Lexus ES long-term test review
The striking ES hybrid is designed to grab Lexus a bigger slice of the luxury saloon market. But does it have what it takes to turn top execs away from the usual German models? We're living with...
The car Lexus ES 300h Takumi Run by Claire Evans, consumer editor
Why it’s here The ES is Lexus’s take on the luxury saloon; the twist is that it’s a hybrid, and its low emissions make it a very attractive prospect as a company car
Needs to Trump the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class in areas other than emissions to prove itself a worthy alternative
List price £45,650 Target price £44,770 Price as tested £45,650 Miles 6147 Official economy 48.5-53.6mpg Test economy 51.0mpg Options fitted None
30 October 2019 – One area lets the side down
I’ve been spending more time on quiet, fast A-roads rather than motorways recently and this has highlighted the single big shortcoming of the ES. Under certain circumstances, the CVT gearbox (which is long overdue for replacement) ruins what would otherwise be a truly accomplished driving experience.
Although the ES can’t match the handling prowess of a BMW 5 Series, with the bespoke suspension set-up and structural dampers that are standard on my Takumi-trim car, it has an impressively well-rounded, competent chassis that puts many other rivals to shame. And, with more soundproofing than any ES that went before it, quietness is right up there with the best Audi can offer.
However, as soon as you demand some urgent acceleration for overtaking or on a hill, each spurt of speed is accompanied by a cacophony of whingeing and whining that makes you wish you hadn’t bothered.
The car has steering wheel paddles so you can change gear manually, but using them doesn’t resolve the problem; even when I select a lower gear, the car doesn’t stay in it for long if I push the accelerator pedal more than halfway down. The ES really does need a stepped gearbox like rivals.
The 2.5-litre petrol engine isn’t ideally suited to this large saloon, either. Although it produces a respectable 0-62mph time of 8.9sec, it doesn’t have the enjoyably deep reserves of low down pulling power that its diesel rivals have, so you have to push up the revs up – and with that the volume – to make the most of the performance.
I’ve also spent some time investigating the ES’s four different driving modes: EV, Eco, Normal and Sport. Most of the modes can be activated via an oddly tacked-on looking switch above the steering wheel. Sport mode boosts acceleration, which can be useful in short bursts, but it ruins the Zen-like driving experience because that gearless ’box screams as the revs rise.
The Eco driving mode isn’t appealing either. As well as turning down the air conditioning, it dampens the acceleration, making the ES feel sluggish and unresponsive. The last option, EV mode, which encourages the car to be powered solely by the battery, does work well if you’re crawling along in a traffic jam, but is deactivated by anything but the lightest depression of the accelerator pedal.
So I’ve ended up leaving the car in Normal mode, where it automatically picks the most efficient use of the engine and battery for optimum fuel efficiency. Talking of economy, provided the car is in Normal mode it’s achieving a truly creditable 50mpg, even when it’s driven around town and on fast rural roads.
In my role as consumer editor, I recently helped a reader get a brand new replacement for her 2013 Lexus IS because its rear parking system constantly parked the car at an angle. It was interesting to compare her new IS with my ES. We both agreed that we loved the refined, well appointed interiors of our cars. And Xuan was glad she’d opted for a model with a rotary dial controller for the infotainment system, rather than the supposedly more advanced touchpad controller in my car. I am getting used to using that, but it’s still more of a faff than a rotary dial would be.
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