Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
We’ve so far been most impressed with Takumi trim for refinement; it proves impressively hushed when cruising on the 18in wheels fitted as standard. Wind and road noise is well suppressed and the engine is virtually inaudible at constant motorway speeds. The F Sport’s 19in wheels do generate a bit more road roar, but not to the point of it becoming wearisome. Given that entry-level model gets diddy 17 inchers, the least expensive ES could be the quietest of the lot.
Comfort is more of a mixed bag. For the most part, the cars we’ve driven that have 18in wheels were very agreeable, dealing with undulations very well without ever feeling floaty or out of control. Find a patchy bit of road with a few potholes, though, and the ES struggles a little. Although it never crashes or bangs, you do feel the car shudder, which spoils the feeling of calm. F Sport models get adaptive suspension but the addition of 19in wheels makes it feel slightly more jittery in Comfort mode. Switch to Sport and you’re acutely aware of imperfections while mid-corner bumps upset it more, too.
It’s not like the F Sport’s adaptive system does much to improve the handling, either. In fact, the standard setup proves just as capable when the road gets twisty. The BMW 5 Series still remains the driver’s choice in this segment, but the Lexus is no embarrassment; it certainly feels keener than the Volvo S90 and we suspect would give an Audi A6 a run for its money. Not only is the steering precise with a meaty weight that builds confidence, there’s also very little body lean, and its strong grip is balanced evenly between the front and rear axles.
But while it can be hustled along at a surprising rate, the noise from its engine might prevent you from doing that too often. The 300h combines a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a couple of electric motors and is more refined than some of Lexus’ four-cylinder hybrids, but its continuously variable transmission (CVT) causes the engine to rev frantically when you demand full acceleration. It also lacks the low-rev urgency that’s so abundant in diesel rivals and makes them so relaxing to drive, nor does it ever feel as brisk as a BMW 520d or Mercedes E220d. Meanwhile rival plug-in hybrids are much faster outright.
The gearbox has a Sport mode that can be selected with paddles on the steering wheel, but we found it unconvincing in use. Even when you select a lower ‘gear’ yourself, you’ll find that the car doesn’t stay in it for long if you push the accelerator pedal more than half way down.
Fortunately, if you rarely need to rush and are more interested in efficiency than excitement, the ES won’t let you down. It’s frugal in normal mode, but gets even better if you flick it into ‘Eco’; this lets the car coast with the engine off in order to save fuel, while other modes soak up your momentum by turning recovered energy into electricity when you ease off the accelerator.
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