Now in its fifth generation, Lexus’ ES is the company’s top seller. It accounts for some 25 per cent of everything they move, and, for 2013, gets a complete overhaul, and the addition of a hybrid model.
Now available as either a normally aspirated 350 or the 300h hybrid, the ES is Lexus’ entry-level offering, and is the latest in an absolute barrage of new model introductions coming from the Japanese carmaker. Given the rough ride the company had during 2009-2010 with the unintended acceleration and recalcitrant floormats imbroglio, it’s almost like it’s trying to get away from itself.
With the ES, Lexus has produced an upscale sedan that feels much more exclusive than it is. It has interior elbow room that is apparently equal to that of the much larger Mercedes S-Class, and, with arguably the best assembly quality in the industry, and features an almost completely silent ride with taut handling and improved fuel economy. The company has had its share of issues over the last couple of years, but it still knows how to make a luxury sedan with the best of them.
Power for the ES350 is delivered by a 3.5 litre V6 that develops 268 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic only. This engine – or derivatives of it – is used throughout the Toyota/Lexus line-up and you’ll look long and hard to find a smoother, more refined and thrifty V6 engine. It’s no exaggeration to say that Toyota has mastered the art of building V6 engines, and if you had to use one word to describe the driving experience of the ES350 it’d have to be: smooth.
If fuel economy is more important than smoothness, the ES300h features a 2.5 litre four cylinder with an integral electric motor that together, deliver some 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres in town and 5.1 L/100 km on the highway. Interesting that fuel economy better in the city than on the freeway. The 300h also has a 100 per cent “EV” electric mode that will propel the vehicle on battery power alone at speeds up to about 60 km/h, depending upon how the car is driven….in parking lots, for example.
The internal combustion engine in the 300h is of the Atkinson Cycle variety, which basically means that the exhaust stroke in the engine is longer than the power stroke, which translates into less power, but more fuel efficiency. Other fuel saving features of the hybrid include an electric water pump, electric power steering and no accessory drive belts. No need to replace the fan belt here because there isn’t one. Hybrid cars aren’t that common in the upscale market, and Lexus is on a mission to change that. “Having a hybrid option was a must for us,” said Larry Hutchinson, Senior Executive Director of Lexus in Canada, at the launch of the ES just outside Portland, Oregon.
As you might expect, the ES – both versions – is a rolling showcase of luxury and convenience goodies. It may be an entry-level Lexus, but it is definitely not lacking in creature comforts. Standard equipment in both models includes stuff like Bluetooth, climate control system, Sirius satellite radio, ten airbags, and all the usual power convenience goodies. You can also order extras such as a back-up camera, heated steering wheel (lovely!), leather interior, rear window sunshade, navi system and on and on. These extra will be packaged in option groups. For example, if you want a navi system, you also get the aforementioned heating steering wheel, rain-sensing windshield wipers and so on. Lexus has not released any prices for the ES at this time.
Driving around the Willamette Valley in Oregon, a couple of things occur to me. First of all, you really couldn’t ask for a better luxury car. Absolutely no complaints here. Yes, you can spend more and get fripperies such as self-parking, ventilated seats and so on, but in terms of getting a better automobile, this one is hard to beat. Anything beyond the ES is, in my opinion, getting into the snob factor.
Secondly, Toyota / Lexus’ biggest challenge these days is not mastering the ability to make a good automobile. Even during the company’s darkest hours, when the lawsuits were coming thick and fast and the company’s president testified before the U.S. congress, I wouldn’t have hesitated to purchase a Camry or Sienna or whatever, had I been in the market for a new car. Toyota still makes some of the most dependable automobiles on the market. Don’t believe me? Check out Consumer Reports or J.D. Power sometime.
No; this company’s biggest challenge is convincing buyers that their cars are as interesting and fun to drive as the next guy’s.That when you get behind the wheel of an ES350, for example, you won’t be bored stiff. While it may not be the most entertaining car in the world, the ES350 / 300h is definitely a step in that direction.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 3.5 litre V6 & 2.5 litre four cylinder w. electric motor
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel drive
Horsepower: 268hp @ 6200 rpm & 200 horsepower
Torque:248 ft. lb. @ 4700 rpm / N/A
Base Price: N/A
Fuel Economy: 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres city/5.1 highway. (ES 300h)
Alternatives: Acura TL, Nissan Maxima, Infiniti G37, BMW 3-series, Audi A4, Cadillac XTS, Buick Allure.
Positives: Hybrid really good on gas, excellent assembly quality, lots of interior elbow room.
Negatives: Some may find it boring, hybrid model a little on the slow side.