Lexus ES gets complete overhaul and hybrid model for 2013
Headed for its sixth generation, the Lexus ES is the company’s top seller. It accounts for some 25 percent of sales, and for 2013 gets a complete overhaul and the addition of a hybrid model.
Now available as either a normally aspirated 350 or the 300h hybrid, the ES is Lexus’s entry-level offering, and is the latest in an absolute barrage of new model introductions coming from the Japanese carmaker. Given the rough ride the company had during 2009–10 with the unintended acceleration and recalcitrant floor mats imbroglio, it’s almost like it’s trying to get away from itself.
With the ES, Lexus has produced an upscale sedan that feels much more exclusive than it is. It has interior elbowroom that’s apparently equal to that of the much larger Mercedes S-Class, and, with arguably the best assembly quality in the industry, features an almost completely silent ride with taut handling and improved fuel economy. The company has had its share of issues over the past couple of years, but it still knows how to make a luxury sedan with the best of them.
Power for the ES350 is delivered by a 3.5-litre V-6 that develops 268 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic only. This engine—or derivatives of it—is used throughout the Toyota/Lexus lineup, and you’ll look long and hard to find a smoother, more refined and thrifty V-6 engine. It’s no exaggeration to say that Toyota has mastered the art of building V-6 engines, and if you had to use one word to describe the experience of driving the ES350, it’d have to be smooth.
If fuel economy is more important than smoothness, the ES300h features a 2.5-litre four-cylinder with an integral electric motor that together deliver some 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres in town and 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres on the highway. Interesting that the fuel economy is better in the city than on the freeway. The 300h also has a 100-percent “EV” electric mode that will propel the vehicle on battery power alone at speeds up to about 60 kilometres per hour, depending on how the car is driven, in parking lots, for example.
The internal combustion engine in the 300h is of the Atkinson-cycle variety, which basically means that the exhaust stroke in the engine is longer than the power stroke, which translates to less power but more fuel efficiency. Other fuel-saving features of the hybrid include an electric water pump, electric power steering, and no accessory drive belts. No need to replace the fan belt because there isn’t one.
Hybrid cars aren’t that common in the upscale market, and Lexus is on a mission to change that. “Having a hybrid option was a must for us,” said Larry Hutchinson, senior executive director of Lexus in Canada, at the launch of the ES just outside Portland, Oregon.
As you might expect, the ES—both versions—is a rolling showcase of luxury and convenience goodies. It may be an entry-level Lexus, but it definitely isn’t lacking in creature comforts. Standard equipment in both models includes Bluetooth, a climate-control system, Sirius satellite radio, 10 airbags, and all the usual power convenience features. You can also order extras such as a back-up camera, a heated steering wheel (yes!), a rear-window sunshade, leather interior, navi system, and on and on. These extras will be packaged in option groups—for example, if you want a navi system, you also get the aforementioned heated steering wheel, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and so on.
Driving around Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a couple of things occurred to me. First of all, you really couldn’t ask for a better luxury car than the ES. Absolutely no complaints there. Yes, you can spend more and get fripperies such as self-parking and ventilated seats, but in terms of getting a better automobile, this one is hard to beat. Anything beyond the ES is, in my opinion, getting into the snob factor.
Secondly, Toyota/Lexus’s biggest challenge these days is not mastering the ability to make a good automobile. Even during the company’s darkest hours, when the lawsuits were coming thick and fast and the company’s president testified before Congress, I wouldn’t have hesitated to purchase a Camry or a Sienna or whatever, had I been in the market for a new car. Toyota still makes some of the most dependable automobiles on the market. Don’t believe me? Check out Consumer Reports or J.D. Power sometime.
No, this company’s biggest challenge is convincing buyers that their cars are as interesting and fun to drive as those coming from Europe, for example; that when you get behind the wheel of an ES350, you won’t be bored stiff. While it may not be the most entertaining car in the world, the ES350/300h is more interesting than it used to be.