Lexus ES 300h 2.5 4dr CVT [without Nav]
Immediate impressions are that the ES rides very well indeed, is very quiet on a constant throttle (that might sound nit-picky but it’s important, believe us) and has perfectly acceptable steering, brakes and body control.
In town, it makes a pretty agreeable cruiser, and seems to bolt down its EV-only running capacity with some vigour. There’s a surprising amount of shutdown and silent running to be had, no doubt the major contributor to that spectacular efficiency, but being a self-charging hybrid only don’t expect to rely on electric power for the entirety of your journey alone, like you’d find in a plug-in. Still, against a claimed near-55mpg figure, we averaged an impressive 50mpg.
Not quite as good. The CVT ‘box, although pretty good for its type, still bungees the response when you demand more from the engine, making the whole car feel laggard. The fact that there’s not a great deal of horsepower to be had in the first place compounds the problem, along with a droning engine note under load that acts like Valium for the soul.
It’s not that this car is about performance, more that overtaking would be a rare occurrence, and we’d definitely think twice about pulling out onto a major road. Similarly, when you ask more of the handling, the ES doesn’t really surprise or delight. Nothing actively bad, just bland. There’s no risk of taking the long way home in this just for the fun of it, something you might just do in a BMW 5 Series or Jaguar XF.
The F-Sport gets adaptive damping and some other tweaks that make it more positive and confident, and you start to see that the ES could actually be quite good fun, with an accomplished front-wheel drive chassis. But that engine and transmission package has one thing in mind, and fun isn’t it. Lexus has attempted to address this with retuned suspension in the updated ES, but it still leaves much to be desired compared to rivals.
Other markets get various other motors (ES200 and ES250), but you can’t help feeling that the not-coming-to-the-UK ES350 might unlock all the ES’s full-on waftability and satisfaction.
Our time with the car never saw them make the leap from 'interesting gimmick' to 'vital tech', and they're not especially well integrated – at least not as well as they are in cars like an Audi e-tron or Honda e, where camera-mirrors were designed to be there from the outset. Lexus, however, is sticking to its guns, tweaking them as part of the mid-life facelift to ensure clearer images in poor lighting. Live with them and you'll probably end up loving them.
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