Driving report Lexus ES 300h: Economical, solid, rare

Lexus introduces the facelifted ES. The large hybrid sedan is extremely rare in this country - is the luxury Toyota an insider tip?

The Lexus ES has always been based on the Toyota Camry platform and is located in the Mercedes E-Class market segment. The facelift has given the generation built since 2018 a slightly more harmonious face, but it still looks striking and a bit dramatic with its strikingly dramatic grille and slit-shaped front lights. So the ES is a sedan that attracts attention - passers-by actually turn around after it. However, only a few buy it: in Germany, an average of 250 ES are sold to customers every year.

Digital exterior mirrors for an extra charge

Inside, the ES is a mix of modern and old school. The digital exterior mirrors, which are subject to a surcharge, alone indicate Lexus' love of technology. The camera mirrors were already on the pre-facelift model. They are designed to cover a larger angle than conventional mirrors and when blinking, the field of view angle widens automatically. However, the driver first has to get used to them: at first he always looks at the cameras and only then at the corresponding screens. In addition, the gaze must first focus on the screen image, which takes a little longer than with conventional reflection, where the focus is sharp at infinity while the camera image is close-up.

Impeccable infotainment

The infotainment system with its very wide touchscreen at the top of the center console works just as flawlessly in every menu branch as the connectivity with mobile devices. The pointer clock integrated into the screen frame on the left sets a calming accent, which is also an indication that the ES is intended to appeal to customers who like solid luxury. The many control buttons distributed on the center console then cause a bit of unrest again – these days, dewy control units are more conspicuous due to their lack of buttons. Some drivers do not see the option of directly selecting functions using a classic button as a disadvantage. And the turn-push cylinders to the right and left of the instrument screen invite you to touch them - they are also reminiscent of the cockpit of the legendary Lexus LFA.

Space like in a chauffeur-driven limousine

The head-up display is really convenient: Not too small and not too big, it reflects driving-related information clearly onto the windshield glass. The displays are colored, but not too colorful - and the display shows the navigation arrows in perspective, which makes orientation easier, for example at confusing intersections. The space available is also comfortable: the front seats are firm, making long-distance journeys possible without getting tired – and even tall people enjoy ample legroom.And even if a tall person pushes their seat far back, the rear passenger still has plenty of legroom. The rear design also makes it clear that the ES can also serve as a chauffeur limousine: in the center armrest there are not only buttons for the seat heating, but also for adjusting the backrest in, almost, a lying position. The trunk behind the backrest holds 454 liters - the button to open the tailgate is unusually far to the right.

Comfortable and unsteady

Relaxation, comfort, uniformity - these points were obviously at the top of the specifications of the ES developers. But compared to earlier Lexus models, something has changed enormously, for example with the chassis: the old sedan chair swaying, which American customers supposedly liked so much, is passé. The ES hardly sways in fast corners and it also copes well with long bumps. With short transverse grooves, however, the front axle makes a clear statement - and the rear axle, which is now more rigid, even a little more clearly. So if you drive the ES as a chauffeur, you should approach speed bumps and even shorter obstacles a little more slowly than with a Mercedes E-Class, an Audi A6 or a BMW 5 Series - then the guest in the rear will also be satisfied.

More pedal contact

The steering of the ES works precisely, the translation is direct and there is hardly any play in the middle position. The brakes, on the other hand, work unspectacularly, with Lexus being proud of two innovations: Firstly, the brake pedal is now shaped in such a way that the contact surface of the foot (usually probably the sole of the shoe) is larger, and secondly, the pedal should transmit less vibration. You really can't feel them on the brake pedal. On the other hand, we might have to introduce the pedal contact feeling as a new category in our driving reports - attention, irony!.

