The ES300h is the hybrid variation of Lexus’ ES sedan line. It’s large and luxurious without sacrificing efficiency. It’s a handsome hybrid that you’ll want to drive. It’s hard to find faults with the spacious interior of the ES300h. Driver and passengers are swaddled in beautiful, high-quality materials and excellent fit and finish.
The heated and cooled front seats have ten way adjustment to dial in the perfect support at the perfect temperature. There’s a heated wheel and dual-zone climate controls. There’s a rear sunscreen that leaps up to shade the occupants of the back seat. If it were bullet proof this would be just like a Bond car. The front seat occupants are treated to futuristic no-touch overhead lights. In short, it’s a very nice place to spend time.
The infotainment interface has a steep learning curve and requires way too much of the driver’s attention to manipulate. Thankfully, there are redundant controls for most everything so you can avoid using the crazy joystick setup for almost everything but the navigation system. This system is quirky but once you’ve adapted it isn’t so bad. In ten years, when this car is on a second hand lot people will shake their heads and wonder what Lexus was thinking. It definitely doesn’t feel like cutting edge technology and I feel like Lexus could probably come up with something less complicated and distracting. It’s weird, but it can be forgiven as an eccentricity in an otherwise outstanding car.
Outside, the car looks good. It’s refined and tasteful with a well-proportioned profile. The roofline is elegant and the long hood combined with a visually stumpy trunk gives the impression of a sporty sedan. Like all Lexus, this car wouldn’t be complete without the spindle (predator) grille. The front and rear of the car are tidy and well designed. The trunk opens and shuts with the touch of a button too. One trivial gripe is the tailpipe treatment, or to be precise, the lack thereof. I understand that a hybrid car doesn’t want to make a fuss about where it spills its burned hydrocarbons. Thus, the car has an understated, very mundane-looking tailpipe that’s doing its best to disappear under the back of the car. I get it, but I think that from a design standpoint, and certainly on a car in this price range, they could doll it up a little.
Under the hood, there’s a 2.5 liter four-cylinder mated to an electric motor. The system makes a combined 200 hp which isn’t a whole lot for a car this size, and it shows. This car takes 8.1 seconds to get to 60 mph which is not fast by any means. But it gets there over two seconds faster than its little cousin the Prius.
But who cares? This car isn’t meant to be quick it’s meant to be smooth and comfortable. And it does that very well. In fact, the cabin is so insulated from road noise and vibration that the sensation of speed is altered. It’s easy to look down and find you’re cruising well above the posted limit. This car cruises comfortably at highway speeds even if it doesn’t get there in a hurry.
If you’re looking for a snappier feel, turn the dial in front of the gear selector to sport mode. Suddenly your soothing blue eco-meter is transformed into a racy red tachometer. The power delivery in sport mode really does feel different, which is more than can be said for some other cars. The body is a little rolly, but this isn’t a canyon carver. Much like other Lexus cars I’ve tested, the chassis and suspension inspire confidence through fast curves.
Driving aids like blind spot assist and radar cruise. It has sensors that detect when you’re leaving your lane that nudges the car back to the center of the lane and the wheel vibrates like a cell phone. This system seems less invasive than Honda’s does. This car also comes with Lexus’ pre-collision system, which uses the onboard camera and the radar system to alert drivers of an imminent crash and it can bring the car to a stop short of the car ahead. It works too. While ogling a perfectly restored VW Beetle, I got a little too close for the ES300’s comfort. It alerted me in time to bring my eyes back to the road, assess the situation and choose a course of action.
This car is a standout among all the cars I’ve driven this year. Each time I had to go somewhere I looked forward to sliding into the comfortable seat. This car has loads of space in the back for adults to ride in comfort. The mileage is great for a car this size. The EPA estimates it gets 40 mpg around town, and one less on the highway. If you’re in the market for upscale luxury, good gas mileage and good looks, put this one on your short list of cars to check out.