Lexus ES could be the car that tempts executives back to the brand
Well-built, poised executive saloon makes comfort and refinement its priorities
Date Reviewed: June 11, 2018
Motoring editor Lexus has languished in a lay-by through the recession, but now it’s revved up and ready to go with a revamped range.
New crossovers will be key for the Japanese premium brand: the relatively new NX and upcoming UX join the RX SUV, which has added a seven-seat version to the line-up. But no premium player can fill anything other than an insignificant niche if it doesn’t play in the premier league of executive saloons. And this is where the big guns like the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class have bombarded rivals. Lexus has played on this pitch before with its GS model, but despite being well-built and having a powerful hybrid power train, it always floundered in the relegation zone.
Lexus hopes that is set to change, thanks in part to diesel falling out of favour and premium buyers eager to clean up their image. The stereotypical moneyed executive likes to be associated with the latest tech, and if Tesla is a step too far on price and battery-powered range, then hybrid is the bridge to the future right now. The timing of the new ES is right for the motoring zeitgeist.
The GS was no slouch when it came to styling, but the ES300h has a sleek silhouette that is a lot sharper than its German rivals’. Those Teutonic titans of the executive class have tended towards minor tweaks for several generations, opening the way for better-looking rivals like the Jaguar XF and, now, the Lexus ES.
The ES takes several styling cues from the gorgeous LC sports car, albeit with some give towards the practicalities required in a family saloon. Part of that is an interior that really impresses for legroom both front and rear.
Several other features are shared with the flagship LS, from the steering wheel to the infotainment controls and the Lexus touchpad control, which acts like the touchpad on a laptop. Unfortunately it’s clunky to operate and lets down what is otherwise a pretty intuitive user interface. Overall there is a proper premium air to the fit and finish of the ES interior.
As this model has always been built with the US market in mind, comfort has always been key. Entering its seventh generation there, this latest model delivers in this regard. Refinement is also a critical criteria for the ES engineers, who focus on what’s dubbed in auto-engineering circles the noise, vibration and harshness, or NVH, criterion.
Powering the new ES300h is a 2.5l, 178bhp petrol engine combined with electric motors giving a total of 218bhp and 221Nm of torque. The official emissions figure stands at 106g/km, giving it an annual motor-tax bill of €190. Lexus claims an official fuel consumption of 4.7l/100km (60mpg). And as we have seen with motorists who move to hybrid, changing your driving style to make better use of the electric performance can deliver even better results. Lexus and its parent, Toyota, have always argued that despite reviewers complaining about the engine whining when you kick down, most hybrid drivers don’t spend much time flooring the throttle. And having travelled recently with a hybrid convert in a new Toyota Prius, I can see their point.
The hybrid system is combined with the latest CVT transmission, which does mean some engine whine when you kick down, but serious work has been done to reduce engine noise in the cabin. In fact the engine noise has been managed better in the ES than in the flagship LS. This more affordable Lexus seems more refined on the road, even when you kick down the throttle.
In terms of handling, the ES is not quite as sharp as German rivals. But, considering its US focus, the difference is only by degrees. For a car of its size the ES seems surprisingly nimble on tight, twisting back roads. On some country routes we drove, just wide enough for the car in some places, the ES – F Sport version – swept through the bends without undue body roll or rear-end jitteriness.
On F Sport models an adaptive variable suspension is offered, using adjustable dampers. Similar to the systems offered on the LC coupe and LS, the system is capable of 650 levels of adjustment to deliver optimal ride quality and precise control. That means a remarkably smooth and balanced ride.
Price is key – and, starting close to €50,000, will pit the ES close to the midrange opposition variants. That means it’s unlikely to be toppling the big sellers in this market segment.
Nevertheless, hybrid will be a big lure, as will this car’s impressive styling. First impressions on the road suggest it also delivers a refined premium ride. The over-riding impression was of a well-built, poised executive saloon, where comfort and refinement are the dominant themes. This may well be the car that puts Lexus back in the corporate car parks of Ireland.
Lexus ES300h: The Lowdown
Price TBC but likely to start at less than €50,000
Power train 2.5l, 178bhp petrol engine combined with 88Kw electric motor, giving a total of 218bhp and 221Nm of torque @ 3,600rpm
Emissions (motor tax) 106 g/km (€190)
Our rating 3/5
Verdict A quality player in the executive market, delivering comfort and refinement, with impressive looks and a popular hybrid power train