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In a bid to broaden the appeal of brand Lexus in India, the company had introduced its entry level sedan, the ES 300h earlier this month at Rs 59.13 lakh (ex-showroom, India), in only one variant. The luxury sedan is based on the company’s all-new Global Architecture–K (GA-K) platform and gets a Euro-VI compliant petrol-electric hybrid powertrain. Now in its seventh generation, the ES (stands for Elegant Sedan), along with the flagship LS, are the two longest-running nameplates in the brand’s history, having been on sale since Lexus’ inception in 1989. In India too, the ES has been on sale for over a year and half, ever since Lexus officially launched in India, but this all-new ES is the one, they hope, will hit the sweet spot. The other cars in this segment include the segment leading Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the BMW 5 Series, the Audi A6 and the Volvo S90. Is Lexus’ baby luxury sedan capable of shaking the segment dominated by the Europeans? We get behind the wheel of the ES 300h to find out.
The styling definitely hits more than just a spot – sweet or otherwise, you decide. The Japanese were always criticised for their conservative, typically-staid styling, and Toyota have taken those criticisms and thrown it back in our face. The in-your-face styling of this new ES may come as a surprise because their cars have always appealed to buyers ‘of a certain age’ who prioritised qualities like a cushy ride, quiet cabin and drama free ownership over all other attributes. But Lexus is looking to change that outlook.
“To my eyes, the styling is more successful than in the larger LS sedan, the grille that dominates the overall character of the car integrates far better into the overall design”
Lexus’ design team characterise the ES’s slick teardrop profile as ‘the most aggressive of any ES’. And they topped it off with one of the largest executions of the Lexus spindle grille. To my eyes, the styling is more successful than in the larger LS sedan, the grille that dominates the overall character of the car integrates far better into the overall design and flanking it are slashed, glowering headlamps. Along with the more deliberately styled profile the 2019 Lexus ES 300h certainly looks confident, sporty and upscale. I can also see how its more aggressive visage may attract non-conventional Lexus buyers to consider over its European rivals.
The Lexus ES 300h doesn’t just wear a more dynamic and self-assured new jacket, it’s got more muscle lurking underneath, too. With the use of high-strength steels in the new GA-K platform, the ES 300h is now stiffer, which improves rigidity and aids in handling as well, while the V-brace mounted behind the rear seats improves torsional stiffness. All this helps the ES achieve its calm demeanor without resorting to the sort of overly soft suspension that ultimately yields messy handling when pressed.
Powering the ES 300h is an internal combustion engine assisted by a pair of electric motors, capable of moving the ES on electric power alone. The ES 300h uses Lexus’ fourth generation hybrid technology, which pairs a 2.5 litre 178bhp naturally aspirated four cylinder petrol engine with a 120bhp electric motor that has a new nickel metal hydride battery pack. Combined power out is now 218bhp, up by 13bhp compared to the outgoing car. Importantly, the battery’s more compact dimensions mean that it now fits under the rear seat, allowing more boot space. It also allows the ES to carry a full size tyre on an alloy as a spare. Although the hybrid powertrain, like everything else on the car, has been updated, it’s basically the familiar system that propels so many Lexus and Toyota hybrids. The primary drive motor doubles as a generator to recharge the battery pack, as does the regenerative-braking system.
“Power delivery is relaxed and doesn’t give you a kick, but the car builds up speed with ease. The engine doesn’t lose its refinement even when it’s close to the redline”
None of the above metrics really tell you how the new ES 300h feels while generating those numbers, but the answer is pretty good. The company makes a big deal about how much sportier this new generation car is to drive than before, and it indeed delivers on confidence. That’s particularly true on the highway where we primarily tested the car. The dynamic quotient has definitely gone upward and despite being front wheel drive, the ES 300h is engaging. Put your right foot down and when the petrol engine does take over from the batteries, the transition is seamless. The petrol engine is very refined and with all the sound deadening is barely audible. Power delivery is relaxed and doesn’t give you a kick, but the car builds up speed with ease. The engine doesn’t lose its refinement even when it’s close to the redline. The CVT transmission, unfortunately is a bit of a letdown. It does a decent enough job when driven in a relaxed manner, but when you push the engine it has that typical rubber band effect. A dual clutch or regular torque converter gearbox could have been a better option. There are paddleshifters too, but they function with a slight lag to your input during spirited driving. That said, the noise is so well damped that the whine from the CVT at high revs is barely heard in the cabin. And that defines the ES’ character – it is a car which you will enjoy driving in a relaxed manner, rather than enthusiastically. While we didn’t get a chance to drive the car around too many corners, the handling as a package felt safe rather than engaging. The suspension prevents extravagant body motions, but it doesn’t add up to eager responses.
