Lexus ES300h: More beast than beauty
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The new 2019 Lexus ES300h luxury sedan has had a mixed reception from critics, with one of them describing it as a “hideous monstrosity”.
Though that is an extreme reaction, it is also grossly unfair — the medium-sized luxury saloon is sleek and well-proportioned, and looks smart.
What attracts the most criticism, and attention, is a new version of the trademark Lexus spindle grille.
Lexus has doubled-down on a particularly dramatic form of the grille, with lines appearing to flare out from the centre.
It creates a dramatic front of the car, but is not a thing of beauty to many.
Putting aside the grille, the ES300h looks proportionate for its size, and bears a close family relationship with the larger Lexus LS luxury sedan.
And as ever with Lexus, the interior is stunningly luxurious, even if some aspects of it remain a puzzle.
This is a much better sedan to drive than its predecessors, with balanced steering and smooth acceleration. It may not be as involving a drive as some German competitors (think of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class or the BMW 5-Series sedans) but it does everything well.
There are two ES 300h models available, with the standard model starting at $76,990 plus on road costs. The ES300h Limited model we tested retails for $92,990 plus on road costs.
Both ES models are powered by a new 2.5 litre Atkinson Cycle petrol engine, and working with the fourth generation of Toyota’s self-charging hybrid system, the total system output is 160kW.
The ES300h powers from zero to 100 km/h in an extremely respectable 8.5 seconds and, like most Lexus models, it delivers smoothly and quietly. In this model, Lexus uses a three-layer inner silencer material to control noise absorption and to insulate against noise. So at low speeds and with ev mode engaged, it is almost silent inside the cabin.
The model has claimed fuel usage of only 5.5 litres/100kms, although during our week-long testing of the vehicle, the lowest we achieved was 8 litres/100kms. This is still exceptional economy which many smaller vehicles cannot deliver, particularly for a non-diesel model.
As with all mainstream Lexus models, the ES300h, is superbly comfortable to ride in, whether you are the driver or a passenger.
The front seats, in particular. have plenty of support, and are electrically adjustable eight ways to suit the driver or front passenger.
There is a leather steering wheel, which also has buttons for audio, phone, adjusting the multi-information display, cruise control and even lane tracing control functions. So the driver’s hands don’t have to leave the steering wheel to use most of the buttons and functions.
There is also the touchpad on the central console, which is just as jumpy to use as it is in other Lexus models. However it becomes easier to use as it becomes more familiar.
There is also the similarly quirky placement of two dials on a part of the dashboard that juts out behind the steering wheel, with one of them used to set the drive modes — eco, comfort and sports.
But all of the dials are clear and crisp, and you have the choice of either a virtual tachometer or an eco-meter (explaining how economically your driving) immediately in front of the driving position.
There are bamboo inserts scattered across the cabin, including on the steering wheel.
The horizontal design of the dashboard and screens helps create a feeling of spaciousness inside the ES300h. Although it is described by Lexus as a medium-sized model, it feels like a roomy cabin sitting behind the wheel.
The white leather upholstery with tan inserts could prove impractical if it had to cope with the rigours of everyday family life, but then I guess most buyers of these vehicles will not have such concerns.
What really impresses is the ease in finding a comfortable and commanding driving position, and the ease with which you can manoeuvre the car. It doesn’t feel as big as it looks, and there are plenty of cameras and other driving aids telling the driver exactly where the extremities are.
The ES300h will appeal to those looking for luxury and comfort, accompanied by economy, and who value these attributes above sporty and involving driving pleasure.