Car reviews - Lexus - ES - sedan range
Keen entry price, cabin design and space, interior comfort, impossibly quiet, spec levels
Room for improvement
Straight-line performance in hybrid, middling dynamics, droning CVT in hybrid
8 Nov 2013
FOR many a Lexus buyer, the demise of the ES in Australia seven years ago marked a sad chapter in the Japanese marque’s local history.
Since 1992, the premium mid-size sedan had forged a healthy customer base, attracting buyers looking for a comfortable, smooth luxury car that didn’t attract the premium of more established European brands.
Thankfully for that loyal customer base, and indeed Lexus Australia, the ES returns to local showrooms this month with a choice of two powertrains and two specification levels.
This sixth-generation ES is the first time this model has been offered with a hybrid powertrain and it also marks the first time a hybrid variant has opened a Lexus range.
At $63,000 plus on-road costs for the base ES300h hybrid Luxury, the entry price is cheaper than the last time the ES was sold here ($76,500) and slots somewhere in between a mid-spec small luxury rival such as the BMW 3 Series and a mid-size Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Topping out at $74,000 plus on-roads for the ES350 Sports Luxury, the ES range sits above the locally-built Holden Caprice ($54,490 - $59,990) and the Chrysler 300 ($43,000 - $66,000) and is probably more closely aligned price-wise with the Volvo S60 range ($49,490 – $75,140).
Lexus has packed both variants with enough fruit to ensure it gains the attention of premium-car buyers as well as people shopping at the top end of the regular mid-size segment.
All the usual goodies you would expect at this price point are there – Bluetooth, power front seats, dual-zone climate control, leather trim etc – with a few extra touches, including a power rear sunshade and a moisturising climate control system.
Standard safety equipment includes 10 airbags, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, a blind spot monitor, tyre-pressure warning system and the 'Pre-Collision' safety system with adaptive cruise control on high-spec models.
Design wise, the ES has never looked better. The last model that sold here between 2001 and 2006 was a slab-sided, boxy, awkward-looking thing and nothing like its stylish predecessors.
The sixth-gen version is a bit more conservative than the striking new IS and the edgy GS, but it features smooth, flowing lines and is very appealing to behold.
Lexus has clearly put a huge effort into the cabin, with high-quality materials including hand-crafted dash finishes that have been stitched by one of just 12 Lexus ‘takumi’, or craftsmen.
The rest of the cabin is sumptuous and classy with the Luxury variants featuring piano black inserts matched with a classic black interior trim, while the pricier Sports Luxury variants are available with a selection of different wood-grain trims, including the visually appealing bamboo on the top-spec version of the ES300h.
The dash is well presented and the eight-inch multimedia screen sits perfectly at the top of the centre stack, surrounded by the aforementioned hand-crafted soft-touch dash materials.
Dials are well spaced out on the wide centre stack for ease of use and like other models in the Lexus range, the ES features a mouse to toggle between multimedia controls rather than a wheel or dial like in other luxury marques.
A beautifully-designed Lexus clock sits in the centre of the stack, topping off the luxurious feel.
A leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel with audio controls is standard on Luxury variants, while the Sports Luxury gains a leather and wood-grain wheel.
There are generous levels of occupant space in the front of the cabin, including ample head-room. Moving to the rear seats, the head-room is reduced a little thanks to the sloping roof-line of the ES, but not enough to impede vision out of the rear windows.
Legroom in the second row is where the ES really shines. Lexus says the 1015mm of legroom is more than the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and after a good stint in the rear or the ES, we can confirm that there is acres of space there.
In fact, rear seat passengers are treated very well, with air conditioning (tri-zone in Sports Luxury variants) controls on the rear centre arm-rest, as well as heated seating controls. The power rear sun-shade keeps passengers cool, as do the manual side sun-shades.
Lexus said it expects the ES to appeal to limousine operators and there is a good chance it could take a few sales from the Holden Caprice and Chrysler 300 that dominate that market.
One of the highlights of the ES is just how quiet it is. Not just on the road either, even the power windows are almost completely silent.
Speaking of, Lexus claims it has the quietest automated boot lid in the world.
We tested it, and yep, it is quiet. While we are not sure how crucial that is to buyers in the premium market, it is a neat addition and pushes the smooth and quite refinement angle of the ES.
Boot space is 490 litres in the petrol models and 425 litres for the hybrid, meaning it can’t match its GS stablemate that can carry 530 litres or 464 litres in hybrid guise. Still, it is enough to carry four golf bags, according to Lexus.
The hybrid variants are powered by a 151kW/270Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine combined with an electric motor, the same powertrain found in the current Toyota Camry.
It’s a great unit and while it lacks the guts of the larger petrol engine from the ES350, it is super smooth, impossibly quiet and refined and most importantly fuel efficient. Lexus claims economy of 5.5 litres per 100 kilometres on the combines cycle and we achieved 6.9L/100km. A great result given the varied driving conditions.
The continuously variable transmission (CVT) matched to the hybrid powertrain was typical of a number of these units, whining loudly when pushed, particularly when tacking a hill.
The ES350 packs more of a punch, but don’t expect sports car performance. While the 204kW/346Nm 3.5-litre V6 petrol unit is no slouch when accelerating or overtaking, the ES is all about a composed ride in a refined package. The six-speed auto in this variant was smooth and a proved to be a nice break from the CVT in the hybrid.
Naturally the V6 was thirstier than the hybrid, with our figure of 10.2L/100km exceeding the Lexus official figure of 9.5L/100km.
Lexus has tuned the spring rate on the front suspension for optimised ride comfort and stability, while the rear suspension is designed for better handling.
It makes for a smooth ride, with the ES gliding over corregated roads and not bothered by pot-holes. It even maintained its composure during a short stint on gravel.
The trade-off is that dynamically, the ES feels almost wafty and lacks the connection with the road of some of its rivals and even some of its stablemates.
The 17-inch Yokohama tyres were specially designed for the ES and engineered to add to the quiet ride.
The steering is direct but lacks any particular feel, while the brakes are soft and require a bit of force. The front-wheel drive ES tackles corners with confidence, without a hint of understeer, but this is no performance car.
And that is precisely the point of the ES. Lexus is not hiding the fact that the ES will appeal to buyers looking for comfort, space and refinement over a sporty, dynamic ride.
The Japanese brand said as much in a press conference at the launch of the ES, highlighting the IS or GS for people that are looking for a more spirited drive.
As a spacious, premium offering catering to buyers that value comfort above all else, the ES does what it is intended to do and does it beautifully. It is difficult to remember a ride as smooth and quiet as the ES and Lexus has designed a cabin you would be chuffed to spend a good length of time in.
If you are looking for a fun engaging luxury sedan with a bit of space, skip the ES and check out the IS, GS or any number of rivals including the BMW 3 Series. But if you care about comfort over cornering ability, the ES is a top pick.
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