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New York show: Lexus impresses with new ES

Covers off: Lexus Group vice president and general manager Mark Templin unveils the new ES 350 at the New York motor show.

Lexus Australia studies case for redesigned ES series following RHD confirmation

Lexus logo5 Apr 2012

By TERRY MARTIN

LEXUS is looking to reinstate the medium-sized ES luxury-car series in Australia after the new-generation model was unveiled at the New York motor show overnight.

While there were some doubts prior to its unveiling that the latest ES would be built in right-hand drive – the outgoing model was only made in left-hand drive – Lexus Australia has revealed that planning is now underway for the redesigned Japanese-built series to be sold here following confirmation in the US that it was designed for both left- and right-hook markets.

An official green light for Australia is still to come, but the Japanese luxury marque made it clear in New York that “right-hand drive comes later next year”.

More detailed right-hand-drive production timing is expected in the final quarter of this year, pointing to an Australian launch in the second half of 2013.

Production for the United States begins early in the third quarter.

“Right-hand drive is confirmed (and) we now move into the phase where we look at where it may potentially fit and study the suitability of the model for this market,” a Lexus Australia spokesman said.

Lexus Australia chief executive Tony Cramb told GoAuto as far back as 2010 – when the model unveiled this week was still in development – that he was working with Japan in a bid to ensure the new ES was engineered for right-hand drive, with the local subsidiary keen to plug the gap in its model range between the smaller IS and larger GS.

31 center imageAt last week’s new GS series launch, Mr Cramb also reaffirmed that he was “on record as saying that we would accept an ES”.

“I’ve seen the next-generation ES and ... it is a terrific vehicle that fills a hole that we have here,” he said.

Lexus Australia marketing and aftersales manager Peter Evans added: “The ES used to be very successful for us ... If it became available in RHD, then we would strongly study its introduction for Australia.

“From a demographic point of view (the customer base) would definitely be older. And I’m happy to sell to everybody. We’re strong already in the older end – and we have to get stronger in the younger end with cars like the GS, CT, and next-generation IS would do that – but at the same time we are not going to walk away from a very happy band of customers.”

Lexus group vice-president and general manager Mark Templin said in New York that the new ES – which was built under the direction of chief engineer Toshio Asahi – “balances the needs of Lexus customers all over the world”.

“Unlike the current generation, this new ES will be available in both left- and right-hand drive,” he said. “The left-hand version launches this (northern hemisphere) summer, while the right-hand drive comes later next year.

“The ES is now an important global vehicle for Lexus and will contribute greatly to the expansion of our brand in both mature and developing markets around the world.”

Although the new ES series is understood to be built off the same medium-sized front-wheel-drive platform as the latest Camry, the Lexus model does not appear to have the same degree of closeness to its Toyota cousin as the ES300 that left Australian showrooms in 2006.

The redesigned sedan is clearly recognised as a Lexus with its spindle grille and ‘L’ design motif reflected in the LED daytime-running lights and combination rear lamps.

The company also points to its “lower, progressive profile and clean, continuous styling lines from front to rear” compared to its predecessor.

Along with a 3.5-litre dual-VVTi V6-powered ES350, the luxury four-door will also come equipped with a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain for the first time.

Identified visually with an aero-enhancing rear spoiler, revised rear bumper (with hidden exhaust, compared to the ES350’s twin pipes) and ‘bamboo’ interior trim, the ES300h will use a version of the 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine found in the Camry Hybrid.

Full specifications are still to be revealed, although Lexus executives in New York described the hybrid – powered by an upgraded ‘Lexus Hybrid Drive’ system and tipping the scales at 1660kg – as the most advanced ES ever, capable of 40mpg on the city cycle (equivalent to 5.9L/100km) and qualifying for California’s strict SULEV (super ultra low) emission rating.

Four driver modes – Normal, Sport, Eco and electric-only EV – will be offered.

The Australian-built Camry Hybrid’s 2.5-litre engine delivers 118kW/213Nm, with the electric motor adding 105kW/270Nm for a combined output of 151kW. It can achieve 5.7L/100km on the city cycle and 5.2L/100km on the combined cycle.

While the new Camry sticks with the previous model’s wheelbase length (2775mm) and has basically the same dimensions as before, the latest Lexus ES gains extra cabin space with a 45mm-longer wheelbase than the previous generation – stretched to 2820mm – and slightly bigger body dimensions (4895mm long, 1820mm wide and 1450mm high).

Rear-seat occupants are the main beneficiaries of the extra space, with Lexus building in 104mm more legroom – said to be more than in a Mercedes-Benz E-class – as well as 71mm more knee room and extra foot space below the front seats.

Despite the larger size and additional equipment stacked into the cabin, Lexus claims to have reduced the weight of the new ES by almost 40kg – the ES350’s kerb weight comes in at 1610kg – while at the same time increasing body rigidity via lightweight, high-tensile steel, additional bracing and more spot welds.

The Japanese luxury marque claims this extra stiffness, in concert with suspension and steering changes, delivers more precise handling. It says opposite-wound coil springs on the front suspension enhance straight-line stability, while revised rear suspension geometry and improved shock absorber damping characteristics enhance ride comfort.

A reduction in the steering gear ratio is also said to deliver a more responsive and direct steering feel, while a reduction in cabin noise is achieved with fluid-filled engine mounts, revised engine intake tuning and extra sound-absorbing materials.

For the first time, 18-inch wheels will be available on the ES (with high-gloss alloy wheels), while the standard models use 17-inch rims with 215/55R17 low-resistance tyres.

An array of safety technology will be available, including a blind-spot monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), lane-departure warning integrated with automatic high beam dimming, and a pre-collision system that can detect obstructions and prepare the vehicle for a potential collision.

US-spec models have 10 airbags as standard – including driver and front passenger knee and rear seat-mounted side airbags – and whiplash-lessening front seats.

The front seats are more sculptured to enhance comfort, while the steering wheel angle has been reduced from 24 to 22 degrees for a more “natural control” position.

The cockpit includes a second-generation touchscreen for operation of the climate, audio, phone controls, navigation system and so on.

In the US, the standard stereo is a premium eight-speaker system with full USB/iPod connectivity and Bluetooth, with an upgrade package available that adds items such as a seven-inch screen with reversing camera.

A 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system with eight-inch display screen is also available, while other options include ambient lighting, power rear sunblind, manual side window sunblinds and a one-touch power bootlid latch.

Mr Templin said in New York the ES300h would be one of eight hybrid choices Lexus would offer around the globe by early 2014.

“Our product blitz is under way, but we’re just getting started,” he said.

“We’re determined to provide emotional and inspirational products that our customers demand while raising the bar even higher with our industry-leading customer service.

“This is the new face of Lexus – this is our future – and it’s here now.”

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