Of all the current Lexus models, the ES is the one that’s most faithful to the core values that made Toyota’s upmarket division such a big hit, especially in the United States. Unlike today’s GS and IS, both of which have adopted a more overtly sporty image to challenge the premium German brands more directly, the ES remains a quiet, comfy and roomy saloon suitable for the family. These are the original hallmarks upon which the Lexus brand was established 25 years ago. Incidentally, the “ES” nameplate has been around for as long as “LS”.
The latest, sixth-generation ES was developed specifically to appeal to traditional Lexus customers, who might have been put off by the decidedly “un-Lexus” aggressiveness of the GS and IS models. The new ES emphasises comfort and elegance instead.
While the now-familiar Lexus spindle-shaped grille looks a bit odd on the GS, it’s picture-perfect on the ES. Maybe this is due to the ES’s longer front overhang, flowing gracefully over those discreetly bulging front fenders. That low silhouette and sloping roofline also help to make this saloon look classy.
Open the doors, and you’ll be immediately struck by the build quality and attention to detail. Tasteful ambient lighting highlights the warm bird’s-eye maple inserts, and the dashboard has fine hand-stitched leather on top. Apparently, only 12 Lexus craftsmen (takumi) are qualified to stitch said leather onto the instrument panel. One of the tests these experts had to pass is folding an origami, with their non-master hand, in less than 90 seconds!
Now, back to the ES. The seats are, as expected, soft and inviting, yet supportive enough in all directions. Passengers in the rear enjoy superb space for their legs, heads and elbows, with the bench designed to seat three abreast in comfort. They have plenty of room to park their feet, too, thanks to the flat floorboard made possible by the vehicle’s front-wheel-drive format (a rear-drive equivalent would need to house a propshaft tunnel that reduces cabin space).
Reducing boot space in the ES hybrid is its nickel-metal hydride battery pack (Lexus has stuck with Ni-MH for reasons of reliability and fire safety), but because it is neatly packaged behind the rear bench, the loss in cargo capacity compared to the voluminous ES250 is just 65 litres. The ensuing 425-litre notchback trunk is useful by hybrid standards.
Both the ES250 and ES300h (in either Executive or Luxury spec) have air-conditioned front seats and separate audio/air-con controls in the rear centre armrest. These same items are expensive options in the Lexus’ German competitors.
Also standard in all versions of the ES are tyre pressure sensors (that monitor the four wheels individually), a powered rear sunblind, three-zone climate control and an eight-inch multi-function display. The Luxury spec adds integrated navigation, rear door sunscreens, a blind-spot monitor, rain-sensing wipers and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson hi-fi system. The ES250 Luxury comes with a panoramic tilt-and-slide sunroof, while the other variants are equipped with a less dramatic moonroof.
Under the bonnet of the ES250 is a 2.5-litre inline-4 engine, which seems like a step backward compared to the 212bhp 3-litre V6 in the old ES300. The reality on the road, however, is less “backward” than expected, with the 4-cylinder having a surprisingly high level of refinement. It remains unruffled, even when revved hard. Lexus engineers have done an outstanding job with this otherwise ordinary powerplant.
Its 184bhp-and-235Nm output doesn’t sound like much, but the ES250 is lively enough. In fact, it feels considerably faster than the quoted 9.8 seconds for the zero-to-100km/h sprint. The ES300h hybrid offers more juice (262bhp and 270Nm in total), so even though it weighs 100kg more (because of the battery pack and petrol-electric components), it’s over a second quicker than the ES250 in the century sprint (8.5 seconds). But the hybrid’s top speed is limited to 180km/h, whereas the ES250 can exceed 200km/h.
At any speed and on any road, the ES is always refined, with barely perceptible levels of noise from the tarmac, tyres and wind. This hushed silence will certainly endear the new ES to Lexus fans. I believe it’s even quieter on the move than certain continental competitors that cost significantly more.
In terms of fuel economy, the petrol-electric ES300h trumps the petrol ES250 with its claimed 18.2 kilometres per litre on the combined cycle – over 40 per cent more economical. However, combined mileage figures do not reflect everyday driving in Singapore, where urban fuel consumption figures would be closer to the truth. Anyway, when I drove the two ES variants back to back, my mileage in the ES300h was 20 to 25 per cent better than in the ES250. Green-minded motorists will therefore like the hybrid ES. It also costs just $10k more than the ES250, thanks to a $10k CEVS rebate.
The main reason why Lexus is able to price the ES so competitively is its Camry underpinnings. Detractors might therefore call the ES a glorified Camry, but in my experience at least, the Lexus feels very different from its Toyota cousin – the ES has a larger cabin that sits on a longer wheelbase, its body seems to be more tightly screwed together, and the whole package is pretty obviously more luxurious.
In my opinion, the new ES250 and ES300h are excellent efforts, delivering genuine luxury at a reasonable price. I reckon the ES will be the best-selling model series in the local Lexus lineup.
Engine 2494cc, 16-valves, inline-4, hybrid
max Power 205bhp at 5700rpm (total system output 262bhp)
max Torque 213Nm at 4500rpm (total system output 270Nm)
0-100km/h 8.5 seconds
Top Speed 180km/h (governed)
Consumption 18.2km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 130g/km
PRICE INCL. COE
$240,000 (after $10k CEVS rebate)