The stiffer new architecture contributes to ride quality that could be characterised as a little soft by contemporary standards, but it is extremely comfortable, blunting the hard edges of nasty bumps and irregularities. That’s one of the main reason why the back seat is where you will enjoy the ES 300h the most. Despite the design’s more dramatically sloping roofline, there’s increased rear seat room, thanks to a wheelbase that has been stretched and plenty of rear of headroom, even for tall occupants. It may not have the outright rear space of the long wheelbase Mercedes E Class, but its certainly up there with the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and Volvo S90.
“Quiet operation has been a Lexus hallmark since the luxury car maker’s establishment in 1989 and the new ES continues the tradition, raising the ante in the process”
Lexus have worked very worked hard at making this a relaxed place to be. An even stronger claim to fame is what occupants will hear as the Lexus ES 300h rolls down the highway with the electrically reclineable rear seats pushed back. They hear conversation, even remarks passed under the breath, such is the silence inside the cabin. They will also hear every little note from the Mark Levinson audio system, even at moderate decibel levels. There is active noise cancellation and stuffing of polyurethane foam in the pillars of the ES to isolate the occupants from the outside noises. The 18 inch hyper-chrome alloys are hollow and they partially absorbs tyre and road noise, which shows you the attention to detail Lexus have given while building the new ES. Quiet operation has been a Lexus hallmark since the luxury car maker’s establishment in 1989 and the new ES continues the tradition, raising the ante in the process. The interior appointments augment the dynamic serenity. The quality of materials used in the cabin is top class, especially the leather and soft touch bits. The fit-finish too is top notch. You could be critical and say that some of the plastics used are a bit hard to touch and feel slightly out of place, but that’s about it.
“What is brilliant is the 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system with an output of 1800W, that a delivers crisp, clear sound making your drive all the more relaxing”
The Lexus ES 300h comes to India in only one top-spec variant and a full array of tech goodies, including a huge and crisp head-up display that works better than most I’ve experienced. There’s 12.3-inch infotainment screen isn’t touch operated, instead you get a trackpad to navigate through the screens. While improvements have been made, this trackpad-based system remains, to be honest, not very intuitive to use and takes some time getting used to. But I did like neatly laid-out buttons offer easy access to key functions. What is brilliant is the 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system with an output of 1800W, that a delivers crisp, clear sound making your drive all the more relaxing. The system comes equipped Lexus Screencast, instead of Android Auto or Apple Car Play. Another feature worth mentioning is the hands free boot open and close function which is one of the easiest to use. Rather than wave your foot below the rear of the bumper, it detects the kick action, immediately performing the action flawlessly.
Overall with the 2019 ES, Lexus India will finally give its European rivals something to think about. All previous Lexus vehicles, with the possible exception of NX SUV, have been ridiculously priced, but the ES’s Rs 59.13 lakh (ex-showroom) is right up there with the E-Class and 5 Series. While the Mercedes-Benz E-Class (E 200) starts at Rs 58.61 lakh, the BMW 5 Series range starts at Rs 53.80 lakh for the base Sport Line variant. The Audi A6 and the Volvo S90 start at Rs 55.88 lakh and Rs 51.90 lakh (ex-showroom) respectively. Now I wouldn’t go so far as to call the new ES sporty but it is far better to drive, absolutely dramatic to behold, cosseting on the inside, superbly put together and, most importantly, feedback coming in from current Lexus owners is that the cost of ownership is almost Toyota-like and nowhere near what the Germans charge. That and the personalised attention and service levels will finally get footfalls at Lexus’ grandly titled ‘Guest Experience Centres’. Lexus don’t have customers, they have guests!