When Lexus entered India about 18 months ago, the ES 300h was part of the portfolio. That model (sixth-generation), however, was inching towards the end of its life cycle, and amidst its fresher rivals, it looked dated too. But now, just months after its reveal at the Beijing auto show, Lexus has brought the seventh-generation ES 300h to India. Having borrowed styling cues from the company’s flagship sedan, the chic and sophisticated LS 500, this new ES feels contemporary and generations ahead of its predecessor.
It might be the brand’s entry-level petrol-hybrid sedan but wearing a sticker price of Rs 59.13 lakh, it isn't cheap and it goes head to head with established European luxury sedans like the Mercedes-Benz E-class and BMW 5-series.
What is it?
Based on Toyota’s Global Architecture-K (GA-K) platform, the ES is now 60mm longer, 45mm wider and boasts a 50mm longer wheelbase than the car it replaces. Its rear track is now wider by 35mm and it gets a new multi-link rear suspension. The use of high tensile steel in several areas provides the necessary rigidity to the car while keeping a check on the weight of the platform, which in fact, is 62kg lesser than before. The overall kerb weight, however, has increased to 1,740kg from 1,705kg.
Look at the ES 300h from a distance and it could be easily mistaken for the larger, more expensive LS 500h sedan. The ‘Z’-shaped LED headlamps with the ‘L’-shaped DRLs, the oversized spindle chrome grille and the long, flattish bonnet are all very attractive. Even from the sides, the sloping roofline lends it a coupé-like profile and those multi-spoke 18-inch chrome wheels look very expensive. The rear gets a new boot lid spoiler and new signature tail-lamps. Overall, the design is a lot more aggressive and sportier than that of the earlier car.
What is it like inside?
For ease of access, the steering wheel and seats adjust automatically each time the ignition is turned on and off. The choice of materials used in the cabin is top class – at least the leather and soft-touch bits – and the fit-finish is second to none. The steering wheel is wrapped in leather and wood which makes it that much nicer to hold. It isn’t all good news though, as the plastics on the lower half of the dash feel hard and look shiny, and certain switchgear and the key fob don’t belong in a car at this price. The instrument cluster is served by a digital speedometer surrounded by a large circular tachometer pod (which doubles as a charge/power gauge in Eco mode). There’s a large head-up display for the driver and a 12.3-inch infotainment screen which isn’t touch-operable; you get a trackpad to navigate through the various settings. The row of neatly laid-out physical buttons offer easier access to key functions but feel a touch too small. The infotainment system too isn’t the easiest to use out there and can take some getting used to. However, what you’ll warm to immediately is the brilliant, 1800W, 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system that a delivers crisp, clear sound and one that’ll put a smile on the faces of the pickiest of audiophiles.
The ES 300h's seats are great in terms of support, the cushioning is spot on and the front ones have a heating and ventilation function too. The rear, however, gets only heating, which isn’t of much use. Most owners would prefer to be chauffeur-driven and with good reason, as the back seat is incredibly comfy. Space is huge here and despite the sloping roofline, headroom won’t be an issue for tall people. Neither will legroom, especially if you don’t have a passenger in the front because the front seat can be moved all the way forward via dedicated buttons on the seat backrest that are within easy reach of the rear passengers.
The backrest can be electrically reclined up to 8 degrees in a 60:40 ratio, and while that might not seem much on paper, it's angled enough to allow you a very relaxed posture. What’s also nice is that the centre and door armrest are placed at the same level, but if there’s a third occupant in the middle, he would have to sit ramrod straight because the armrest (when folded) doesn’t recline with the rest of the seats.
Active noise cancellation and additional stuffing of polyurethane foam in the pillars do well to isolate the ES' occupants from the outside environment. The hyper-chrome alloys are actually hollow in this car and that absorbs tyre noise to a certain extent. At the end of the day, all these work very effectively and make the cabin hushed. With the sunshade up, the backrest reclined and the cabin quiet, the ES’ backseat is a great place to relax while being driven home in traffic after a long day of work.
