Lexus have long stood in opposition to plug-in hybrids, even taking out ad space to deride the technology for its lengthy charging times, clunky weight and perils of running the A/C. In fact, our recent test vehicle, the 2015 Lexus ES 300h, is the closest Lexus is likely to come to producing a fully-fledged hybrid car.
The legendary ES line enjoys a colorful history. First weaving its way around rounds in 1989, the ES family tree nurtures six generations of V-6 magnificence. The first gasoline-electric hybrid model was launched in 2012, and the new ES 300h isn’t just super-efficient, the car’s reduced emissions output and effective fuel economy will have you praising the hybrid gods.
As always, interior amenities are superb, cabin quietness is sublime and ride quality is smooth and reliable.
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the sixth generation ES 300h, first unveiled in April 2015.
Deep Sea Mica? Don’t mind if we do! The deep blue paint job screams, ‘Important executive coming through.’ We’re not sure how a color can say this, but the Lexus ES 300h certainly commands respect on the road thanks to its seamless, sleek exterior. Compared to the IS and new RC models, the allure of the ES resides in its subtle, yet aggressive, styling. The exterior’s innovative structural design was tweaked to ensure optimal airflow around the body, boosting the already quiet and vibration-free cabin. The design also sees fuel efficiency soar and drag plummet.
Sculpted like a Michelangelo, the car’s wide stance and bold lines, highlighted by auto on/off projector bulb headlamps with integrated fog lamps/LED daytime running lights, make the ES 300h a joy to be seen in.
17-inch aluminum alloy split 5-spoke wheels and rear spoiler look and perform admirably, while the spindle grille once again took my breath away (I am in danger of asphyxiation if I continue to be treated to Lexus grilles). Despite sounding like a broken record, I can’t help but preach the merits of this spindle grille, which is the best in the industry.
Other notable features include electrochromic heated outside mirrors, rear window de-frogger with timer, intermittent wipers with mist cycle, plus power trunk closer ($400 option).
It goes without saying that the interior of the ES 300h is luxurious and made using top-quality materials, while a longer wheelbase maximizes comfort even further. Book nerds will feel at home thanks to the library-quiet cabin, tricked out with the Ultra Luxury Package ($2,435). Meditation masters should be careful their don’t ‘Om’ themselves into oblivion while enjoying the ambient lighting and driver’s seat power cushion extender, or stroking the natural fibers of the bamboo and leather trimmed and heated power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, crafted by hand from a single piece of bamboo. A mere twelve sets of hands are entrusted to complete the contrast stitching, and when you run your hands across the dash and admire the accentuated lines, you’ll understand why.
Our luxury package comprised a gorgeous bamboo trim interior, which combined brilliantly with the Piano Black features. Smart 10-way driver and passenger power memory seats (heated and ventilated) make their presence felt, as do power rear and manual door sunshades, though the kids did encounter difficulty getting them up without direction. Speaking of kids, they were able to recline in style with additional head and legroom in the rear.
The one-touch open/close power tilt-and-slide moonroof is a handy extra for passengers who enjoy star gazing, and drivers who savour the sensation of cruising with the wind in their hair. Adverse to fresh air? No worries. Simply close the moonroof and bask in the automatic dual zone climate control.
The all-important EPA numbers stand at 40 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway for a combined 40 mpg. Our numbers averaged 35 mpg after driving in excess of 400 miles, although we were running electrical accessories and had the A/C on max due to the warm conditions. If we relaxed on these aspects, we can easily see how one could achieve stats closer to EPA numbers.
The safety guru in me always appreciates a blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, and lane departure alert with intelligent high-beam headlamps. The hard disc drive navigation system and Mark Levinson Premium Audio Package keeps you on the straight and narrow without any detours. A single in-dash DVD/CD player and remote touch controller join the 14-speaker premium surround sound audio system, and the whole box and dice will set you back a pretty penny. $2,695 to be precise.
But less about money, and more about features. We are fairly familiar with the Lexus Enform System, which offers 24-hour navigation assistance, mobile app integration with voice recognition, emergency services and the new Lexus Enform Remote app that allows you to start the engine, and monitor fuel levels and driving stats.
Another crucial component of the setup is Bluetooth and iPod connectivity. Staying in touch has never been easier thanks to Siri Eyes Free mode to facilitate calls, emails and text messages, in addition to selecting music and calendar info.
Enough with all the fluff and aesthetics. How does this hybrid drive, I hear you ask? Pretty damn good, in no small part owing to a 2.5L dual cam in-line 4-cylinder engine, with high output permanent magnet electric drive motor for a total system output of 200 horsepower. Sure, you’ll get from 0-60 mph in 8.1 seconds (aka snails pace), but hybrid owners aren’t generally concerned with how their vehicle would fare in a drag race.
A sturdy all-aluminum engine construction merges with VVT-i electronically controlled continuously variable transmission and 4-wheel independent MacPherson strut-type suspension with gas pressurized shock absorbers.
So silent you’ll second-guess whether you really did start the engine (the petrol engine isn’t normally used to start the vehicle), the ES 300h switches over to petrol once you start accelerating. The electric motor kicks in discreetly for zippy lane changes and speedy surging.
Vehicle stability control with TRAC makes its presence felt and Drive Mode Select ensures flawless results. We spent the majority of our time alternating between Sport and Eco mode, but a Normal mode is also available. I was pleasantly surprised by the power achieved while in the Sport mode, not to mention the responsiveness and its ability to cruise at lower rpms for effective fuel consumption – how often can you say that about a car’s Sport mode?
Also elevating the ES 300h’s efficiency is its lightweight status. Weighing an airy 3,660 lbs. we couldn’t help wishing for a few extra pounds to make the whole outfit feel more substantial. Nevertheless, handling is assertive and the suspension’s opposite-wound front coil springs assist during straight-line driving. The high-tensile steel and lightweight aluminum body makes for a rigid, smooth ride.
Our only other criticism is the annoying shutter that occurs when firing the engine up after it has been operating in EV mode, diminishing the serene nature the ES is famous for.
There’s a lot to like about the ES 300h. The aggressive exterior design and efficient hybrid powertrain are just the beginning. The Ultra Luxury Package takes Lexus luxury to extreme heights and the well-built interior is comfortable and spacious.
However, the engine shutter detracted from an otherwise quiet cabin and the infotainment system can be tricky to master, and distracting for the uninitiated.
The retail cost of our test model was $40,430, but after all the extra inclusions the final value came to $49,505.
Technically speaking, the 300h has no direct competitors. The fully loaded Toyota Avalon hybrid gives it a run for its money, and retails some $10,000 less than the Lexus. The Acura TLX and Buick LaCrosse are also comparable, but come with V-6 engines and all-wheel drive capability. Although it lacks the power of the Acura and Buick, we’d choose the ES 300h over the competition and recommend you give it a whirl yourself.
Photo Credit: Copyright 2015 Victor Mosqueda / Car Fanatics Blog