Special Coverage

Auto Interiors Conference

A car with a “green” powertrain arguably should come with an eco-friendly interior as well. Enter the Lexus HS 250h, winner of the 2010 Ward’s Interior of the Year award for hybrids.

It features what Lexus calls a “proactive adoption” of plant-based, carbon-neutral “ecological plastics” in about 30% of the interior trim and luggage area.

That includes cowl-side accents, door scuff plates and a package tray behind the rear seats. The bioplastics emit about 20% less carbon dioxide than petroleum-based plastics.

That may endear upscale environmentalists who can afford to spend $46,672 on the market’s first dedicated luxury hybrid car.

But it is the HS 250h’s craftsmanship and use of conventional materials – leather and wood among them – that help make this stylish interior a standout.

Ward’s judge Tom Murphy has trim-fit issues here and there, such as the headliner. But judge David Zoia praises the overall material execution, calling it “top notch.”

It’s easy to get comfortable in this car’s laid-back 10-way power front seats with two lumbar settings. Cold? Flick on the seat heaters. Hot? Turn on the seat ventilators.

The cockpit’s center stack gently slopes up and away from sound-system controls at the bottom, to climate controls in the midsection, to the top-mounted navigation-information screen. It is positioned for improved visibility and reduced back-and-forth driver eye movement.

The center-stack design offers “mostly easy” access to the assorted buttons and knobs, says interiors judge Christie Schweinsberg.

Her only complaint is having to reach too far to change radio stations. That act should be made ergonomically easy in this age of satellite-radio channel surfing.

Judges like the nav/info-system’s controller. It is at the base of the center stack and resembles a stationary computer mouse – or whatever one cares to call it.

“Loved the joystick,” Murphy says. “Love the mouse,” Zoia says. “It’s easy to use.”

The test vehicle contains assorted premium touches, such as power-window speed controllers borrowed from the top-line Lexus LS sedan. Those offer a slower, softer closing. Nice, but not vital, even in a luxury car.

Bioplastics aside, the interior features genuine walnut wood trim and a leather-wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel that’s also home to various instrument controls.

Every hybrid vehicle needs a nifty display monitor to show the engine-battery interplay, energy consumption and a running record of fuel efficiency.

The HS visually displays the hybrid-system output and regenerative charging status, while showing system efficiency based on whether the driver is hightailing it or going for the fuel-economy gold. An eco-drive indicator aids drivers striving for that. Lexus says such feedback has been proven to greatly improve fuel economy.

“It is very hybrid-like,” judge James Amend says of the driver-information displays. “There is lots of technical information, but it is well delivered.”

The HS scores high on safety, too. The government gives it a 5-star crash rating. The car has a class-leading 10 airbags. Also helping the safety cause are active front head restraints. By the way, those are leather.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com