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
Mileage 11,574 List price £45,650 Target price £44,770 Price as tested £45,650 Official economy 51.4mpg Test economy 49.3mpg Options fitted None Dealer price now £33,905 Private price now £30,138 Trade-in price now £29,403 Total running costs (excluding depreciation) Service £265 Fuel £687
24 January 2020 - Chilled out and surprisingly cheap
Running a car that only gets three stars in the rigorous What Car? road test could be viewed as a bit of a gamble. While our team acknowledges there’s a lot to like about the Lexus ES, it’s beaten hands-down for driver appeal by the BMW 5 Series, and other diesel-engined German rivals remain more composed when they’re hustled along a country road.
This was evident on my non-motorway driving stints in the ES - every time I planted my right foot to the floor to accelerate up a hill or overtake a slower vehicle, the CVT gearbox howled with displeasure, ruining the usually serene driving experience.
Using Sport mode only exacerbated the problem, and the steering-wheel mounted gearchange paddles didn’t help that much because they only made the gearbox hold onto each gear for a short while.
However, most of the time, the ES has proved a hugely comfortable and relaxing place to spend my daily commute. So much so that I’ve nicknamed it my Zen car - commuting around the M25 in it is like the automotive equivalent of yoga because even the rubmle-strip like concrete sections of that road’s surface couldn’t penetrate the ES’s ultra deep soundproofing and disturb my chilled state of mind. And getting across London to my favourite yoga studio was far less stressful in the cosseting ES.
My range-topping Takumi trim car came with pretty much every creature comfort you could wish for: a heated, electrically adjustable steering wheel and all-round heated seats and a cooling function for the front seats, plus the latest driver assistance systems, including sophisticated adaptive cruise control, a rear cross-traffic/pedestrian alert system with emergency braking and a 360deg panoramic view camera.
On top of that it has lots of little touches that make it easy to live with. These are from the Japanese notion of omotenashi – looking after people’s needs, even before they arise. So the car’s door handles and the ground around it light up as you approach it, once you’re inside both the driver and passenger can access the centre console storage bin easily because it’s double hinged, and if you have the rear blind down and select reverse gear the blind automatically rises out of the way until you’ve finished your manoeuvre.
Even though these may sound like little things, they really do help to de-stress you when you’re driving. And with masses of leg and headroom and well-padded back seats, when I took my parents for days out they felt like they were being driven in a limousine.
Another feel-good factor was the low running costs of the ES, especially as a company car. It achieved nearly 50mpg overall in its four months with me, which is on a par with the latest BMW 520d, but because the ES has a petrol engine it’s not subject to the 4% diesel surcharge on benefit in kind company car tax that affects the BMW.
Not everything about the ES was a nice surprise, though. I hadn't realised the rear seats didn't fold flat until my partner and I used the ES to do a rubbish tip run. We had to cover up the back seats and pile longer items on top of them because they didn't fit into the boot.
From the driver's point of view, the touchpad controller for the infotainment system was more fiddly to use than the rotary dial systems on rivals. It took me quite a while to master it, and even when I did I felt it I was taking my eyes off the road more than I should to use it. The lack of Apple CarPlay connectivity was another small annoyance, making it harder to pair my phone with the car.
I was also disappointed that my car developed an intermittent fault with the radio listing screen - if you scrolled up and down through stations it would sometimes jump up or down by one or two and display the wrong station. It was the first time I’d had a car with an infotainment problem, and a surprise on a brand that’s usually at the top of the What Car? Reliability league tables.
However, if your priority is a luxury car with an extremely well-appointed, and supremely comfortable interior and you want the added benefit of lower emissions and ownership costs than a diesel, there’s a lot to like about the ES. Yes, it really could do with a stepped gearbox like its rivals, but if you’re happy to make modest rather than rip-snorting progress, or most of your miles are on the motorway where it will cruise effortlessly at 70mph, the ES can help make light work of what might otherwise be a gruelling commute.
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