After the unconvincing HS 250h, Lexus is fitting a new base hybrid sedan to its lineup. The 2013 Lexus ES 300h is a much more convincing proposition.
For a start, it shares Lexus' strong new design language with other recent arrivals, like the Lexus GS and LS-series models. That gives the ES a sharp profile, uniquely Japanese but no longer bland like some previous Lexus sedans. At the front, the now-typical "spindle" grille design means that the ES could only be a Lexus, and it looks both sporty and expensive at the same time.
The ES range counts two powertrains. The ES 350 centers around a 3.5-liter V-6, but we're more interested in the hybrid ES 300h.
This uses a 2.5-liter, Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine. This is paired with an electric motor-generator system, which works similarly to other Toyota and Lexus hybrids. Gentle acceleration results in electric running alone; drive a little quicker and the gasoline engine takes over, and pushing harder still will cause the electric motor to assist, for a combined 200 horsepower.
Economy is significantly improved over the old HS 250h. In city driving, the ES 300h gets a 40-mpg rating from the EPA. This joins a 39-mpg highway rating, for a combined 40-mpg figure--5 mpg better in every discipline than the under-performing HS.
It also drives better--suitable for the new kind of luxury shopper who wants a car that's quiet and cushy, yet more responsive, not sluggish or boatlike. It certainly handles well enough for the 99 percent of customers who don’t subscribe to the enthusiast vernacular of canyon roads and weekend track time. Eco and Power drive modes in the hybrid let you select between the most appropriate settings for your daily commute.
Inside, the ES's cabin has been completely redesigned, with a new sense of airiness and spaciousness thanks to a shelf-like horizontal design, and corners that have been pushed out (in a sort of anti-cockpit design). Once again, it's similar in feel to the larger GS models--but possibly even more successful in its execution.
For the first time, the ES is no longer on the same wheelbase as the Toyota Camry. Instead, its wheelbase is now a couple of inches longer—think Avalon, lengthwise—which pays off in back-seat space. Thanks to its additional back-seat space, we might as well call it a large sedan. There's now enough room for three adults back there, if you need it, while in front, for the first time, Lexus is offering an available extendable thigh support for taller drivers (cushions are longer, too).
The ride quality is slightly firmer than old ES models, but noises are still very well isolated from the interior, with little road, wind, engine or ambient noise audible in the cabin.
In addition to some new active-safety features like Rear Cross Traffic Alert and a Pre-Collision System, the ES offers a host of high-tech entertainment and premium-luxury goodies on top of its standard kit. Major options for the ES include a hard-drive-based navigation system with voice command, Mark Levinson audio, upgraded leather and trims, a built-in backup camera system, and a next-generation Enform connectivity setup with apps.
The only down side to getting the audio upgrade, or navigation, is the mandatory, mouse-like Remote Touch controller, which requires you to follow a pointer on the screen to make selections. It's effective once learned, but does take a little getting used to.
With more cabin space, better styling and impressive economy figures, the ES 300h is perhaps the hybrid sedan Lexus should have made instead of the HS 250h.
For more, see the full review of the 2013 Lexus ES at The Car Connection.