Can a car be a thing of beauty? I would certainly like to believe so when I look at the Lexus ES300h. My first impression of it, up close and in the metal, was that it had just emerged, straight from the wind tunnel and onto the road. This givES you the impression that it's going fast, low and smooth even when standing still!
This work of art is the sixth-generation ES. It is longer, wider, lighter (thanks to a new platform) and filled with so much new cool technology. Well, we’ve had a go at this rival to the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Volvo S90 and Jaguar XF and here are our first impressions.
The ES is a massive car and there is no denying that its design elements are quite unique to its appearance. Head-on, the first thing that catches your attention is, of course, Lexus’ signature spindle grille. It’s quite in your face thanks to the chrome surrounds that kind of draws all eyes to look at the grille. In fact, if you keep looking, you will notice that the whole face (triple barrel LED headlights included) is oriented towards directing your attention to the spindle grille.
In profile, the ES has borrowed from its elder sibling the LS and that’s not a bad thing at all in this day and age of the ‘family’ look. It’s long, low and there’s proportionate overhangs on both ends. The roofline is raked more for GT rather than executive sedan and this adds to speedy appearance of the car. The Indian market only gets one design for the massive alloy wheels and on the go, they create a rather swirly looking effect for the eyes.
Throwing a little more shade to the sporty looks is a boot-lip spoiler. Everything at the back is stacked neatly and divided by the design lines. Also very catching to the eye are the triple stack tail lamps and minimalist badging (a signature of the Lexus brand).
As a part of the sixth-generation changes, Lexus has really stepped up game in terms of the interiors. Everything has been updated and while all the elements do look familiar, they are new for this new generation.
The whole cabin is a combination of chocolate brown over peanut butter yellow giving the cabin an oddly pleasing ambiance. There’s soft touch plastics and swathes of leather adorning everything that meets the eye but look lower and you can notice hardwearing plastics for the storage spaces as well as on the power windows, rear armrest and mirror switches.
The major highlights of the dashboard are the dual digital displays. The one behind the steering wheel is quite funky and has two different themes depending on whether the car is running in normal/eco or sport mode. The latter’s the more flamboyant of the two as its theme is reminiscent of the erstwhile LFA hypercars’ sport mode screen.
The digital screen for the infotainment system is a 12.3-inch unit and has noticeably high quality graphics, transitions and offers everything that is expected in this part of the market. However, it is operated via a track pad rather than by touch. Sure, this gets the job done but it isn’t the most intuitive and can become a bit distracting when you are on the go.
The front seats are electrically adjustable and both get a 3 set memory function while the rear seats both get a recline function. You sit low down in the back and while the sporty roofline does affect head space, it’s not a major issue as there’s loads of legroom for you to sink into your seat and keep a low profile. The passenger side also gets an extended legroom package which is operated via switches on the side of the front seat.
Lexus seems to have placed great emphasis on NVH insulation with this sixth generation of the ES. There’s active noise cancellation, additional padding in the pillars and doors as well as alloy wheels that are largely hollow so that they can absorb some of the road noise. All-in-all they do an effective job of filtering out most of the outside world to keep the occupants in a cocoon of air-conditioned semi-silence.
Finally, it comes with a massive 454-litre boot unlike the ES ’counterparts in the same segment. A full-sized spare wheel that’s been fitted below the boot liberates litres of precious cargo space within.
The ‘h’ in the ES’name should be clue enough as to what this car is all about. It’s a hybrid and you get a petrol engine and an electric motor as a part of the drivetrain package. They have been mated to a six step e-CVT sending power to the front wheels.
The petrol engine is a 2.5-litre unit producing 175bhp/221Nm while the electric setup is good for 118bhp/202Nm. There’s a conventional car battery for all the regular functions while the hybrid setup gets a stack of nickel-hydride batteries slotted under the floor of the rear seats.
It’s a parallel hybrid setup where both motors work independently but the role of the electric motor is limited to low speed situations. In EV mode, it’s very quiet, refined. As a form of motivation, you get a slightly delayed reaction from the creep function but it’s almost effortless to inch along slowly when it comes on. However, the pure EV range is very limited and is best suited in bumper-to-bumper scenarios.
Go over 50kmph and the seamless transition from electric motor to petrol engine is barely discernible to the untrained eye. This engine too is quiet, refined and unobtrusive in terms of playing its part. Out on the massive, multi-lane Yamuna Expressway, the ES was quickly able to get into three digits speeds and carry on well north of acceptable without losing any steam. The drive modes vary as does the throttle response and at city driving speeds, the car is best suited to the normal or eco mode. Out on the highway (like we were) the sport mode gives you a much more aggressive response from the engine when you bury the throttle.
Because the gearbox is still a CVT at the end of the day, you do feel that rubber band effect but it is not as pronounced. But, honestly, it’s not what you would call sporty and the way the gearbox responds, you are best suited to covering the kilometres in a relaxed manner in this luxo-barge.
This being a luxury-liner, you get a noticeably firm but supple low speed ride that absorbs everything in its path with aplomb and it’s only when you hit a ‘moon crater’ that the crash become audible. Even then most of it is filtered out and this, in combination with the extensive effort put into insulation for the ES, gives it good composure.
This orientation towards low speed comfort means that the car, while capable of doing good three-digit speeds, is not as confidence inspiring due to a tendency to induce noticeable vertical movement over the ruts and undulations.
|Max. Power (bhp@rpm)||215@5700|
|Max. torque (Nm@rpm)||220@3600|
|Fuel Capacity (in litres)||50|
|Tyre size||215/77 R17|
|3 Function Seat Memory||Yes|
Competition All Specs
|Max. Power (bhp@rpm)||215@5700||181@5500||248@5200|
|Max. torque (Nm@rpm)||220@3600||300@1200||350@1450|
|Fuel Capacity (in litres)||50||80||57|
|Tyre size||215/77 R17||245/45 R17||245/45 R18|
The hill for the Lexus to climb with the ES is a large one as its two main rivals, the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class (in their latest generations), have already scaled a significant amount. The car’s CBU nature means it’s priced a bit higher than its locally assembled rivals.
Then there’s also the fact that while hybrids are the way forward, diesels rule the roost at present and this car not having one does it put it at a disadvantage. However, this also make it a unique proposition among the competition.
The Lexus ES300h is priced at Rs 59.13 lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi) and takes on the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series, Volvo S90, Jaguar XF as well as the Audi A6.
Photos By Kaustubh Gandhi