-level). But afterward, I ran the HS 250h through a series of more realistic driving scenarios and managed to exceed the EPA rating every time. At one point, I even tried to turn the tables and get worse mileage then 35 mpg. I took on three passengers, turned on the air conditioning (in an effort to load the engine), rolled down the windows (to disturb aerodynamics), set the car to Power mode (which maximizes responsiveness), and charged into the worst possible rush-hour stop-and-go traffic you can imagine. The result: 35.6 mpg.

Am I saying anybody can get this kind of mileage? Not on your life. My tests were about as scientific as an episode of Scooby Doo. But what I am saying is that, like a lot of skeptical journalists out there, I had my eyes opened by the Lexus HS 250h. I really do believe it’s the most fuel-efficient luxury vehicle on the planet.

Legal Disclaimers

[1] Based on 2009/2010 EPA MPG estimates. 35/34/35 City/Highway/Combined. Actual mileage will vary.