Car Review: Lexus ES 300h saloon

Star rating: 3.5 / 5.0

  • Tested: Lexus ES 300h, presented in top-spec ‘Takumi’ trim (£45,995).
  • Price as tested £47,314 (see fitted options below).
  • The four-model ES 300h range is priced from £34,705.

Lexus has long served those seeking a luxury car that combines the environmental and tax advantages of a hybrid without the faff of plugging it in. Most Lexus models are helped along by a battery pack and electric motor, as is the ES saloon.

Replacing the ageing GS, this seventh-generation Lexus ES is the first to be offered in the UK. It’s the best-selling saloon in the company’s range and the second best-selling car for the brand overall after the RX SUV.

There’s just the lone variant offered in the UK – the ES 300h. Under its bonnet is a 2.5-litre petrol engine assisted by a couple of electric motors fed by a battery pack. Official CO2 emissions are more in line with a small hatchback than a luxury saloon.

Rivals

If you’re in the market for a premium executive saloon, you might also want to consider the Jaguar XF, BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6, DS 9 and Volvo S60. If a full-on electric car is your preferred route, then also consider the Tesla Model S.

In a market where the ubiquitous SUV remains omnipotent, one might anticipate the demise of the four-door family/executive saloon to be imminent. Well, not so as there are several more less-premium saloons available include the Peugeot 508, Vauxhall Insignia, KIA Stinger, Mazda 6, Skoda Superb and Volkswagen’s Passat or classy Arteon.

Exterior

Parked next to any of its rivals, the Lexus ES will turn heads thanks to its large spindle grille, slanted headlights, sloping roofline and intricate tail light design. 

The latest Lexus ES rides on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) that underpins other group products such as the Toyota Camry and RAV4. Compared to previous ES iterations, the new platform stretches and widens the car.

Although the ES wears the marque’s large ‘spindle’ grille, it seems to match the saloon’s body’s lines, which are sharp and give the ES a very slippery profile. Its application on the firm’s more upright SUV range requires the spindle-shaped grille to be taller, which perhaps is where the disproportion resides.

Interior

Inside, the cabin adopts Lexus’ latest design language, inspired in large part by its current LC grand tourer.

There’s a large infotainment display atop an attractive centre stack, along with attractive, interesting shapes. Nothing is terribly exciting, but the interior doesn’t feel like it’s trying as hard as the exterior to get your attention.

Soft leather clads critical touch zones such as door panels and centre console, while sections of attractive trim inserts run elegantly along the dash. It’s all very pleasant and ‘grown-up’, to be fair. Some of the other small touches work (the LC-inspired aluminum door handles) while others don’t (the drive mode stalks that jut out above the instrument cluster’s cowl).

Interior quality and ride comfort are among the ES 300h’s strongest selling points. The centre stack features a simplistic button layout, with easy-to-use climate control switchgear and a large volume knob. While the buttons in the centre stack work well, the infotainment screen is much less friendly, but more on that below.

The ES’s cabin is among the most comfortable in its segment. It feels roomy, giving up to five occupants a good amount of space to travel comfortably. Rear seat occupants get plenty of legroom, while front seat passengers enjoy even more. Only the largest occupants are likely to complain, although as in most saloons, the centre rear seat is like drawing the short straw. Headroom throughout is exceptional, given the car’s sleek roofline.

Noise, vibration, and harshness levels are excellent in the ES. As expected, the 2.5-litre engine is buzzy under hard acceleration, but when cruising along at motorway speeds it’s largely unobtrusive. There’s also a minimal amount of wind or road noise at speed, which aids the ES’ road-tripping ability.

Luggage space

Inherently, saloons tend to lack the flexibility of hatchbacks and SUVs, as is the case with the ES. Not only is the opening smaller than a hatchback, the rear seat uprights are fixed in place and can’t be folded down.

The loading aperture is wide, but there is a significant load lip to traverse. Measuring 454 litres, the boot itself is also fairly small compared to the BMW 5 Series which offers 76 litres more, while the Mercedes E-Class has 180 extra litres of load area.

Technology & Connectivity

The Lexus ES features an expansive 12.3-inch display placed high and proud in the middle of the dash. The screen’s size is impressive, as are its graphics, but the touchpad controller used to navigate the system is an ergonomic travesty.

Attempting to move between icons on the display’s main menu becomes borderline dangerous at times, as the driver must divert focus from the road to the screen to make sure they select the correct on-screen function. While not a new gripe, it remains a worthy one. A BMW iDrive-style wheel is the most efficient – and safe – way to navigate a non-touchscreen display. Fortunately, the ES is equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the voice-commands of which would be strongly recommended.

Complementing the main screen is a digital gauge cluster that uses a setup evolutionary of the cluster deployed in the nearly decade-old Lexus LF A supercar. A digital rev counter sits directly ahead of the driver, flanked by two displays showing vehicle data, audio information, or navigation directions.

