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First drive: Lexus ES 300h. Image by Lexus.

First drive: Lexus ES 300h
The Lexus ES matches class-leading refinement with a hybrid system to rival the predominantly diesel competition.


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Lexus ES 300h

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Hopes are high for the Lexus ES; not only does it pick up where the GS left off, it goes up against the established German triumvirate of the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Should they be worried? Yes.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Lexus ES 300h Takumi
Pricing: 45,650 as tested; starts at 35,150
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol and electric motor
Transmission: CVT automatic, front-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 119g/km (WLTP) (VED Band 111-130: 165 in year one)
Combined economy: 54.3mpg
Top speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
Power: 218hp (total system); 221hp at 3,500-5,200rpm (engine only); 120hp (electric motor only)
Torque: 221Nm at 3,600-5,200rpm (engine only)
Boot space: 454 litres

What's this?

If you live outside of Europe, then the Lexus ES isn't a new name for you to learn. The ES is as old as the brand itself, having been launched alongside the flagship LS back in 1989. Closer to home and up until now, it is the GS that Lexus has sent into battle against the 'Big Three' in the executive saloon class. But the introduction of the seventh-generation ES comes as the older and outgunned GS phases out, with Lexus placing many of its eggs in the new ES-shaped basket.

The car strikes a long, low and somewhat sleek appearance, and it's certainly more interesting to look at than its predictable rivals. Cynics will, of course, say that it's nothing more than a Toyota Camry in an expensive suit, and while the two cars do share many mechanical components, Lexus has put a considerable effort into making the ES unique.

Its styling draws inspiration from the larger LS model, featuring sleek headlights and a prominent grille that has become the face of modern Lexus cars. The roofline is lower, and overall length greater, than its key rivals', but the former doesn't impact all that much on rear passenger headroom.

The car comes only in one form, the ES 300h, featuring a newly developed 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, accompanied by an electric motor that is powered by a nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery - again, all new in design - set low in the chassis beneath the rear seats. The placement of the battery means that the boot space isn't impinged upon, as had been the case with the old GS 300h. Measuring in at 454 litres, it isn't as generous in volume as others, but does have a wide aperture, while higher grade models gain an electrically operated opening and closing mechanism.

There are several items of note when you ease yourself into the sculpted but comfortable seats. It isn't the most minimalist of layouts, but the step up in quality from Lexus, in particular with regard to the materials, is clear. Almost every surface and button you touch feels solid and well made. Yes, it may be light on flashy graphics and touchscreen pads, but you get the sense that it will feel just as new in a decade.

Both the steering wheel and gear selector are chunky, and Lexus has tried to improve the user interface with its touchpad control. It remains a far way off the intuitiveness that rotary controllers offer, especially when using it on the move. Annoyingly, despite the new 12.3-inch infotainment display looking great, it's still missing Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, meaning a less enjoyable smartphone interface for a lot of people. The many controls on the multifunction steering wheel are easy to use, though, and all fall within thumb's reach and, should you feel like inducing the sensation of manual gear shifts, there are some paddles on the back of the steering wheel.

How does it drive?

We have, along with many others, been critical in the past of the use of a CVT system in Lexus cars, so we're pleased to say that the Japanese company has been listening and, while the continuously variable transmission remains, it is now far better to use than previous versions. As you initially pull away, it does so silently thanks to the electric motor, and you can immediately notice just how supple the ride is at low speed.

The reason for this floaty sensation is thanks in part to the new type of suspension that Lexus has developed along with technical partner KYB. Curiously named spring valve shock absorbers allow for more movement at lower speeds without losing composure at higher speeds. It feels similar to an air suspension system with comfort levels that we would say are comparable to those from cars in the class above.

As the speed increases and the petrol engine discreetly spools into life, the drive is smooth, and the noise suppression inside is good. Yes, when you quickly ask more of the engine, the CVT will lead to a sharp rise in engine speeds, but the power delivery is now more linear following the initial spike in revs. There are engineered steps to simulate the sensation of an automatic gearbox working through the gears, and the ES gets up to speed reasonably quickly.

If you're used to having all the torque of a modern larger turbocharged diesel engine, then you will find the ES lacking in pace, but for those who mainly travel on urban commutes with lots of stop-start traffic, the Lexus doesn't disappoint. It is happy to be hustled along on winding roads and using the paddles to keep the revs in the right place is somewhat effective. Even though the suspension is set up to prioritise comfort, the body control in bends is good. A new setup for the electrically assisted power steering also generates a more natural sensation through the wheel.

Over a real mixture of roads and speeds the Lexus ES delivered fuel consumption figures that were quite respectable, and with some more considered driving it could certainly come close to, and in some cases match, what the current crop of fuel-sipping diesels are capable of.


With the continuing demise of diesel and the lack of effective plug-in hybrids in this segment, the Lexus ES couldn't have come along at a better time. Its refreshing design stands out from the overly familiar sights in car parks across the country and adding the solid reputation for reliability gives this latest Lexus the right to warrant serious consideration. If you're lucky enough to have a relatively short commute and you appreciate comfort, then this seventh-gen Lexus ES is well worth seeking out.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

4 4 4 4 4 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain

Dave Humphreys - 18 Jan 2019    - Lexus road tests
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2019 Lexus ES 300h. Image by Lexus.2019 Lexus ES 300h. Image by Lexus.2019 Lexus ES 300h. Image by Lexus.2019 Lexus ES 300h. Image by Lexus.2019 Lexus ES 300h. Image by Lexus.

2019 Lexus ES 300h. Image by Lexus.2019 Lexus ES 300h. Image by Lexus.2019 Lexus ES 300h. Image by Lexus.2019 Lexus ES 300h. Image by Lexus.2019 Lexus ES 300h. Image by Lexus.


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