This mid-sized exec saloon isn’t that well known here. Should it be?
This four-door saloon has been a serious fixture in the Lexus lists for a very long time, as demonstrated by this being the seventh-generation model. Yet it’s a novelty to us – which is something Toyota’s premium brand intends to change.
Here in the UK we’ve been more used to the sportier end of the Lexus spectrum, with cars like the GS but the ES is perhaps a sign that Lexus wants to make more of an impact in Europe after playing a very long waiting game. It looks like it’s got tired of waiting.
Lexus ES 300h
Price: £35,000 (estimated)
Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol plus 118bhp electric motor assist
Power: 215bhp at 5700rpm (total system output)
Kerb weight: 1680kg
Top speed: 112mph
Fuel economy: 60.1mpg (correlated NEDC)
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Lexus has consistently been the premium brand, but that has meant pricing that hasn’t always helped the cars against some of the German opposition. Now, with the latest ES switching from the GS’s rear-drive to front-wheel drive, there really ought to be some economies of scale to help balance things up. With the platform sharing a certain amount with the Toyota Camry, can we have Lexus pedigree and premium delivery for more mainstream money?
Sit in the cabin and you’ll feel you’re in a premium space for sure. The leather is soft and tactile, the plastics mostly soft and well made, and of course build quality is suitably impressive. However, there’s a slight niggling feeling that it isn’t quite up there, with a Mercedes E-Class or similar. Close but no cigar – certainly not when you’re in the car.
There’s plenty of space, which there ought to be with both overall length and wheelbase extended, and legroom front and rear is definitely generous. Sadly the rear headroom is less so, so it would suit rear passengers who have their heads buried in company reports or the FT, rather than someone of decent height rubbernecking out the window.
Behind those rear seats there’s a large boot, both wide and long, but you can’t fold the seats down to make it any larger. That’s partly to do with how the chassis and suspension have been set up, as Lexus need this to be a comfortable car to carry stressed execs around in.
Certainly the ride won’t cause any kind of stress, being long-travel, soft and pliant. At the same time, handling is neatly controlled, so this displays a fine balance between being able to hustle reasonably quickly and keeping everyone relaxed and comfy.
The hustle comes from the hybrid power source – UK drivers will only get this set-up. That includes a 2.5-litre petrol engine, a 118bhp electric motor and a smaller generator/motor. This all adds up to 215bhp, driving through the e-CVT transmission to the front wheels.
With a 0-62mph time of a leisurely 8.9sec, it’s clear this is no hot-hatch killer, but it’s not intended to be. Drive at a sensible pace and you’ll see 50mpg fairly easily, low emissions and relaxed occupants. You can certainly up the pace quite a bit, but at that point you’re dealing with the wandering revs induced by the constantly variable transmission, which makes a lot more noise before it makes much more performance.
It doesn’t feel like much of a driver’s car, which isn’t down to the move to front-wheel drive. It’s more to do with the Lexus powertrain, which is something we’ve experienced in other Lexus models. If you can drive with it, then this represents a sensible car to add to the shortlist, alongside perhaps a Volvo S90 or a Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
That of course depends on what Lexus actually can manage in terms of cost savings. An estimated price of £35,000 would definitely suit, but let’s see what comes up on the calculator when the car arrives at the end of the year.