As Lexus strives to improve its public image, the company recently revamped the previously somewhat frumpish ES in a pair of 2013 models that first debuted at last month's New York Auto Show: the ES 300H and ES 350. With a lower, wider and longer body, spindle grill and clean front-to-back lines, the car represents a beaut of a sedan for the entry-level luxury market. While the overhauled aesthetic initially caught our eye, it was the promise of a combined 40 MPG in the hybrid model that held our attention.
The highly efficient 2.5 Liter 4-Cylinder Atkinson cycle engine is augmented with battery power throughout the powertrain, a consideration that is especially noticeable on the high and low ends. The result is a sedan with solid pickup and sporty responsiveness, achieving 0-60 MPH in a respectable 8.1 seconds, compared to 7.1 on the gas-powered ES 350. Working alongside the drivetrain to maintain efficiency is a 0.27 coefficient of drag, which comes courtesy of aerodynamic improvements throughout the body. A spoiler and aero fins on the rear stand out at first glance, while out of view is an undercarriage aero fin that hides the exhaust.
The ES 300H can be driven in Sport, Normal, Eco and EV (Electric Vehicle) modes, the last of which is a battery-only experience for low-speed driving under 25 MPH. Perfect for parking lots, the car automatically exits EV mode when the driver accelerates. The digital dashboard combines a speedometer alongside a dial that gives conscientious drivers immediate feedback on their fuel usage. Tuning into sport mode, the visualization adjusts to display a tachometer.
For the navigational interface, Lexus continues to improve their haptic-based "Remote Touch" interface with better ergonomics. While the interface itself could use a bit more development in the way of organization and ease of use, the control's all-in-one approach remains a distraction-free way to access entertainment and navigation. Sitting in the car, drivers and passengers will note greatly expanded head and leg room, courtesy of the new, larger Toyota Avalon platform, which replaced the Camry platform of previous models.
The ES 300H maintains a luxury feel with details that have filtered down from Lexus' costlier models, such as the contrast white hand-stitching on the dash, wheel and haptic control. Bamboo was chosen for the wheel and door panel trim, carrying the eco narrative that can be found throughout. Sound deadening material in the windshield and the interior makes for a quiet ride and enhances the supremely hi-fi Mark Levinson sound system.
Driving through the winding valleys of Newburg, Oregon, we were surprised by the ES 300H's responsiveness and handling. While hybrids have a reputation for sacrificing performance, the sedan is a fun daily driver with great fuel economy and affordable pricing to boot. These enhancements, combined with the updated looks are sure to attract sales for the ES's already stellar market share.
The ES 300H and ES 350 are set to hit dealers August 2012 with pricing yet to be announced.