Fusing luxury and economy
I was surprised to learn that one in five cars currently sold by Toyota/Lexus in Canada is a hybrid. A 20% pick rate establishes hybrid-powered vehicles as an important and influential component of the passenger car market. The proliferation and perfection of the technology has rooted it firmly in the mainstream of fuel-efficient alternatives.
The 2013 Lexus ES 300h is perhaps the iconic example of applying hybrid technology in the entry-level luxury sedan segment.
New for 2013
Both the gas-powered Lexus ES 350 and the focus of this review, the ES 300h, are new for 2013. In fact, there has never been a hybrid ES prior to this launch. Lexus claims that the ES 300h will deliver class-leading fuel economy.
Despite the claim, the figures are not available for release at this point; and just what's included in the "class" referred to by Lexus is unclear. Still, I'm completely confident based on Toyota's outstanding hybrid technology that they've refined and improved over the years that the ES 300h will achieve noteworthy, if not outstanding, fuel economy.
Polished hybrid performance
There's nothing groundbreaking in the ES hybrid setup; we've seen it in other Toyota/Lexus products of late, such as the smaller, less powerful Lexus HS 250h. In the case of the ES 300h, a 2.5L Atkinson-cycled I4 gas engine supplies the core power while a sophisticated battery and inverter system delivers the electrical content.
The combined power output is rated at 200 hp. It's delivered to the vehicle's front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which mimics a conventional 6-speed automatic when the manual mode is selected.
There's little doubt that Toyota/Lexus has worked diligently to enhance the operation of their hybrid powerplants, and the ES 300h is the latest example of their efforts. It's a full hybrid setup, which enables the ES to run solely on electrical power within pre-established parameters.
Under normal acceleration, both the engine and battery contribute smoothly and seamlessly to the motivation, providing a response that's eternally satisfying but not exhilarating. The vehicle is suitably capable off-the-line and adequately competent in the passing lane, but not nearly as capable as its gas-powered ES 350 kin.
Of course, the ES 300h will drive past its kin and the gas station it's refueling in, thanks in part to the choice between Eco, Normal and Sport drive modes. They allow the driver to maximize the vehicle's economy or performance dynamics, while in the Normal mode, the car handles the emphasis based on driving characteristics.
When motoring at slow speeds, the driver can also opt for EV mode, which will allow the ES 300h to propel itself exclusively by electrical power. Once the battery depletes to a predetermined threshold or the need for greater propulsion arises, the gas engine fires up and the vehicle returns to normal hybrid operating status.
Luxury as well as economy
Because the ES 300h is a Lexus product, a couple of tenets apply. Firstly, the car will be assembled with exacting standards - true. Secondly, it will be generously equipped with the latest in comfort, luxury and safety - again, true.
While the ES is effectively the entry-level midsize luxury sedan in the Lexus lineup, the 300h version is equipped closer to a top-of-the-line model. There's very little left wanting in this vehicle. I particularly liked the polished bamboo trim that added a sense of elegance and eco-friendliness to the plush cabin.
I also enjoyed using my tester's Remote Touch Interface to adjust vehicle settings and make selections displayed on the in-dash multipurpose screen. The haptic-enabled mouse-like device is one of the more straightforward functioning controllers of this nature that I've worked with.
On the road
The flashy design language of the new ES 300h and its unique to Lexus, spindle grille, wouldn't mean much if the vehicle was undesirable on the road. Fortunately, that's not the case. The latest Lexus hybrid is a pleasure to drive due to its quiet, silky operation.
It's also a notably smooth riding sedan, and imparts a sense of stone-like solidity over rougher sections of road, thanks to a stiffer chassis than before.
The ES 300h is clearly oriented toward spoiling occupants with comfort and serenity rather than inspiring them with racecar reflexes, yet it manages itself with confidence when the tarmac begins to twist and turn.
One aspect noted by my driving partner and I was the need to adapt to the car's brake performance. Its regenerative brake setup - found on virtually all conventional hybrid vehicles - requires more pedal actuation in the early stages of braking to achieve the intended results.
A few miles behind the wheel, and the braking characteristics of the ES 300h become second nature.
ES 300h wrap-up
In terms of manufacturers, I don't think it's inaccurate to any degree to declare Toyota/Lexus the leader in passenger car hybrid technology. With the addition of the ES 300h to the hybrid fleet, virtually every car - and pretty well everything else Toyota/Lexus manufacturers - is available in hybrid form.
While the economy figures have yet to arrive, I expect to be impressed with the ES 300h's results. On the whole, I was delighted with the vehicle, and feel that it provides luxury car buyers with a realistic alternative to the thirstier, conventional ES V6 engine despite the reduction in performance.
With fuel at an all-time high recently in Vancouver of $1.50 per litre, fusing luxury with economy makes greater sense than it ever has. The ES 300h performs this task most effectively - I think. We'll anxiously await the official economy numbers before passing final judgment.
The ES 300h should arrive in Canadian showrooms by late August. Pricing has not yet been established, but I'm guessing that Lexus will want to offer maximum value to the 20% of ES buyers seeking hybrid-enhanced fuel economy.
Other Reviews Available For The 2013 Lexus ES
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