Lexus ES 300h review
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First launched in the late 1990s, the Lexus GS was the mighty Toyota corporation’s answer to the inexorable move upmarket of large-car buyers in Europe, and the rising popularity of German executive models such as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class. But the GS always struggled to match exacting class standards for driver appeal set by European domestic makers, and never quite managed to grab more than a toehold in the market.
Meanwhile, in other global markets such as the US that are less in thrall to German engineering, another mid-size saloon has been selling strongly for Lexus by concentrating on comfort, luxury and value. That car is the ES and, having given up targeting our ‘sporty executives’ with the GS, Lexus is trying to woo buyers looking for similar comfort-based attributes here.
The seventh-generation ES 300h is a swoopy saloon that oozes visual style, even if its front-wheel-drive platform lacks some of the dynamic appeal beloved by drivers of the BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF. However, it scores plenty of points against largely diesel rivals with its petrol-electric hybrid powertrain. This is the same 'self-charging' system that appears elsewhere in the Lexus range, so you never have to plug it in.
Hybrid drive not only improves MPG when driven appropriately, but lower CO2 emissions salve environmentally focused consciences at the same time as generating significant company-car Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) tax advantages. There are an increasing number of rivals doing similar things, though, including plug-in rivals such as the BMW 530e, Mercedes E-Class hybrid and Volvo S90 T8.
As a hybrid, the Lexus ES 300h combines a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with an assisting electric motor that together develop a joint maximum output of 215bhp. Official fuel consumption under the recently introduced WLTP testing method is 53.2mpg, with CO2 emissions an impressively low 100g/km.
There are three main Lexus ES trim levels. The entry-level model is called simply the ES, and features 17-inch alloys, an eight-inch navigation system, dual-zone climate control and heated, powered leather seats. The F Sport adds eye-catching 19-inch alloy wheels, sports seats and adaptive suspension, while the range-topping Takumi has a 12.3-inch nav system with upgraded 17-speaker audio, reclining rear seats and all the other luxury items you’d expect. If you don’t want to splash out on the highest grade, you can spec up lower grades with option packs.
Lexus also seems keen to push the envelope a little with the colour palette of the ES, offering a range that goes beyond the typical greys and silvers with new green and beige shades. The interior design is quite eye-catching, too, with what Lexus calls a driver-centric cockpit and an airier, more open feel for the passenger. It’s certainly fresh, and displays the typical exceptional build quality we’ve come to expect from the brand – although the touchpad operation of the infotainment system will still struggle to impress drivers brought up on BMW’s iDrive controller.
The Lexus ES is a big car, so accommodation for passengers is as generous as you’d expect. That said, the sloping roof reduces headroom a little in the back, but the same can be said for a variety of executive saloons boasting ‘long coupé’ styling.
On the road, the front-drive ES displays secure and stable handling, with little body roll and direct steering making it easy and relaxing to drive. The Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT) – a type of automatic gearbox that’s designed to maximise efficiency of the hybrid powertrain – does let the ES down, though.
As in other Lexus models, it sounds a little strained and noisy when you ask for maximum performance. It's just not a car that feels at home being driven in a spirited fashion, but driven gently it’s smooth and hushed, and perfectly suited to the car’s limo-like character.
Take into consideration the Lexus brand’s awesome reliability reputation – it frequently beats all-comers in our Driver Power customer satisfaction survey – and a fantastic safety package, and it’s clear the new ES has a lot to offer in the executive sector. It seems likely, too, that drivers with an environmental conscience will be less likely to feel compromised by any lack of ‘sporting’ prowess, and appreciate the ES for its many strengths instead.
For a more detailed look at the Lexus ES, read on for the rest of our in-depth review.