2010 Lexus HS250h

Lexus' first hybrid-only model is tuned for fuel economy. Based on the European Toyota Avensis, it uses a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine and Toyota's hybrid Synergy driveline. Prices & availability | Photos & reader reviews | Lexus special offers (Jeff Kowalsky/Photo for the Chicago Tribune)

It's revealing that for a few days in early May, the top item on Lexus' media Web site was a report touting the progress Lexus and Toyota have made in handling product recalls. "Remedies," as Toyota calls them, have been performed on more than 3 million vehicles for sticking accelerators and floor mats that can trap accelerator pedals, plus some modifications to anti-lock brake systems.

Media sites usually tout new products, advances, awards and sales, so a central headline that reads, "Toyota Passes 3 Million Milestone in Implementing Recall Remedies" notes the challenge Lexus and Toyota face before they can resume business as usual.

This is not to say that the company is standing still, product-wise. Case in point: The 2010 Lexus HS250h, the entry-level hybrid from Toyota's luxury division — at least until the smaller CT200h hatchback arrives next year.

The 250h has a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder gasoline engine, aided by an electric motor powered by a battery pack under the rear seat. It's essentially the same system offered in the Toyota Camry hybrid, a larger, roomier, cheaper car. EPA-rated mileage for the 250h is 35 mpg city, 34 highway. In size, the closest non-hybrid to the 250h in the Lexus lineup is the V-6-powered IS250, rated at 21/29.

So yes, the little hybrid Lexus gets better mileage than the IS250, but it's a long way south of Prius, which shares multiple bits and pieces with the 250h and is rated at 51/48. The jury remains out on whether luxo-hybrids have mainstream appeal beyond the feel-good factor. But one more round of $4-a-gallon gas could answer that question once and for all.

Unfortunately for the HS250h, there is evidence of cost-cutting to keep the base price less than $35,000. None of that includes safety features, which abound. Still, there's more road and engine noise than you'd expect, and the 250h doesn't have the handling prowess for which smaller Lexus models have been known. Even with the fat 18-inch tires and wheels in the test car's premium package, the car just isn't a lot of fun on winding roads. Steering feel is comparable to that of an arcade video game — it doesn't seem that connected to the front wheels. Acceleration is leisurely but adequate.

Inside, the 250h was a lot more interesting, with quality real-wood trim, leather upholstery and plenty of electronics, many controlled by a weird little mouse-like knob that juts out from the center dashboard. I grew to tolerate it, then sort of like it, but it took a while.

A good buy at the base $34,200 price, our tester's sticker ballooned to nearly $45,000, with the Premium package ($2,770), a navigation system ($2,125), front and rear monitors ($700), a technology package ($1,900) plus some smaller features and $875 for shipping.

The last Prius we tested listed for $23,563. Is the HS250h worth at least $10,000 more? It depends on how much you value a few extra luxuries — and that Lexus nameplate.

scsmith3@tribune.com