Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: October 21, 2019
It’s a shame that the sedan market is dwindling, especially when luxury cruisers like the Lexus ES 300h are so capable, comfortable, and pampering. And with a hybrid powertrain, it’s efficient as well. But having four doors, spacious rear accommodations, and enough leather and tech to bemuse the millennial generation, is not nearly enough to escape the shadow of the perennial and insanely popular Lexus RX SUV, the automaker’s best selling model in Canada. These days, more consumers demand the high-up seating position provided by an SUV, the heightened sense of awareness and safety, and the large cargo portal when compared to a sedan’s conventional trunk, but there are a few justifiable reasons why prospective buyers should take a look at the ES Sedan first.
First off, it’s newer than the RX, so it carries the new Lexus steering wheel and Frankenstein-bolt dials perched on the sides of the instrument cluster. Personally, I prefer the driving position of a low-slung sedan over a high-up SUV any day of the week. I feel lower to the ground, more connected to the road, and there’s less body lean and horizontal motions when driving a little more aggressively. Even without the F Sport package, I think the ES Sedan looks better than the RX too, wearing classic roof proportions, long overhangs, and slim wheels filling up the wheel arches.
If the styling is not up to snuff, then the interior will surely steal your money away, with swaths of leather, metal textures, high glossy plastics, and a soft headliner. The new steering wheel design is a masterstroke of art and functionality, and the wood veneer around the circumference is a classy touch. Not only is it comfortable to grasp but its cozy 90-degree position, and embedded buttons and dials feel high quality, premium, and more importantly, add to the ES’s upscale vibe, not to mention the sleek door handles ripped straight out of the LC 500. The seats are plump and supportive, and the rear seats are spacious enough to fit three of my six-foot buddies. The trunk is cavernous as well, and even though its entry portal may not be as convenient or as sizable as the RX for loading larger items, it is perfectly usable for weekly errand runs.
In addition, the cabin is well insulated from the elements and unwanted noises. This includes the motors that wind up the windows and rear sunshade, resulting in whisper quiet movements compared to the annoying buzz and whine from other luxury vehicles. The rear side sunshades however are manually operated. There are noteworthy additions too like the automatic heated seats and steering wheel, whereby the systems will detect cold interior temperature and turn them on automatically. It’s also nice to have two adjustable heated steering wheel levels, and three for the seats.
A few complaints, though. Despite being a sedan, the ES’s compacted front-wheel drive proportions mean the seats can’t be adjusted very low to the ground, so taller folks may find the seating position a little too SUV-like. There is more than enough headroom however for my six-foot figure, so it’s far from claustrophobic. The semi-aniline leather on our fully-loaded ES is not the softest and actually feels grainy. The lined textures running along the door and center armrest do not equate to a luxury or premium feel like the rest of the well garnished trim pieces either. This is compared to the semi-aniline leather found in Infinitis, which are some of the softest and best stitched examples. Furthermore, despite the massive display, the infotainment unit is still as horrid as before with a finicky touchpad and convoluted menus. It’s just begging for touchscreen utilization, which would greatly remedy many of our concerns.
The ES offers two flavours of powertrains: the ES 350 ($45,000) with a 302-hp 3.5-litre V6, and the hybrid in question, the ES 300h ($47,000), which costs $2,000 more and utilizes a 2.5-litre four-cylinder mated to an electric motor and battery, and produces 215 net horsepower. This is a similar hybrid unit to the one in the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, and is mated through a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) exclusively to the front wheels. There are no turbochargers or AWD available for the ES lineup - you will need to jump into the more outdated GS Sedan for AWD instead. Of note, the ES 300h weighs 25 kg more than the ES 350 and is down by almost 100 horsepower.
Though it lacks the immediacy, urgency, and eagerness of the V6, the ES hybrid is the way to go if you want to minimize your carbon footprint yet have enough thrust to accomplish easy maneuvers, even at highway speeds. That said, your overtakes will need to be premeditated, and you will have to get used to the buzzing of the overly strung motor and whine of the CVT under full beans. But these minor complaints do little to ruin my mood when filling up the fuel tank. Over the week I averaged an impressive 6.5 L/100km and a driving range of roughly 600 kms on a full tank. The ES does not require premium 91-octane gasoline to run either, unlike some other luxury hybrids.
While you can’t physically detect the transition between combustion and electricity as it’s incredibly polished and ironed out, the noise is more than noticeable, and like the RAV4 Hybrid, intrudes into the silent cabin that was so excellently insulated without it. If that ambient buzzing, lack of power, and slightly higher price tag are not to your liking, best to stick with the non-hybrid ES. Otherwise, the frugal fuel sipping and the ability to drive slow speeds using electricity only for short distances, should be enough justification to choose the hybrid. That being said, the ES 300h cannot go quick enough on electricity-only mode to become truly advantageous, and only comes into play at cruising speeds or when creeping around the parking lot looking for a spot. Once you realistically go over 40 km/h, the engine tags in regardless of the battery charge.
Also keep in mind that our ES 350 drive netted us an average of 11.8 L/100km, nearly double the hybrid’s average. That should amount to significant savings and offset the $2,000 premium if you plan to keep the hybrid for a long period of time, or if you frequent long commutes. Otherwise, the ES 350 is the more conventional, quieter, and more powerful family sedan. Sadly, the ride in both ES models are not as absorbent as the RX, or even other like-minded luxury vehicles like the Mercedes E-Class or BMW 5 Series. The ES takes a dip in this department, as gliding over broken pavement translates into chassis bouncing and vertical motions, and doesn’t feel spongier than a Toyota Camry or Avalon.
On a positive note, the ES 300h is significantly cheaper than the RX, costing $11,800 less than comparative 2020 RX 450h (which had a huge price drop of around $6,000 from the 2019 model) and may be worth the upgrade if you are seeking an all-wheel drive family SUV with more hybrid power. Safe to say, you’re receiving boatloads of luxury and comfort with both examples and the ES retails for better value, but the RX is the more functional, more powerful, and more expensive luxury horse, and though it’s not as aesthetically refreshed outside or inside, the RX is the mainstay of the Lexus stable for a good reason.
Model: 2019 Lexus ES 300h
Paint Type: Matador Red Mica
Base Price: $47,000
Price as Tested: $61,500
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,975 / 1,865 / 1,445
Curb weight (kg): 1,680
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder, electric motor, lithium-ion battery
Horsepower: 201 net hp
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 6.5
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 5.5 / 5.2 / 5.3