Lexus ES 300h saloon (2019 - ) review
The Lexus ES is a Japanese alternative to the German saloons that dominate the executive car class. It has plenty going for it, so at long last, Lexus has a genuine contender for your cash.
The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 3.9
The Lexus ES is something a little different to the Audi, BMW and Mercedes models most executive car customers drive. It majors on comfort, quietness, quality and equipment, and it makes a very sound financial case for itself as well. It’s not the most enthralling car you’ll ever drive, and it could be a shade more practical, but it’s a very credible alternative to the established elite.
- Comfortable and quiet on the road
- Very solidly built
- Stacks of standard kit
- Doesn’t handle as sharply as some
- Could be more practical
- Infotainment system is distracting
Interested in buying a Lexus ES 300h?
How good does it look?
The ES is designed to echo the looks of Lexus’ big performance coupe, the LC. That’s evident from the sharply-angled headlamps that slash across the nose of the car either side of the enormous grille.
The rear end is rather less dramatic than the front, but the flowing roofline means there’s an overall cohesion to the design. All versions get full LED lighting at either end of the car, along with rear privacy glass, a sunroof and alloy wheels (although the size and design depends on the trim level you go for). The F Sport model gets its own bumper design to make it look a little meaner, while the top-spec Takumi model gets sequentially scrolling indicators.
What's the interior like?
The cabin of the ES is pretty much exactly what we’ve come to expect from Lexus. The build quality is rock-solid and most of the materials on display are dense, robust and reasonably posh, so it feels like a classy environment. Some of the switches and dials perhaps don’t have quite the slickness or attention-to-detail the German contenders can offer, but the Lexus really isn’t far behind.
However, the gap to the best-in-class is more noticeable when it comes to ergonomics. The ES’ dashboard is smattered with lots of small, similar-looking buttons that are tricky to identify at a glance, and the infotainment system isn’t as intuitive as those in the best executive cars, either. Dated graphics don’t help its case, and the fact you operate it by running your finger over a trackpad to move a cursor, like you do on a laptop, makes it rather distracting to use on the move.
That said, the seats are very supportive and comfortable, there’s loads of electric adjustment for your driving position and your all-round visibility is pretty good.
How practical is it?
Pretty much every car like this has enough space for taller people up front, and the ES is no different. However, if you’re particularly tall, you might struggle more for headroom than you will in the ES’ rivals, making you feel a little hemmed in.
It’s a similar story in the back. There’s absolutely bags of legroom – only millimetres less than in the LS limousine, so claims Lexus – and enough headroom for six-foot passengers, but those much over that threshold might find their hair uncomfortably close to the headlining.
The 454-litre boot is big enough for most everyday loads, but it’s some way behind its rivals for outright capacity. What’s more, because the rear seats are fixed, there’s no option of folding them down to boost load capacity.
What's it like to drive?
Unlike the GS it replaces, the ES has no pretensions of sportiness whatsoever. Instead, it concentrates on comfort and quietness, and it’s all the better for it. It feels wafty and cosseting at any speed, meaning life is kept impressively civilised.
We must temper that praise by pointing out the Spanish roads on which we drove the car were absolutely immaculate, and so bear pretty much no resemblance to the battered and blistered blacktop we have to endure in the UK. That means we’ll have to reserve final judgment over the ride quality until we’ve tried it on some good old British bumps.
The handling isn’t as impressive as the ride, because the car feels big, heavy and wallowy as it changes direction. Yet despite this cumbersome character, it feels stable enough if you don’t push it too hard, and the steering is a real high point. It’s quick to respond, has a satisfyingly hefty weight to it and has plenty of feel. It doesn’t really match the rest of the car in its character, but it’s impressive in isolation.
Choose the F Sport model, and you get an adaptive suspension as standard (this is available as an optional extra on the other grades) that hunkers everything down and makes thing tauter and sportier if you select the appropriate driving mode. In truth, it does pretty much nothing to improve the ride, and although the sportier mode tightens up the body control slightly, it does very little to improve the handling characteristics, either. For that reason, we don’t really see the adaptive setup as a must-have.
How powerful is it?
All ESs come with hybrid power, bringing together a 2.5-litre petrol engine and an electric motor to produce 215 horsepower. Performance is modest, as you’ll see from a 0-62mph sprint time of 8.9 seconds and a top speed of 112mph, but your progress is at least reasonably smooth and quiet.
With many hybrids, you find that simply breathing on the throttle pedal sends the engine revs shooting sky high and you get a whole lot of noise for not much acceleration. This is rather better than that. You don’t need an awful lot of pressure on the throttle for the revs to start climbing, but the noise is kept quite distant and you’ll notice much more of a resemblance between the work rate of the engine and your rate of acceleration.
How much will it cost me?
This is where the ES really starts to make sense. Prices are significantly lower than those of its German competitors, and that’s before you factor in all the extra standard equipment you get, which further increases the value divide. Even better, the ES’ resale values are predicted to be very high indeed. That means you’ll either get a good slice of your initial investment back come resale time, or if you buy on finance, it means monthly payments will be a good slice lower.
The ES makes even more sense, though, if you’re a company car driver. The efficient hybrid drivetrain gives it a lower official CO2 output than most of its diesel-powered rivals, giving it lower company car tax bandings, and there’s no diesel surcharge to pay, either. The cynics among us will always say that a ‘self-charging’ hybrid like this will never be as efficient as a plug-in hybrid, but while that’s true, self-charging hybrids tend to be nowhere near as expensive, either.
How reliable is it?
This is another area in which the ES is likely to impress. As a manufacturer, Lexus is always on, or near, the top of any given reliability survey you care to mention, so you can be as confident as it’s possible to be that your car won’t go wrong. Obviously, being a model that’s new to the UK, there’s no data on the ES itself, but we’d be staggered if it didn’t follow the lead of Lexus’ other models. And, if something does go wrong, Lexus has one of the industry’s finest reputations for customer service, so getting it sorted should prove fairly painless. You’re also covered by a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, while the hybrid parts are covered for five years/60,000 miles.
How safe is it?
Along with all the usual traction and stability aids you’d expect these days, and no fewer than ten airbags, the ES comes with lots of clever safety equipment as standard. That includes automatic emergency braking that can detect pedestrians, cyclists and all manner of other obstacles. There’s also adaptive cruise control that keeps you a safe distance from the car in front, lane keep assist that steers you back into your lane if you start to veer off, automatic high beam lights and traffic sign recognition. Specify the top-spec Takumi model, and you also get a blind spot monitor and automatic braking that also works in reverse. Unsurprisingly, the car has scored the maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests.
How much equipment do I get?
There are three trims available, named ES, F Sport and Takumi. The ES kicks the range off with very generous kit including all-round parking sensors, a reversing camera, keyless entry, automatic headlights, four powered windows, climate control, front seats that are electrically adjustable and heated, leather-effect upholstery, and a sophisticated infotainment system that brings together sat-nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth and ten speakers.
As well as the clever suspension and meatier styling, the F Sport also adds rain-sensing wipers, a windscreen de-icer and a different interior styling treatment.
The Takumi model adds a head-up display, 360-degree parking cameras, a powered bootlid with kick sensor, wireless phone charging, reclining rear seats and posher leather upholstery. You also get an upgraded Mark Levinson stereo with 17 speakers for fabulous sound quality.
The Lexus ES will suit those looking for an executive car, but don’t want to drive the same German saloons as everyone else. It’s comfortable, quiet, high in quality and very well equipped, and it also makes a lot of financial sense when compared with its rivals. It’s not the most exciting car you’ll ever drive, but with all its other attributes, many buyers won’t care a jot.