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Driven: Lexus ES 300h. Image by Lexus UK.

Driven: Lexus ES 300h
Front-wheel drive it may be, but you’ll never notice – this is a silky-smooth executive saloon.

   



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Lexus ES 300h

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: smart looks, high-quality cabin, impressively refined driving manners, intelligent pricing

Not so good: uninvolving handling, one of Lexus' unfathomable infotainment controllers

Key Facts

Model tested: Lexus ES 300h
Price: ES 300h from £35,155, car as tested £39,325
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol with permanent magnet synchronous electric motor and nickel-metal hydride battery
Transmission: electric Continuously Variable Transmission (eCVT), front-wheel drive
Body style: four-door hybrid saloon
CO2 emissions: 103g/km (VED Band 101-110 (TC59 hybrid): £140 in year one, then £135 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 53.5mpg
Top speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
Power: petrol 178hp at 5,700rpm, electric 40kW (54hp), combined peak system output 217hp
Torque: petrol 221Nm at 3,600-5,200rpm, electric 202Nm, combined peak system output not quoted
Boot space: 454 litres

Our view:

You could make an argument that by shifting from the old Lexus GS' rear-wheel-drive platform to a front-driven chassis on this replacement ES was a hugely risky tactic by the Japanese luxury carmaker. But, in truth, do customers notice which axle is doing all the legwork any longer? Does rear-wheel drive hold the kudos it once did? Even BMW and Mercedes, the two marques which long held out with drive going to the rear while Audi persisted with quattro, have eventually bent to public will and sold a metric flip-ton of regular cars with either xDrive or 4Matic. Jaguar has plenty of AWD models, too.

And as 4WD cars tend to drive like FWD cars, until you really, really push them to their limits, then the ES is not likely to miss out on sales on its technical make-up alone. In actual fact, the Lexus ES shouldn't miss out on sales for any perceived slight on its character, because it actually turns out to be one of the best things the company makes (or has made), this side of an LC 500.

For starters, it's a truly elegant-looking thing. At first, it turned up for evaluation and we made the mistake of dismissing it as 'just another Lexus' - perhaps a little bit safe and sedate in the design department. But more and more time in its company started to convince us of its many aesthetic merits: like the fabulous Spindle grille; or the slim, attractive light clusters, front and rear; its coupe-esque profile, which is balanced out by a nice, long wheelbase and overhangs that are proportionally just-so; and the clever little hybrid signifiers, like the blue-tinged 'L' logos and the discreet 'Hybrid' legend on the doors. Yep, it's a fine-looking machine, this.

Same story inside, where high-quality materials and an exacting level of fit makes the Lexus' cabin feel suitably upmarket and solid. It has crisp, clear digital displays in both the cluster and on the touchscreen, the layout of everything is superb and the driving position is excellent, too. Also, there's plenty of room in the rear for adults to get comfy, even if that rakish roofline does somewhat limit outright headroom back there.

And so it is that our only real complaint about the ES, before we've even driven it, once again pertains to Lexus' infuriating infotainment controls. The Japanese outfit hasn't yet come up with anything that works anything like as well as the systems found in European rivals, with the ES saddled with the 'flat touchpad' item this time around. To be fair to Lexus, this is about the best application of this controller yet, as it seemed just a touch more willing to make the on-screen cursor do what you ask of it, but it is once again something that you wouldn't dare use on the move, because it simply isn't intuitive enough. The wonder is that Lexus hasn't just appropriated the Toyota Touch 2 set-up, which is a far more preferable system to deal with.

Anyway, apart from this minor hiccup - and a one-off glitch in the ES 300h's satnav which, while in a minor bit of congestion at the M1/M69 interchange one morning, warned us of further queueing traffic in another 2.67 million miles; clearly, some sort of trouble on the road to Mars, then - the Lexus proves highly appealing in the pre-drive warm-up. And it backs that up with thoroughly civilised manners on the road. As in the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Mk5, there's a lot of work clearly gone on to make the 2.5-litre petrol-electric drivetrain seem more refined than ever. Always a smooth unit, bolstered by the short-distance EV-running capability, this Atkinson-cycle engine was nevertheless rowdy in older Lexus models and also not that punchy.

Yet here, it feels silky, subdued and strong. Admittedly, thanks to Lexus' persistence with the eCVT 'box, you can still get the engine roaring if you demand absolutely maximum throttle, but it's more cultured and more palatable for more of the operating range now. This is probably to do with a wealth of sound-deadening, but whatever the reasoning you can now safely opt for this Lexus ES hybrid and expect it to be as easy to live with as comparable 'pure' petrol/diesel rivals.

Not only that, but this is a supreme cruiser. The handling is pleasant enough, with the Lexus' fancy suspension (it's called Swing Valve Shock Absorber) controlling the ES 300h's shell tidily and the company's sharp steering providing good feedback; however, its real strength is easing away long-distance miles. Those SVSAs do a magnificent job of cushioning the car's occupants from the very worst that road surfaces can throw at the ES, while the near-silent low-revs operation of the drivetrain results in epic refinement.

Not only that, but the 300h managed a best return of around 58mpg on a long run up the M25, M1 and A46, with an overall weekly average of 50.1mpg recorded across 360 miles of mixed-roads motoring. Once again, this is a Toyota/Lexus hybrid getting very close to its claimed combined economy, which is suitably commendable. As is the price. The ES 300h starts at £35,155 and the only cost additions to our test car were Ice Ecru metallic paint (£670) and the worthwhile £3,500 Premium Pack - bringing in 18-inch alloys, three-eye LED headlights with Active High Beam, leather upholstery, ten-way adjustable powered front seats with heating, ventilation and a driver's memory function, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert/Auto Brake, a heated wood-and-leather steering wheel, and rain-sensing wipers. These two options kept the 300h's price beneath the £40,000 'rich tax' threshold, meaning it will be peanuts to tax the Lexus year in, year out; a boon for a big, premium motor like this.

In all, we really enjoyed our time with the ES 300h. At no point did we reasonably lament the shift of drive from the rear to the front of the car, nor did we experience much in the way of teeth-gnashingly uncomfortable eCVT behaviour. Our test car was also probably better off for not being an F-Sport, which tends to bring in a firmer ride quality and more noise on other Lexus models we've tried, and while you'll still get more driving fun from certain rivals, there's little doubt that this classy, part-electric executive motor would seamlessly fit into your life if you're after a cultured, aspirational daily driver. We're intrigued to see what happens to the ES family next. . . and, indeed, if a replacement for the GS F ever arrives. If an ES F does appear, it should be pretty blindingly good, if this first showing is anything to go by.

Alternatives:

Audi A6: all A6s are mild hybrids, with 48-volt augmentation of their drivetrains, so - like the Lexus - you can't plug them in to recharge. The more affordable ES will run longer on its EV reserves, though; the Audi fights back by having a nicer interior and far superior infotainment control.

H: quite considerably punchier performance from the 530e, mainly because it's a plug-in hybrid whereas the ES is a full hybrid with no plug-in capability. BMW still the more rewarding to drive, but Lexus' interior finishing has the edge.

Volvo S90: this is the other main choice, Jag XF being the third, if you want a mid-sized exec that isn't German. S90, like the ES, is FWD and still comes with diesel engines; and the Swedish T8 PHEV is frighteningly expensive in comparison to the Lexus.


Matt Robinson - 29 Jul 2019



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

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








 

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