2013 Lexus ES 350/300H Preview By Steve Purdy +VIDEO

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2013 LEXUS ES 350/300H
First Impressions

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

It took me by surprise to find out we’re into the sixth generation of the genteel Lexus ES. First introduced in 1989 to support Toyota’s then-new luxury brand, ES has been the entry point for the Lexus. Think of it as a Camry with a touch of class - or maybe more than just a touch.

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The Lexus folks provided a preview of the substantially revised ES 350 and the new-to-the-brand ES 300h Hybrid during a press event in Dearborn today. Toyota, most of you know, has offered a fairly successful hybrid version of the Camry but this is the first for hybrid for the ES.

Just about every element of the new Lexus ES gets an upgrade. It’s quieter, quicker, roomier, has better materials and bolder design. Though we won’t be getting firm pricing information until closer to its arrival at dealers in August we can safely speculate that it will be somewhere near the current 37-grand base price.

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The shape and profile of the ES, as with previous generations, implies unmistakably a Camry sibling but the details make it clear this is a step above. From the front we see the distinct new Lexus styling language in the “spindle” grille and added drama of the sculpted fascia. Headlights and taillights get extended further and other body curves get more pronounced and stylish. Small aerodynamic details, like subtile fins on the A-pillars and judicious underbody cladding contribute to an amazing 0.27 coefficient of drag, probably worth a couple of mpg.

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Inside, we are charmed by the thoughtful and elegant design and execution. At first glance it looks a bit complex but it takes but a moment to acclimate to the two-tiered structure with readouts and information on the upper level and controls below. The traditional center stack has gone away becoming lovely, flowing, horizontal shapes. Controlling everything in the large navigation screen is the second generation, mouse-like, haptic joystick that is one of the most pleasing tactile experiences ever incorporated into an automobile.

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My favorite element of the luxuriously appointed interior is the blonde, bamboo wood trim on the dash, doors and steering wheel of the Hybrid ES. It’s offered as well on the GS Hybrid and makes an important ecological statement as bamboo is about the most sustainable of wood products. It’s beautiful as well.

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The chassis and suspension have been substantially reworked with more extra-strength steel, more body bracing and opposite-wound front coil springs, reworked geometry in the rear and quicker steering. We expected improved ride and handling and we were not disappointed. More sound insulation as well contributed to a feeling we were in something quite special as it was quiet as a calm summer day in the forest. Three drive modes allow us to adjust shift points, acceleration curves, suspension damping and I don’t know what all. Try as we might, we could find nothing to complain about here.

Watch TACH's exclusive ES 350 promo video

Both the ES 350 with its 268-hp, 3.5-liter V6 and the ES 300h with a modest 4-cylinder augmented by a substantial battery pack and hybrid drive system, have plenty of power. The standard 6-speed automatic transmission is carried over from the last generation but has been recalibrated.

The ES 350 is rated at 21-mpg in the city and 31 on the highway. The Hybrid is rated at 40 in the city and 39 on the highway. Both use regular fuel.

With 10 airbags (reminds me of our city counsel) and all the usual chassis dynamics, available lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, we would rate it a top safety pick, though we’ll have to wait and see if the IIHS agrees.

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Compared to the last generation of ES this one is 2-inches longer and stretched 4-inches in wheel base allowing for lots of extra leg room in the rear seat. ES has a decent 15-cubic-feet of trunk space and 12-cubic-feet for the hybrid which has its battery pack mounted vertically behind the rear seat. We climbed into the back to be sure, and it felt generous. The rear seats are more contoured as well for extra pampering of your guests.

We had enough drive time in both during our drive routes in and around suburban Dearborn to get a good sense of the cars and was pleased with both. Both accelerated decisively and handled admirably. It seemed the ES 300h squealed its tires too easily. They may be low rolling resistance tires which naturally have a bit less stickiness.

We’ll have a complete review for you when the new ES models are available in the press fleet. In the meantime, look for the new ES 350 and ES 300h at dealers in August.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

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