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Lexus brings back front-drive ES with a bang

It's back: The Lexus ES front-wheel-drive sedan slots in between the IS and GS in the Japanese luxury car-maker's range.

Seven years on, reborn Lexus ES is $13,500 cheaper and armed with hybrid technology


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9 Oct 2013

THE price of entry to the born-again Lexus ES mid-range sedan in Australia will be $13,500 cheaper than the last car to carry the ES badge when it was discontinued here more than five years ago.

The new model, with technology and equipment levels reflecting two generations of progress, will go on sale in Australia in early November with prices starting at $63,000 (plus on-road costs) – well under the $76,500 list price charged for the previous entry level ES that was dropped when Lexus ended production of right-hand-drive cars when major market Japan pulled the pin on the model in its showrooms.

Thanks to committed internal lobbying by Lexus Australia, in particular former Lexus chief executive Tony Cramb, right-hook production has been restored in the new sixth-generation model that also gains a hybrid powertrain option for the first time.

The front-wheel-drive ES slots into the Lexus range between the rear-drive IS and GS, both of which have been totally overhauled in sweeping changes to the Lexus global line-up in the past two years.

Shedding its traditional conservative styling, the new, larger and more spacious ES adopts the Lexus signature “spindle grille” design of other new-generation Lexus models in an effort to attract broader consumer appeal.

Samples of the new ES roll into dealerships for static display today ahead of the national sales campaign starting on October 28 and first deliveries about November 6.

In the absence of a 2.5-litre petrol powertrain entry model like the IS and GS, the four-model ES range opens with the hybrid ES300h Luxury at $63,000 (plus on-road costs).

This is a $2000 price advantage over the cheapest V6 model, thanks to a federal government luxury car tax dispensation due to the hybrid's fuel efficiency.

The upper-crust ES300h Sports Luxury comes in at $72,000, while the petrol V6 ES350 kicks off at $65,000 for its Luxury version, rising to $74,000 for the flagship ES350 Sports Luxury.

Built on a modified platform from Toyota's Avalon large car sold in North America and China, the new ES arrives Down Under a year after its northern hemisphere release – a legacy of the battle to get it built in right-hand drive.

Now in its sixth generation, the original ES made its Australian debut in 1992, but never set the world on fire, held back by its perceived Camry underpinnings and reputation as an upmarket Toyota – a stigma Lexus Australia is keen to avoid this time around.

The new ES's petrol-electric hybrid ES300h appears to employ the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle petrol engine and electric motor as the Camry, generating a combined 151kW of power and driving the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Like the Camry, the engine is mounted transversely. By contrast, the dual-injection 164kW 2.5-litre four-cylinder of the IS300h is mounted longitudinally, driving the rear wheels. That powertrain is also set to appear in the larger GS in the first quarter of next year.

The 3.5-litre V6 in the ES develops 204kW of power – 4kW more than the similar unit in the Australian-made Aurion – but gives up almost 40kW to the same-sized unit in the IS350 (233kW).

The most affordable model in the new ES range, the $63,000 ES300h Luxury, carries a price premium of more than $4000 over the IS300h Luxury, but Lexus says extra equipment and greater interior and boot space more than compensate for the extra cost.

The most expensive ES – the $74,000 ES350 Sport Luxury – will be about $3000 cheaper than the most affordable GS, the GS250 Luxury, creating distinct a gap to the bigger, rear-drive model.

Lexus Australia chief executive Sean Hanley said the ES's blend of luxury and comfort would draw a different clientele to that of the more driver-focussed IS and GS models.

He said he also expected it to pull a wider demographic of potential buyers than previous ES models, thanks to its fresh styling, practical spaciousness, huge boot and high equipment levels for the money.

Mr Hanley said the ES had no direct competitor in the luxury car market, creating a niche of its own that would attract not only existing and previous ES owners but also people moving up from mainstream models and others looking for more metal for their prestige car dollar.

He said Lexus was targetting 100 ES sales a month, which is about the same volume as the old ES discontinued seven years ago, but he conceded he hoped it would go higher.

The top-selling IS contributes more than 200 sales a month to the Lexus tally, while the more expensive GS has been averaging about 40-50 a month.

Missing from the ES line-up is the F Sport specification that graces most other Lexus models in Australia, reflecting the expected conservative buyer base for this model.

Lexus Australia has not provided fuel economy figures at this stage, but the hybrid ES300h is likely to score a combined fuel economy reading of about 4.8 litres per 100km, with the V6 recording about 9.8L/100km, judging from overseas figures.

Standard equipment on ES Luxury variants includes sat-nav, reversing camera, eight-head parking warning system, blind-spot monitor, moon roof, 10 airbags, eight-speaker stereo, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, digital radio, selectable driving modes and leather interior.

Sports Luxury models step up with tri-zone climate control, HID headlamps, 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio, heated and ventilated front seats, power boot lid, sun shades, rear seat air controls in the armrest and semi-aniline leather upholstery.

Mr Hanley said the new ES reaffirmed the company's commitment to hybrid technology.

“The decision to lead ES line pricing with hybrid is a result of higher consumer demand and the commercialisation of hybrid technology,” he said.

“More than 30 per cent of Lexus customers locally choose hybrid as their preferred drivetrain, and we believe ES will grow that proportion as we edge ever close to our goal of 50 per cent hybrid.”

Lexus sold about 7000 ES cars in Australia before the range was discontinued, leaving Lexus Australia and its committed ES owners out in the cold.

Mr Hanley said Lexus Australia had sought to have the right-hand-drive ES restored to production because of those loyal customers, who had continually asked the company to do so.

He said many dealerships were planning events for those customers over the next week or two ahead of the formal product release late in the month.

Lexus ES pricing*
300h Luxury$63,000
300h Sports Luxury$72,000
350 Luxury$65,000
350 Sports Luxury$74,000
*excludes on-road costs.

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