Trim grades

There are four trims grades offered on the Lexus ES saloon; ES, Premium Edition, F Sport and top-spec Takumi as tested.

Being a luxury saloon, the ES is very well equipped with standard kit such as an 8″ infotainment display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, eight-way electrically adjustable front seats (with heated headrests), sunroof, reversing camera, active cruise control, road sign assist, lane-keep assist, auto high beam and 17″ alloy wheels.

Walking up the range to the Premium Edition replaces the smaller alloys with a set of 18-inchers and adds navigation, wireless smartphone charger, privacy glass and rain sensing wipers and auto lights.

F Sport offers up the ES to be more sports-focused and adds five driving modes (EV, Normal, Eco, Sport and Sport+), adaptive variable suspension, driver’s easy entry/exit (seat slide, steering wheel tilt and telescopic), aluminium inlays, model-specific 19-inch alloys and electric door mirrors (auto folding, reverse tilt to pavement edge, auto dimming with memory).

The top-spec Takumi model as tested offers a superb 17-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system, a 360° panoramic view monitor with guide lines, head-up display, bespoke 18-inch Takumi alloys, ‘3-Eye’ LED headlights with adaptive highbeam and a powered boot lid with kick sensor.

Options

The Lexus ES Takumi comes with a full complement of kit described above so options are few and far between. However, the test car was finished in optional metallic paint (£920.00) and came with a Protection Pack accessory (£399.00) comprising an aluminium boot sill plate and a rubber boot lining.

Another option offered are digital door mirrors which project their respective images on to small interior screens either end of the dashboard. They take some getting used to and, at £1,600, are hesitantly recommended if you like gimmicks.

Engine and transmission

There’s just one engine available for the Lexus ES – a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol allied with an electric motor and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack, with drive delivered only to the front wheels via an e-CVT transmission.

In total, the powertrain produces 215bhp and a new hybrid control computer is said to better mimic the feel of a traditional petrol engine. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes 8.9 seconds, so the ES is outpaced by most of its rivals, and it also has a modest 112mph top speed.

On the road

The chassis feels well composed, with suspension that soaks up bumps nicely without allowing the body to wallow through bends and steering that’s quite direct.

But keen drivers are still unlikely to flock to the ES, because while the hybrid system is better than ever, it’s at its best when driving sedately. Do so and it’s smooth and refined, but push harder and the ES doesn’t feel like it has quite enough grunt for a car of its size and weight.

However, the hybrid system works seamlessly and delivers brilliant refinement. Unlike earlier Toyota and Lexus hybrids, the petrol engine doesn’t spend all of its time revving unsatisfactorily as soon as you show it a hill or need to overtake.

Performance is adequate, with a 0-62mph time of 8.6 seconds and an electronically-limited maximum speed of 112mph. It feels pretty lethargic to drive in Eco mode, but put it in Normal or Sport and the throttle sharpens up nicely, making this hybrid saloon feel pleasantly responsive. If you feel the need to leave it in Sport every time you climb in it, you’ve probably bought the wrong car.

Towing

Unfortunately, the ES is not approved for towing so owners looking to haul a caravan or trailer will need to look elsewhere.

Test-drive stats

During the test week, I spent 10:43 hours driving GY20 EHR over 407 mixed-road miles at an average speed of 31.2mph. The average fuel consumption was recorded at 50.1mpg, which was a little under the official 51.3mpg (combined WLTP data) declared by Lexus UK for this model specification.

Note: No attempt is made or conscious effort given to exceeding the stated WLTP mpg. However, the writer does deploy the cruise/active cruise control at all available opportunities.

Safety

This seventh-generation Lexus ES was crash-tested by Euro NCAP in early 2019 and scored five out of five for safety. It’s fitted with Lexus Safety System+ as standard, a suite of safety kit including autonomous emergency braking that can spot pedestrians during the day and night, as well as cyclists during daylight hours.

An advanced set of headlights are also available with 24 LEDs that automatically adjust for the traffic and road conditions.

Summary

Given the strengths – collectively or individually – of the opposition, it’s a difficult car to recommend on fully rational grounds. The Lexus ES may well be a new model name to UK buyers, but it’s an established model elsewhere and, in its seventh generation, offers a huge dose of style, a luxurious, well-appointed interior and very pleasant, laid-back driving experience.

What the Lexus ES also can’t offer is the far-reaching selection of engines found under the bonnets of its rivals. There are no diesels, no petrol-only saloons and no plug-in hybrid versions, either. But if you want an efficient, self-charging hybrid saloon that offers 5 Series space and size for the cost of a 3 Series and one that’s a little different, more interesting than some of its mainstream rivals, the Lexus ES well worth a look.