First Drive

2013 Lexus ES350h

The sixth generation Lexus ES adds a hybrid to its lineup for the first time

2013 Lexus ES300h - front 3/4 view
AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$43,900 base. $46,000 as tested.
FUEL CONSUMPTION
NR Canada (L/100 km): 5.0 city. 5.0 highway. 5.0 combined.
POWERTRAIN
2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four cylinder engine and electric motor - 200-horsepower net combined; cont
Pros & CONS
  • First-class luxury and refinement
  • Limousine-like rear seat space
  • Awesome real-world fuel economy
  • Continuously-variable transmission
  • Non-linear brake pedal feel due to regeneration
  • Faux-leather upholstery instead of real leather

Twenty percent of all vehicles sold by Toyota and Lexus in Canada are hybrids – a far greater proportion than for any other fulliline automaker. That number is almost certain to grow as the sixth generation Lexus ES adds a hybrid variant to its lineup for the first time.

In addition to the hybrid version, the 2013 ES is endowed with an entirely new body on a new platform. The combination has resulted in an entry-luxury car that offers considerably more room and efficiency.

First introduced in 1990, the ES has made a significant contribution to the brand’s success. The first five generations have essentially been Camrys with minor styling and major content changes. The 2013 ES breaks from that tradition in that it is based on the Avalon platform, which is itself a stretched Camry. The result is significantly more people and package space for the new ES.

L-Finesse design

The new ES showcases the L-Finesse design idiom that has spread throughout the Lexus line. All the usual design cues are there, from the "spindle" grille, deeply recessed fog lights and LED daytime running lights to the long sleek cabin lines and a clean cut-line along the flanks.

Stylistically you can tell the hybrid version from the conventional ES by its unique 17-inch alloy wheels, discreet rear spoiler, hidden exhaust outlets and blue hybrid badges.

2013 Lexus ES300h - steering wheel & instrument panel.JPGThe "spindle" styling theme is carried over inside where it is reflected in the center console. Because it wears a Lexus label, the 300h boasts an exemplary level of fit, finish and material quality. There is a pleasant lack of hard plastics and plenty of soft touch surfaces.

The one downside is the replacement of leather as standard equipment with "NuLuxe" material. Lexus says it is more environmentally friendly. I say it is an obvious attempt to cut costs.

Top-of-the-line features

The ES300h is equipped similarly to the top-trim-level ES with a host of standard comfort and convenience features.

The available remote Touch system is at the top of this class of control devices. It is easy to decipher and operate as you use the mouse-like haptic-feedback device to adjust settings and make selections of everything from HVAC to audio systems.    

2013 Lexus ES300h - rear seat.JPGThe new ES is 43 mm longer, and rides on a wheelbase that is 28 mm longer. It boasts slightly more head and shoulder room for front seat occupants. The big news is a whopping 10-cm gain in rear seat legroom thanks to the longer Avalon platform.

The floor is also flat and tunnel-free, allowing a third rear passenger to be more This is likely a nod to the Chinese market where being driven, rather than driving is common for luxury vehicle buyers. Regardless, folks in the market benefit from the added space and comfort.

The hybrid ES weighs about 60 kilos more than its conventional sibling.

Hybrid powertrain

The nickel-metal-hydride battery pack for the hybrid system resides above the rear axle resulting in a loss of 85 litres of trunk space and the inability to fold down the rear seats for added space. The hybrids’ trunk is rated at 343 litres.

The ES300h drivetrain is carried straight from the new Camry hybrid. The 2.5-litre four cylinder engine runs on the Atkinson cycle, which trades off some power for increased efficiency. The loss in power is more than made up by an electric motor fed by a 245-volt, 1.6 kW battery.

2013 Lexus ES300h - engine.JPGThe engine is rated at 156 horsepower. Toyota is strangely silent about the output of the electric motor but says the combined net output of engine and motor is 200-horsepower. Again, no torque figures are available.

Power is sent to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission. As is always the case with these transmission the "motor boating" that accompanies sustained full-throttle application can be noisy and annoying.

Otherwise, as has become the case with all Toyota/Lexus hybrids, the operation is all but seamless. Under normal conditions the electric motor and engine combine to offer reasonable if not impressive performance. Under certain low speed conditions you can operate on electric power only up to about 15 km/h and/or one kilometre.  

2013 Lexus ES300h - engine detail.JPGA console-mounted knob allows the driver to select normal, Sport, Eco and EV modes. Normal is the default, Sport preferred because of the increased responsiveness to accelerator and steering inputs and Eco to be avoided because it feels as the though the engine, transmission and steering system have been injected with Novocain. Your first indication of what is about to transpire when switching to Eco mode is that the tachometer switches to a "power monitor". Selecting EV puts the system into electric mode.

Smooth and supple

The ride is smooth and supple, as you'd expect from a Lexus. Enthusiasts would swap some of that ride quality for more body control in the corners, but enthusiasts are not among this vehicle’s intended audience. The new platform feels rock solid and major road blemishes are seemingly banned.

The brakes take some getting used to. I mentioned above how seamless the hybrid operates, but braking is the exception. As you approach a situation requiring the brakes you revert to the normal time/distance factors. But soon after you apply the brakes of this hybrid you learn of the need for more pedal pressure. The difference is that the system captures energy generated during braking and uses it to recharge the battery pack. This results in two-tier braking. After a few kilometres you adjust, but it can be off-putting at first.

2013 Lexus ES300h - grille badge.JPGThe 2013 Lexus ES 300h is a spacious, fuel-sipping entry-level luxury car with all the reliability and strong resale values associated with the brand.

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