Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
We’re most impressed with the Lexus ES in Takumi trim for refinement, and it's hushed when cruising on the 18in wheels fitted as standard. Wind and road noise are well suppressed and the engine is virtually inaudible at constant motorway speeds.
F Sport trim’s 19in wheels do generate a bit more road roar, but not to the point of it becoming wearisome. The entry-level model gets diddy 17-inchers, so the least expensive ES could be the quietest of the lot.
The ES can be hustled along at a surprising rate, but 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. It's more refined than some of Lexus’s four-cylinder hybrids, but the 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. Rival plug-in hybrid luxury cars are much faster outright.
The ES's 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. Eco 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.