The 454-litre boot is huge and deep and will easily gobble up a couple of full-sized suitcases. Unlike other cars in its segment, the spare wheel, which is full-sized with an alloy wheel, is nicely tucked below the boot floor, making it more practical than the others. Also, the boot has the hands-free opening/closing function, and it is one of the easiest ones to use – it detects the kick below the rear bumper immediately and performs flawlessly.
In terms of equipment, the ES gets auto LED headlamps, 18-inch wheels, sunroof, cruise control, paddleshifters, ventilated front seats, heated seats, reclining rear seats, 1800W Mark Levinson sound system, three-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, 10 airbags, ESP and TC, among others. Sadly, it misses out on Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but it offers MiraCast where one can mirror the phone screen on the infotainment screen wirelessly, and gets navigation too.
What is it like to drive?
This ES 300h, like the sixth-gen model, is powered by a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine and with some tweaks, power has been bumped up to 178hp at 5,700rpm (from 160hp) and torque from 221Nm between 3,600-5,200rpm (from 213Nm). The electric motor, on the other hand, is a fourth-gen unit that’s lighter in weight and a bit down on power, churning out 120hp, which is 23hp lesser than before. When these two units work in synergy, the combined power derived from the hybrid system is 218hp, a healthy 13hp more than before. Buyers will love its fuel efficiency too, which is claimed to be up by 25.67 percent at 22.37kpl.
Hit the start button and like a typical hybrid, there’s no sound. The ES will glide ahead in complete silence (as long as the battery has charge), and there’s more than ample torque on offer to potter around and manage the bumper-to-bumper grind without the need for the petrol motor to kick in. Flex your right foot a bit and when the petrol engine does kick in, the transition from battery to hybrid is seamless. The petrol engine is quiet and very refined thanks to all that sound deadening and the power delivery is brisk and seamless; the car builds speed effortlessly and even when the engine is spinning hard, it doesn’t lose its refined character. The CVT complements this unit very well. That typical rubber band effect is still there, but the noise is so well damped that the whine from the CVT at high revs is barely heard in the cabin. There are paddleshifters too, but their functioning seems artificial and the pre-selected ratios don’t feel engaging enough. However, this car’s character urges you to adopt a rather relaxed cruising driving style than a spirited one.
“For the new car, our aim was even better comfort, quietness and driving dynamics at the same time,” said Yukihiro Kito, deputy chief engineer of the Lexus ES 300h.
To further improve the ES’ driving dynamics, there’s a new V-brace behind the rear seats and a rack-mounted electric power steering unit coupled with a new multi-link rear suspension and performance dampers. The entire battery pack, now lighter than before, sits lower (within the wheelbase), to further lower the centre of gravity as well as ensure optimum weight distribution; earlier it was behind the rear seat.
The ride is quite impressive and it's over bad sections of road that you really appreciate how absorbent the suspension actually is. The 18-inch wheels do bring about that tad bit of initial firmness but, thereafter, the suspension soaks up shocks really well. There’s very little body movement too, and although it can tend to float a bit over wavy surfaces, vertical movement is controlled. What impresses further is the ability to isolate passengers from the outside noise and that combined with its superb sound dampening, masks speeds very well. Then, the steering isn’t bristling with feedback but is well weighted, consistent and very accurate. This car can take corners and it does so with surprising levels of grip. However, the ES isn’t a car that’ll thrill enthusiasts as body roll is present, and its long wheelbase doesn’t make it particularly agile either.
Should I buy one?
This seventh-generation Lexus ES 300h is a very likeable car and a worthy contender in its segment. With exteriors resembling the posh and expensive LS 500h sedan, the ES is a head-turner and is far more desirable now. It is a quality product bearing a good amount of kit, plush interiors and a comfy ride, and with cabin noise insulation being so good, it genuinely gives a luxurious experience. Being a hybrid, fuel efficiency is great, but what customers will love is the fact that the ES’ carbon footprint will be much lower than that of other petrol or diesel cars. Those looking for a sporty performance might be disappointed, but it is sure to appeal to the ones seeking a relaxed and refined experience.