Powerful hybrid drive

As is typical for the ES 300h, a hybrid system is responsible for the drive. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine with 178 hp and a maximum torque of 221 Newton meters takes care of the combustion part. It is supported by a permanently excited electric motor with 88 kW (120 hp) and 202 Newton meters of torque. This results in a system output of 218 hp. The front-wheel drive ES, which weighs around 1,700 kilograms, sprints to 100 km/h in 8.9 seconds. The top speed is already limited to 180 km/h – the German competitors can do more here. Incidentally, the energy for the electric motor is stored in a nickel-metal hydride battery – this chemistry is significantly cheaper than lithium-ion batteries. However, these batteries also have a lower energy density and can withstand fewer charging cycles. In Toyota and Lexus hybrids, that's been enough for years - you could also say that the technology has proven itself and is mature.

Imperceptible switching processes

The really great thing about the hybrid drive of the ES, however, is the incredible desire for harmony with which the Japanese developers coordinated the combustion engine and electric motor. Even the most sensitive occupant is not aware of the combustion engine being switched on or off – nothing at all. A purely electric drive can be forced with the EV button – but only at speeds below 50 km/h and then only for a short distance. The occupants also do not feel this manual switching process. And as for the fact that the ES isn't an all-electric commuter car, Lexus says this drivetrain is all about increasing the proportion of electric driving in the overall journey -- which is a different philosophy than plug-in ones. hybrid systems, which ultimately also benefits the environment in the form of low consumption. Lexus specifies a WLTP average consumption of 5.8 liters, during our test drive with a lot of country roads and normal to committed acceleration behavior, the on-board computer showed values ​​between 5.5 and 5.9 liters. The ES 300h, which weighs 1.7 tons and has a power of 218 hp, can actually be driven economically.

Shift paddle reactions like in a sports car

An electronically controlled, continuously variable transmission takes over the shifting work. And of course: when accelerating hard, a European driver may wish for a noticeable shifting process. But the transmission is designed in such a way that it doesn't annoy the driver with bad howling high revs and if you like, you can fire in six virtual gear stages using the shift paddle. fire in? Yes: The system implements the shift commands as quickly and directly as in a super sports car. So operating the paddles is surprisingly fun. The rotary push cylinder for selecting the driving mode (eco, normal and sport) doesn't even have to be set to sport - the settings hardly have any effect on the throttle response, steering and gearshift anyway. No, with the help of the paddles, the driver can break out of the ES harmony a bit at any time if necessary.

Conclusion

The facelifted Lexus ES 300h is also an exclusive car - not only because it is so eye-catching, but because it is so rare in Germany. The interior shows its origin from a time when there were still many buttons in cars. But the look is harmonious and the cockpit looks modern with the two large screens and the excellent head-up display. There is so much legroom in the back that the ES could also be a chauffeur-driven car. The hybrid drive is economical and powerful at the same time - but its most outstanding feature is the fact that the combustion engine switches on and off while driving, which is unnoticeable even with the best of intentions.

All this makes the ES a coherent and sedan that is also excellently processed.As an alternative, it offers itself, for example, to anyone who is flirting with a Toyota Camry and still has a little money left over for additional luxury - after all, the Camry has not been available in Germany since late summer. A private customer has to pay at least 50,300 euros for the ES 300h - a Camry started at around 40,000 euros. The German competition is priced consistently above the Lexus. The Audi A6 40 TDI with 204 hp costs 52,440 euros, the plug-in hybrid A6 50 TFSI e quattro with 265 hp and all-wheel drive costs 58,700 euros. BMW would like 59,500 euros for a 530d with 286 hp, the plug-in hybrid 520e with 204 hp costs 54,900 euros. The Mercedes E 300 d 4Matic with 265 hp is in the list with at least 59,964 euros, the plug-in hybrid E 300 e with 211 hp costs 55,406 euros. The pricing of the Lexus is self-confident, but there is still a noticeable gap to the German competition.

Reasons for the rarity of the Lexus ES? We couldn't see any, except maybe the top speed, which is limited to 180 km/h - but Volvo now has that too. Then it must be the eye-catching design.

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