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2013 Lexus ES Hybrid Sedan (300h) Review By Steve Purdy

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2013 Lexus ES Hybrid Sedan

2013 LEXUS ES 300h Review

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

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Having offered my first impressions of the redesigned line of Lexus ES sedans last summer after a regional launch here in Detroit I promised to flesh out my review once I had a chance to spend some serious time and miles with this lovely sedan. We’ve just spent a busy week with the car covering nearly a thousand miles, including a road trip to Chicago, So, I’m ready to do just that.

It took me by surprise to find out we’re into the sixth generation of the genteel Lexus ES, front-wheel drive, mid-size luxury sedan. First introduced in 1989 to support Toyota’s then-new upscale brand, ES was the entry point for Lexus until the smaller IS came along. Think of ES as a Camry with a touch of class - or maybe more than just a touch.

Out tester is the first hybrid edition of the ES, though Lexus has included this powertrain option in many of their other models with varying levels of sales success. The extra cost for the hybrid powertrain did not always make fiscal sense, particularly in the larger, more expensive cars, but may be reasonable with the less expensive ES. You should always run the numbers unless your interest is in simply making a green statement.

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The Lexus ES line is substantially revised with this new-for-2013 model. Just about every element of the new ES gets an upgrade. It’s quieter, quicker, roomier, has better materials and much bolder design. Compared to the last generation this one is 2-inches longer with 4-inches extra wheelbase allowing for lots of leg room in the rear seat. Trunk space, though is limited just a bit because of its battery pack being mounted vertically behind the rear seat.

The ES hybrid system is essentially the same “Synergy” powertrain, with just a wisp of extra power, that powers Toyota’s popular Camry Hybrid. Toyota was early into the hybrid trend gaining plenty of experience in maximizing efficiency and sophistication by combining a smallish gasoline engine with auxiliary electric boost.

The ES 300h, with modest 4-cylinder engine augmented by a substantial battery pack and hybrid drive system, has plenty of power in spite of very modest numbers – only 200 total system horsepower. A sophisticated CVT (continuously variable transmission) delivers that power efficiently without being noticeably wheezy except on full acceleration where CVTs usually call attention to themselves. Three drive modes allow us to adjust acceleration curves, throttle response, suspension damping and perhaps other parameters but I didn’t find a lot of distinction from one mode to another.

While the regular V6-powered 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. Our 3 -hour drive each way to Chicago netted 36.5 mpg and our subsequent shorter road trip to the northern suburbs of Detroit saw only 33.5. I tend to drive with the fastest traffic, and the weather conditions for both of these trips were not conducive to maximizing mileage. A careful driver should be able to come close to the official estimates if not surpass them under ideal circumstances. Remember also that hybrids are at their best in congested city traffic and we experienced little of that this week.

The shape and profile of the ES is clearly a step above its predecessor. From the front we see the distinctive 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 become more pronounced and stylish as well. Small aerodynamic details, like subtle 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 only a moment to acclimate to the two-tiered architecture with readouts and information on the upper level and controls below.
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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. Some reviewers don’t like that controller, but I find it easy and gratifying to the touch and good at minimizing the amount of eye contact with the screen needed to manage functions. Generous amounts of stitching imply a high level of attention to detail as does the analog clock and unobtrusive ambient lighting.

My favorite element of the luxuriously appointed interior on this hybrid edition is the blonde, bamboo wood trim on the dash, doors and steering wheel. Bamboo is offered as well on the GS Hybrid and makes an ecological statement about being the most renewable of the wood trims being used today.

The chassis and suspension have been substantially reworked with more extra-strength steel, more body bracing and opposite-wound front coil springs, changed geometry in the rear and quicker steering. We expected improved ride and handling and we were not disappointed. Better sound insulation contributes to a feeling that we are in something special making it quiet as the baby’s nap time.

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.

So, my initial impressions proved accurate. The Lexus ES 300h hybrid sedan is a beautiful, charming and efficient car with an amazingly frugal powertrain. With a base price of less than 39 grand I would consider it a bargain. Our test car with hard-disk navigation, Premium Package and plenty of other stuff comes in at just over 44 grand. As the marketing guys would say, it’s quite a good value proposition.

My son-in-law has been driving his Camry Hybrid for more than four years in rush-hour Chicago traffic that would have sent me to the loony bin. Being a frugal fellow, he has been pleased with his car, except for limited trunk space. He’s ready to replace the Camry and I’ll not hesitate to recommend this ES 300h.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved