The new Lexus ES300h – A German luxury saloon rival?

The new Lexus ES300h – A German luxury saloon rival?

Many of you are aware of Car Sleuth’s fondness for Lexus. Outside of the German manufacturers who dominate the executive saloon market, there are few car brands who have created a package of luxury, performance, build-quality and environmental credentials with as much success as this Japanese brand. In the UK, of the 10 Lexus models for sale, seven of them are offered as hybrids only. Lexus’s parent-company Toyota is the defacto leader in hybrid power plants and are regularly studied and copied by competitors.

The arrival of the new ES saloon in the UK marks the end of the slightly larger GS model and places it between the smaller IS saloon and their flagship LS saloon. Rounding out the Lexus range is their compact CT, their three SUV’s (UX, NX and RX), and their coupe collection, the RC and the striking LC.

The ES300h offered in the UK is a hybrid only and comes in three different trim levels. The range starts with the entry level ES at £35k, moving to the sportier F-Sport from £38k and lastly the artisan, inspected-by-hand-prior-to-being-sold, Takumi, which starts at a not-insignificant £43k.

So how is the new ES? Let’s start with the styling – you’d be forgiven for thinking that the ES was a hatchback because of the flowing lines over the roofline into the boot area, and perhaps Lexus missed a trick by designing it as a standalone saloon. Nonetheless, this car is handsome and well-positioned to take on the Audi A6, BMW 5 series and Mercedes E-Class in the style department. Personally, I’d opt for the beefier 19” wheels as it gives the car a slightly brawnier look.

Moving inside, the finishing is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Lexus with only the finest of materials used and with spot-on ergonomics. One criticism could be that the centre console might be a tad busy – there are three different tiers to adjust your eyes to, starting with the 8” infotainment screen (12.5” on Takumi line) centrally mounted above the console. Gaze just below and the climate controls are at mid-level before a swooping arc of leather-covered trim separates the seat heating controls for both driver and passengers. Busy, yes, but in an age where centrally mounted tablets controlling virtually every feature have become the norm, a centre console with easy to read and operate buttons is a welcome throwback.

Interior cabin space up front is perfectly adequate but taller rear passengers may feel slightly cramped – the sloping roofline doesn’t help at all with headroom. Yet legroom is more plentiful than any of its German competitors and comes close to its bigger sibling, the LS. The downsides include rear seats that do not fold down (but there is a ski pass-through) thus limiting practicality and a bizarre choice of plastics around the door bins that seem out of place on a car that is otherwise so generously wrapped in fine, soft, leather.

The new ES combines a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol powering the front wheels with an electric motor which, in tandem, produces an ample 215bhp. This gives a 0-60mph time of 8.9secs with a top speed of 119mph, similar to a BMW 525d or Mercedes E220d. However, torque suffers compared to these diesel competitors and the noticeable strain of the CVT transmission can be off-putting. Yet low-speed city driving (see above!) or motorway cruising will delight thanks to the ES’s perfectly weighted steering and minimal body roll. On this latter point, Lexus has introduced a new suspension set-up which, while not revolutionary, adapts to changing road surfaces and driving styles. Would you choose a BMW for a spirited drive up any twisty mountain road? Absolutely. But if you’re more likely to drive in urban environments, the green credentials more than offset the lack of high-level performance in this hybrid. The ES, even on the bigger 19” wheels, emits just 109g/km of CO2 while on the smaller 17” sees CO2 emissions of just 100g/t. Meanwhile fuel consumption ranges from 53mpg to 59mpg depending on wheel size. Put together, these are seriously impressive figures.

To conclude, if you’re in the market for an executive saloon and want an alternative to the better-known German brands, the new Lexus ES300h is a very worthy contender. It boasts elegant styling combined with a build quality that is second to none. Lastly, the environmental credentials leave the competitors in its smoke – or lack thereof, as is indeed the case here…

Car Sleuth likes: Style, exceptional interior cabin comfort and materials

Car Sleuth dislikes: CVT transmission

Car Sleuth rating: 7.5/10

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