Lexus launches new luxury saloon to replace current GS

New Lexus ES will take on big-selling German rivals like Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5-Series

 

The saloon car market may be stagnant at present, with many buyers focussing on SUVs and crossovers, but there remains a strong cohort of buyers in the premium segment who still have a soft spot for saloons.

And as Lexus wants to mix it with the big German brands, they need to have a strong and viable player in this space. With that it mind, the firm is replacing its under-performing GS model with the latest version of the ES saloon.

The new car, arriving in showrooms towards the end of this year, is hoping to take a more significant share of the market away from the big-selling rivals like the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

According to Ian Corbett, head of Lexus Ireland: “The market is changing and corporate buyers in this market – hugely significant in this segment – are concerned about resale values of diesels.”

That’s where hybrid comes in – and Lexus is hoping their devotion to its future will pay great dividends.

The hybrid focus is all-important, for Lexus is a hybrid-only brand. For it, diesel is most certainly dead. So that means the new ES comes in one flavour, the ES300h, powered by the firm’s latest 2.5-litre four-litre engine combined with hybrid battery to ultimately put out 219bhp and deliver a fuel economy figure of 4.7 l/100km (60.1mpg). This is matched to a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Platform

The new ES is also front-wheel drive, another distinction compared to rivals at BMW and Mercedes, where rear-wheel drive is the preferred format for executive saloons. That said, it’s not the only brand to put power through the front-wheels of a car in this class; Audi for one has opted for this for years.

Built on Toyota’s latest platform called the GAK (basically all the underpinnings of the car), which it shares with the latest Toyota Camry sold in the US, the car is spacious enough to compete with its German rivals.

The new ES is larger than the outgoing GS, and while its silhouette has touches of the sleek lines of a grand coupe, it is remarkably spacious inside. While the ES is new to European buyers, it is now in its seventh generation in the US market. So for the ES chief designer Yasuo Kajino, the focus was on meeting the wishes of buyers in the US and China, where comfort and rear seat legroom are highly valued.

The new ES delivers on both fronts. Headroom in front and back is also surprisingly good. Kajino has managed to create a car that looks sporty and sleek on the outside, but roomy and comfortable in the cabin. That’s no mean feat. The ES offers buyers an alternative to the traditional German fare, without demanding any compromise.

Cabin styling is in keeping with the latest Lexus look, with touchpad controlling a 12.3-inch dash-mounted infotainment screen.

Entry model

Lexus will not confirm if there will be other engine variants added to the range in western Europe, or whether a 2-litre hybrid version will be built later as an entry-level variant. However, if it was included in the ES range it could prove very important for the potential growth of sales, for the ES300h will likely be priced in the middle of the premium saloon market.

That’s good news for Lexus dealers, for the outgoing GS has always been expensive, compared to basic models of its German, Swedish, and British rivals (albeit almost always better equipped), but they would no doubt welcome a low-priced entry model.

In terms of sales targets, Corbett says it will depend on final pricing but it is a very important model in the Lexus line-up in its efforts to increase volumes. He says the ES is important for the brand’s development and growth because premium saloons are still 26 per cent of the overall premium market in Ireland, which will account for 18,500 new car sales in total this year.

What could greatly help Lexus is a change in some current tax policies. For example, hybrids have suffered from the fact that companies can only claim back VAT on diesel used in the corporate fleet, and not petrol.

According to Corbett: “We would be hoping that the Government incentivises companies to move towards hybrid and away from diesel. For example, companies can reclaim the VAT on diesel but not for petrol-hybrid: a change in policy here would significantly help move premium buyers from diesel to hybrids.”

And ultimately, according to Lexus logic, hybrid will act as the easiest bridge from combustion engines to full-electric, something it is planning for early 2020s, though details have yet to be confirmed.

In the meantime, the Japanese premium brand is preparing to roll out this new ES saloon, followed early next year by a new small crossover, the UX, which aims to take on the likes of the Audi Q2 and Q3 and BMW’s X1. The crossover will land in Ireland in March, ready for 192-registrations.

Both new models will likely boost the brand’s presence on Irish roads, riding a wave of anti-diesel sentiment. While it will remain a niche brand, it will be looking to match the sales of Jaguar, Land Rover, and Volvo. The “diesel is dead” message will certainly help.