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2017 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid Sedan Review By Steve Purdy

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by Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

We like to begin these narratives with a review of where each vehicle fits in the market. As segments blur, though, that becomes a challenge. Our test car this week – the luxurious and efficient, front-wheel drive, Lexus ES300h hybrid sedan - is part of a niche less crowded, that of mid- to full-size luxury hybrid sedans. Other occupants of this niche are the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and a variety of mainstream mid-size sedans like Fusion, Sonata and Accord Hybrids. Part of that blurring of categories is evidenced by the surprisingly upscale Toyota Avalon Hybrid that approaches this ES in price and ambiance making it less obvious which is a luxury model and which is main-stream.

The regular V6-powered Lexus ES350 shows a base price of $38,210 and our ES300h Hybrid starts at $41,820 with a some extra premium content included. The hybrid power system actually adds about $3,000 to the cost of the powertrain but since we must pay for that extra equipment it actually costs about $3,600 over the price of the V6-powered car. The ES is rated at 24 mpg combined and the ES Hybrid is expected to get around 40. Running the numbers, it would take about 8.5 years to break even just considering fuel savings based on EPA numbers, figuring 10,000 miles/year and 2.50 gasoline. Make that 20,000 miles/year and we’re looking at about half that time as a payoff. So, the more miles you drive the quicker you’ll break even and begin to benefit in terms of fuel cost.

Of course, not all hybrid buyers - or even most I contend - are all that concerned about payoff periods. Rather, many just want to feel better about their carbon footprint. There are many ways to calculate that and not all favor electrification or hybridization, but we’ll leave that to more number-oriented observers than I.

That gaping, garish grille dominates the ES’s exterior design and reflects Lexus’ current styling language meant to catch the eye with deep, angular cheek vents and squinty headlight bezels. This is one of those polarizing designs – front view, that is – that put some viewers off a bit. As your eye flows around the flanks and rear, though, the style evolves into a more modest, white-bread look. From the rear three-quarter view, it’s nothing to stare at. Standard 17-inch alloy wheels, though attractive, do nothing to make it look more aggressive.

We expect a luxurious and functional cabin from Lexus and that’s mostly what we find. Top notch materials, fit and finish plus aesthetically pleasing style make the interior a pleasant and gratifying place to spend time. The large, multifunction screen imbeds deeply into the upper dash and is controlled with a sort of rocker mouse on the right side of the console. Many of our colleagues have found fault with the functionality and tactile quality of that unusual device. After initially being a big fan when I first experienced it some years ago, my enthusiasm is waning. It features adjustable haptic feedback meant to make it easier to select a particular field but that can make acclimation difficult. Many simple functions can be easy but trying to move around the navigation system can be a bit awkward. While the palm-rest is remarkably comfortable and the device itself is sort of fun to manipulate, the whole process takes some getting used to.

We’re told you can still get the unusual and, in my purely subjective view beautiful, bamboo trim with the Hybrid, I could not find that on the Lexus brand Website. Not sure if that’s still the case?

While nominally considered a mid-size sedan it feels much more full-size. Easy ingress and egress, comfortable seats and mostly good ergonomics will impress. Generous range of adjustment for seats and steering wheel will accommodate most drivers. Rear seat room is exceptional while efficient packaging of the hybrid batteries beneath the rear seat does not encroach on the space back there. Trunk space is limited a bit with just 12.1 cubic-feet of space.

Toyota and Lexus share the most evolved hybrid power system in the industry. A 2.5-liter, gasoline engine with super-efficient, but not powerful, Atkinson-cycle, four-cylinder is supplemented by a substantial electric motor fed by batteries that bring the total power up to a respectable 200 horsepower. With a sophisticated CVT (continuously variable transmission) it is good for a 0-to-60 mph time of around 7.8 seconds, depending on whose numbers you like. Most drivers will find the power on the good side of adequate. While the EPA rates this 3,800-pound car at around 40 mpg we didn’t get much more than 36. My driving style, I’ll readily admit, does not favor fuel efficiency. An impressive drag coefficient of .27, a race car-like number, helps. A relatively large 17.2-gallon gas tank makes for a diesel-like cruising range.

Driving dynamics will likely please the discerning owner who is attuned to luxury rather than sport. Steering, brakes, shifter, and other tactile elements favor a soft but precise feel. Lexus engineers designed and tuned the conventional, fully-independent suspension to be compliant but firm enough to feel under control in all but the most hard-charging driving circumstances. The ES shares underpinnings with the new Camry and that means stiff, fully modern and high tech.

Lexus has a well-earned reputation for quality and dependability, among the best in the industry. Their new car warranty covers the whole car for 4 years or 50,000 miles, the powertrain for 6 years or 70,000 miles and the hybrid components for 8 years or 100,000 miles.

So, check out the Lexus ES300h if you’re shopping high-end sedans. While a bit pricey, it is certainly a lot of luxury and technology for the price.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

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