2014 LEXUS ES300H REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Premium medium sedan
Engine/Trans: 151kW/320Nm 2.5-litre 4cyl hybrid | CVT auto
Price: $72,000 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.5 l/100km | tested: 7.8 l/100km
When a luxury vehicle gets to a certain size, you'll assume that it follows a time-honoured luxury-class layout.
The ES, however, is not.
It's large, and it's front-wheel-drive. But there’s more to this car than a discussion about which end of the car provides the motivation (fact is, it's irrelevant).
This one’s a hybrid, which means it’s going to be cheap to run. It’s also very big inside, and it’s exceptionally-well screwed together.
So how does it stack up in light of its target market? Read on to find out.
Quality: This is a Lexus. Put simply, it doesn’t put a foot wrong with build quality.
There's an old-school wood-and-leather steering wheel (which isn’t slippery, despite how it looks), and high-gloss wood highlights throughout.
The polished-grain toning is perhaps a little light in colour for our liking, but you can’t argue with how it’s been assembled.
But then, delving into the details of how a car has been put together, you’ll often come across little nuggets of information which Lexus uses to explain its craftsmanship and mastery of technique.
The hand-stiched dashboard, for instance, is done by one of 12 workers who have been chosen based on their origami skills. No kidding. They had to demonstrate they could fold an origami cat from a flat piece of paper with one hand in under 90 seconds.
Obviously it works, because the dashboard is finished superbly, as are the seats.
Comfort: The seats in the ES are both heated and cooled, and the leather and padding conform to the back very well.
The seats are clearly influenced by American proportions, with less of the shaped bolstering you'll find in the Germanic brands, and a flatter, more squared off appearance.
There’s heaps of legroom for the rear seats, helped by the lack of a driveshaft tunnel, and headroom is good.
Equipment: Unlike its rivals, Lexus simply packs everything into its cars and that’s it. So, it’s fully loaded.
Just about every mod-con you could think of is included. The air-con, for example, adds ultra-fine water particles to the cabin air to prevent dry eyes and make it easier on asthma sufferers.
Three-zone climate control, electric rear privacy-blind, and outboard heated rear seats. And the stereo volume, station or inputs can all be controlled via the rear centre-armrest.
The Mark Levinson stereo is simply superb, plus sat-nav, Bluetooth phone and audio, USB inputs, an eight-inch colour screen with a mouse-like controller and digital radio are all included.
Storage: In the centre console there are two lidded cupholders, curiously placed front and rear of the gear lever. There are door pockets for the front, but they’re non-existent in the rear.
In the dropdown centre rear armrest, there are two more cupholders plus a small space for a wallet or phone. But the seats aren’t split-fold which inhibits practicality.
The boot is rated at 425 litres, but it’s very wide and has a good-sized opening to make loading it quite easy.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: It won’t set any speed records, but the ES’s drive experience is exactly as you'd expect from a premium luxury sedan.
The CVT auto is one of the better ones and stays mostly in the background. The hybrid system uses the instant torque of the electric motor to mask the 'elastic band' feel of the transmission.
Creeping away from the lights with gently acceleration, the ES relies on its electric motor. Once on the roll, or with a hard prod of the throttle, the petrol motor kicks in and takes over.
The result is 'planet friendly' fuel and carbon efficiency. The 7.8 l/100km we managed is very good for a big car being put through its paces.
Press the EV button behind the drive-mode dial and at speeds up to 45kmh, it’ll run solely as an electric vehicle.
Turn the drive-mode dial to Sport, and, though it doesn’t turn into an F1 car, throttle response picks up, the CVT holds onto revs longer and it runs only from the petrol engine.
With both engines working together, maximum power is 151kW which is handy enough to propel the ES to 100kmh in 8.5 seconds, and overtaking performance is very respectable.
It is certainly no slouch on the highway.
Refinement: Double-layered glass and well-placed soundproofing makes the ES a very quiet car. More than one passenger commented on the silence.
Of course, setting off from the lights in EV mode means no sound at all, but even when it switches over there’s very little clue that it’s switched over. No thump, no vibration; it’s seamless.
It’s a very refined vehicle, and probably evidence as to why Lexus has shunned diesel engines so far.
Ride and Handling: Running on 17-inch wheels, the ES’s ride is very good, thanks to large 55 profile side-walls. But the tuning is a little soft.
The body bounces a bit over undulations and there's a fair bit of lean when cornering.
Being front-wheel-drive of course, it’s wise not to push it too hard (as it tends to want to plough ahead more than you'd notice on a larger rear-drive car). The ES is not sporty in the vein of the GS or IS Lines, it’s just a cruiser.
The steering also conveys its relaxed intentions. It’s very light and doesn’t offer much in the way of feel. Overall, it’s a nonchalant way of motoring.
Braking: This is an area where the ES could certainly improve. Braking performance itself isn’t too bad, being taken care of by 296mm ventilated front discs and 281mm solid rears.
It’s the way it’s proportioned that’s the issue. The first half of pedal travel doesn’t do anything and the second half is too aggressive when the regenerative process kicks in.
SAFETY | RATING: Not applicable
ANCAP rating: The ES Line hasn’t been tested by either ANCAP or EuroNCAP.
Safety features: Ten airbags (front, side-front, side-rear, curtain-front, curtain-rear and knee airbags for both sides of the car) are fitted, as well as the normal ESC, traction control, and brake assistance if the car detects a crash being imminent.
A tyre-pressure deflation system, rear camera, parking sensors, and radar linked to the pre-collision system (to automatically brake if you don’t) are all standard.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Four years/100,000km with four years road-side assistance.
Service costs: Certain dealers will offer fixed-price servicing, while others will vary depending on interval. Best to check with your local dealer and try to twist their arm to include a fixed-price schedule.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
BMW 520d ($82,400) - BMW’s driving dynamics will see the 5 Series trump the ES for handling prowess. But the options are both extensive and expensive, meaning it’ll always end up costing a lot more than the ES.
And it can't match the Lexus for cosseting on-road serenity and refinement (see 5 Series reviews)
Audi A6 2.0 TDI ($79,500) - With one of the best cabins in the business, the A6 is a pleasure to sit in. Its diesel is also very smooth, but like BMW, the super-serene ES has it bettered for refinement and the options see it adding thousands to the base price. (see A6 reviews)
Jaguar XF 2.2D Premium Luxury ($76,500) - Not as smooth nor as refined as the ES, but it’s a lot more involving on-road.
The XF is starting to date a bit however and rear seat-room is lacking in comparison, but boy it’s still a good looking vehicle. (see XF reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Lexus ES 300h is not the most exciting car to drive, but it’s a very nice piece of machinery.
Sure, some of its competitors will trounce it for driving dynamics, but not everyone cares about steering feel or handling.
For them, the joy of driving may be more to do with first-class comfort and refinement, and a bulging feature list.
If that's you, there is a lot of car for your money here.
With stacks of space, an excellent stereo, a superb interior, comfortable seating and excellent fuel consumption, this ES hybrid is a car that you could happily cruise across a continent in.
PRICING (excluding on-road costs)
The ES is on sale in Australia now.
- ES 300h Luxury - $63,000
- ES 300h Sports Luxury - $72,000
- ES 350 Luxury - $65,000
- ES 350 Sports Luxury - $74,000