What is it?
Lexus is finally here and the ES 300h sedan is the entry point to its India range. An entry point the ES 300h may be, but it sure isn’t cheap. Imported in fully built form from Japan, the ES 300h is subject to the full bevy of Indian customs duties and taxes. Resultantly, it’s been priced at a rather steep Rs 55.27 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). On paper, what makes the price pinch more is the fact that the ES shares a lot with the Toyota Camry. Remember, Toyota owns Lexus.
Of the things common between the Toyota and the Lexus is the hybrid powertrain. Lexus is big on hybrids and sees it as a crucial differentiator in India, especially at a time when emissions have become a part of everyday conversation.
What’s it like on the outside?
Before you rule out the ES 300h as just a Camry with a Lexus badge, know that the similarities between the two remain hidden deep under the skin. On the outside, there’s nothing to link the two cars. The ES 300h looks like a proper Lexus with a design that is elegant and some parts sporty too. Without a doubt what gives the ES 300h’s design some real character is the oversized ‘spindle’ grille. It’s a styling element common to all modern Lexus’ and makes the front end look imposing and distinctive. The sharply cut headlights, with arrowhead LED daytime running lights, and the angular fog lamps add their own drama to the front end.
The rest of the car isn’t quite as dramatic in looks but there’s a pleasant balance to the design and the ES does manage to carry off its 4.9m length with grace. There’s a nice flow from the chunky C-pillar to the tail section, the tail-lights with the L-shaped LEDs add a degree of distinction to the rear and you’ll also like the boot for the amount of luggage it can hold. What’s worthy of a round of applause is that Lexus will offer all its cars in India with a full-size spare tyre as standard.
What’s it like on the inside?
The Lexus experience starts in earnest the moment you shut the doors. Sound insulation is really good and little of the outside noise creeps in. Drivers will also like the easy access to their seats – the steering rises and seat rolls backwards to ease ingress/egress and get back into pre-set position once the ignition is switched on.
The general look of the cabin is rather nice too. The dashboard is split horizontally into display areas (instruments cluster and centre screen) and control areas (centre console and steering buttons) but it’s not solely about functionality here. The layered-look dashboard is attractive and is characterised by a sweep on the dashboard top, in the region of the centre screen. The classic analogue clock adds in a bit of class too. Quality is really impressive in places (such as the upper section of the dash) and good in others, but somehow you don’t get quite the same sense of luxury as you would in a European luxury sedan. The ES 300h competes with the BMW 5-series and Volvo S90s of the world on price, and so it shall be judged. Some of the plastics on the centre console don’t look premium enough for the money and sadly some buttons look a bit last-gen. The power window switches and mirror adjust controls are a straight lift from the Camry and that’s a bit of a downer too.
The ES 300h uses Lexus’ screen-based infotainment system. It’s not a touchscreen but you operate it via a central controller near the gear lever. The selector works almost like a computer mouse and though it takes some time getting used to, it is intuitive to use on the go. The infotainment system offers the essentials but does miss out on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Indian cars don’t get functional satnav for the moment either. What does more than make amends is the superb 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. The speakers really bring out the best of your music.
In terms of other features, the Lexus ES 300h gets quite a lot. There’s only one trim on offer and it includes 10 airbags, LED headlights, a sunroof, electric adjust front seats, memory seats and mirrors, electric rear sunblind, three-zone climate control, cooled front seats and a reverse camera. Curiously, the rear seats don’t get a recline feature as offered on the Camry.
Seat comfort is largely good in the ES. Cushioning on the perforated leather seats is superbly judged and the large front seats are very accommodating. There’s loads of legroom in the back but a longer seat squab would have made the rear seat experience nicer still. Still, it’s a seat you will happily slouch down on after a tough day at office while sinking your feet on the thick floor carpets.
What's it like to drive?
The Lexus ES 300h uses a hybrid powertrain that comprises a 160hp, 2.5-litre petrol engine and a 105kw (140hp) electric motor. The combined max power of the hybrid system is a decent 205hp. The electric motor draws power from a 245V nickel hydride battery pack positioned behind the rear seats. While the setup and power output is same as the Toyota Camry Hybrid’s, the Lexus runs a different ECU for its powertrain.
The ES 300h can run in pure electric mode, provided there is adequate charge in the battery. This EV mode allows near-silent progress but the all-electric range is limited to a few kilometres and also requires feather-light throttle inputs. It’s when the engine kicks in that you can tell where Lexus has spent its money. Noise levels remain admirably low at all times and, even when you drive in an enthusiastic manner, the engine note is never loud.
Lexus claims a 0-100kph time of 8.5sec for the ES 300h, which is respectable. Acceleration is brisk and the ES picks up pace from all speeds with ease. You can also fine-tune the driving experience with the three driving modes on offer – Eco, Normal and Sport. All three modes offer the desired level of performance but this is not a car that eggs you on to drive hard. Rather you’ll find yourself naturally adopting a more relaxed driving style in the Lexus. It's a calming car to drive and its easy-going nature makes it likeable in its own way. Still, if and when you do drive it hard, you’ll find the CVT gearbox makes the engine sound strained but is also quite ready and responsive to manual shifts at the gear lever.
Also, on a quick run you'll find grip to be good and handling tidy. Again, the ES 300h is not the sort of car that you’d chuck into a corner but the average driver will have little reason to complain. For the record, the reworked steering has more weight and feels far more connected than the Camry’s unit.
What will be of interest to all and sundry is the ES 300h’s ride quality. The suspension is really absorbent and works really quietly too, further adding to the sense of calm in the cabin. There is little of that low-speed firmness, which we’ve come to accept from European cars, but neither does the ES feel soggy or floppy at high speeds. The overall experience is rather plush.
Should I buy one?
The ES 300h is expensive and will remain so until Lexus starts local assembly some time down the line. Its strengths lie in its relaxing persona, efficient powertrain (the official ARAI figure is 17.8kpl) and the fact that it’s got a degree of novelty that many luxury buyers want from their Rs 50 lakh plus cars. And you need not worry about the Camry connect, really. Still, if you look at the tangibles, the ES isn't quite up there with European luxury sedans in the same price band.
But the Lexus experience, we have been promised, is not going to be about only what you can see and feel. Lexus cars are renowned the world over for reliability and a relatively low cost of ownership and these are aspects that count for a lot in India, even high up the pecking order. Lexus has a small footprint in India (there are dealers in Mumbai, Delhi, Gurgaon and Bengaluru) for the moment, but buyers (Lexus calls them guests of the brand), we are told, can expect a far more personalised buying experience than what they may be used to from the competition.
As things stand, Lexus, and the ES 300h in particular, already has a ready market, comprising satisfied Toyota Fortuner and Innova owners looking for an upgrade. If the brand lives up to the promised experience, positive word of mouth publicity could help steal buyers away from German luxury sedans too.
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