A hybrid luxury sedan priced almost like a family sedan …
Luxury and value go together a bit like peanut butter and caviar, at least in the car world.
That’s to say, they don’t. Usually, luxury vehicles push nameplate and a few fancy doodads at a premium price. Folks wanting their image or reputation to be aided by a luxury badge often don’t mind paying more than a little extra.
Lexus rocks the normalcy boat with its new ES300h sedan, ladling lavish luxury inside while providing a handsome family sedan at just a smidge beyond mainstream (Toyota) pricing.
First, it’s a wonder that any car maker is making cars these days, but Toyota and Lexus still do. ES300h is a sedan with a hybrid powerplant. That means a 2.5-liter I4 gas engine paired with a hybrid system, which the carmaker has been fine tuning now for 20+ years.
Think Prius, but then the system moved upstream. Hence the Lexus luxury model.
Power is typically modest, just 215 horses and a torque rating of 163. But the delivery is smooth, steady and stealthy quiet. You can perk it up some by opting to use two of the five drive modes. Sport and Sport+ give the front-drive sedan a bit more oomph when slipping away from a stop.
But mainly the ES simply feels cushioned, quiet and capable. Ride is superior, well damped by the suspension system here and comfortable even over the roughest roads. All that and this was a sport-tuned F Sport model. Handling is light and easy and fairly responsive too. Not much play in this steering wheel.
And, like any family sedan, there’s room for five adults with oodles of rear legroom and then a big trunk in back with a power lid ($550 extra). That’s not just a power release, this trunk lid powers up like an SUV or crossover hatch. Not really needed as there’s no high reach required to close the trunk, but hey, Lexus delivers a luxury experience.
That starts outside where the ES300h’s lightning bolt style lights are perfectly matched to the hood and grille’s design. While I’m no fan of the giant grille and logo which all luxury makes now employ, Lexus designers have made their designs work because the hood’s creases and meld with the lights’ design.
Watch our video: (186) 2023 Lexus 300h review by Mark Savage and Paul Daniel – YouTube
Yet it’s the ES300’s interior that delivers the full luxury experience in form, feel and function.
Gone is the icky touchpad that used to frustrate folks tuning the radio or trying to find info on the infotainment screen. That change alone deserves accolades. Now the screen is large at 12.3 inches in this F Sport model, part of a $1,030 option package. But it’s a touchscreen that’s easy to adjust and use, even as one drives.
Of course the interior is quiet, both because this is a hybrid running on electric battery power when started and at speeds below 20 mph or when cruising, but there’s sufficient sound deadening to knock down the typical road noise from wind and pavement.
Lexus loads this F Sport model with a gorgeous black and bright white leather interior, the seats being white with black trim, and the doors having white panels with black tops that blend well with the dash. Major trim along the top edge is Hadori aluminum, something Toyota says reflects the beauty of ancient Japanese swords. Marketing!
But it looks sharp along with satin chrome door releases and trim and flat black door armrests and console. Atop that, by the way, is a wireless phone charger midway, just between the center armrest and cup holders. It’s easy to lay a phone atop it and easy to retrieve the phone if there’s an incoming call. Excellent!
Other buttons and gauges are all easy to see and use, plus the F Sport includes what it calls a moveable meter, the instrument pod in front of the driver. Press a button on the steering wheel and the speedometer moves from the center to the right and digital info gauges are rearranged. Not a necessity, but another touch of luxury.
For $500 more the test car added a head-up display. I’ve grown to like these, but again, not a necessity.
Other pluses? The steering wheel is a power tilt/telescope number and the thick leather wheel is heated in the F Sport. I wish the wheel also was flat-bottomed. Also standard here are automatic heated and cooled front seats. Set the button to automatic and the car adjusts the seat temp to meet current conditions. The steering wheel heat also is automatic and warms quickly.
Overhead is a standard size sunroof and there’s a 10-speaker premium sound system in the ES. A full safety suite is standard too along with smart cruise control.
F Sport models come with extremely supportive, almost race quality, seats. Side bolsters are perfect for comfort and with the power lumbar can be made to fit most any derriere and aging back for a long trip. Massaging seats would be nice too, but would likely add another $5k to the price, and that’s not what the ES is all about.
No, it’s about luxury and value and this hybrid model is also about excellent gas mileage. If you’re not ready for an electric car, hybrids are the happy middle ground.
This Lexus is rated 44 mpg city and 43 mpg highway. Like the similar Toyota Camry hybrid I tested last year, this ES over-delivered on fuel economy. I got 46.5, even better than the trip computer was estimating, and standard unleaded or E85 gas (a bit cheaper) will do.
Downsides, well, not much. Some have commented that the rear seat doesn’t split and fold down as do most sedans. But there is a pass-through and those rear seats are so comfy I doubt any passengers will complain that the seats won’t budge.
And like most auto writers, I’d love a bit more power, but I realize the market Lexus is after here, and value and responsible fuel economy are bigger selling points.
Now that pricing. A base ES250, the only ES with all-wheel-drive, starts at $42,590 and the car uses a 2.5-liter I4 that makes 203 horsepower. Moving up to a hybrid model pushes the price only modestly to $43,790, but the five hybrids and eight other ES models are all front-wheel drive.
Power seekers may prefer the ES350 with its 302-horsepower 3.5-liter V6.
The test car was an F Sport, which puts a premium on performance looks and tuning, so it started at $49,985, much closer to its luxury car competition. With more than a few options it settled at $54,255, about where those competitors start, often without a hybrid system. There’s a reason the ES300 has been a Kelley Blue Book Best Buy for 5 years running.
Note too that if you like these looks and the fine Toyota hybrid system, a nameplate-ignoring buyer could consider a Camry hybrid. Last year’s test drive was among the best hybrid sedans I’ve ever driven and the car is only two inches shorter and rides on a 3.8-inch shorter wheelbase. Going top-shelf there will run about $40,000-$42,000, or where the Lexus starts.
While touching on price and value, note that the Cloudburst Gray paint job here is just $500 extra. I say Only because more and more luxury makes, heck all makes, are charging up to $750 for anything other than white. Lexus offers six colors as standard on the ES300h, so no extra charge.
Value and luxury, a tasty mix for those of us without caviar taste, or pocketbooks.
FAST STATS: 2023 Lexus ES300h F Sport
Hits: Sharp styling, great mpg, excellent ride, good handling, comfy family sedan. Good rear seat and trunk room, sunroof, automatic heated/cooled front seats & heated wheel, large info touchscreen, wireless charger, smart cruise control and solid safety suite, plus 5 drive modes, 10-speaker sound system, supportive power seats. Value pricing.
Misses: Modest power, rear seats don’t fold down.
Made in: Georgetown, Ky.
Engine: 2.5-liter I4 hybrid, 215 hp/163 torque
Transmission: ECVT automatic
Weight: 3,730 lbs.
Wheelbase: 113 in.
Length: 195.9 in.
Cargo: 16.7 cu.ft.
MPG: 46.5 (tested)
Base Price: $49,985 (includes delivery)
Head-up display, $500
Triple beam LED headlights, $1,215
Smart access CardKey, $100
Lexus Interface w/ 12.3-inch touchscreen, Drive Connect w/cloud nav, intelligent assistant (Hey Lexus), Destination Assist, $1,030
Power truck w/kick sensor, $550
Cloudburst Gray paint, $500
Carpet trunk mat, $130
Door edge guards, $155
Rear bumper applique $90
Test vehicle: $54,255
Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage