In May of 2012 Lexus announced its revised 2013 model year ES series would include a hybrid version for the first time in 20 years since the model’s initial launch.
Later in the year, Lexus projected the hybrid version would comprise 25 percent of all ES sales – there’s also available a 3.5-liter V6 version called the ES 350. So far, the ES 300h has been on track toward this estimated 15,000 or more sales per year.
The reason for its relative success is it offers substantial EPA-rated mileage improvement over the otherwise nearly identical six-cylinder ES350 with not penalizing drivers overly much with lagging performance from the otherwise nearly identical car.
Specifically, for around $2,700 more, a Lexus buyer can get a sizable combined EPA mpg estimate of 40 mpg for the hybrid, versus 24 mpg for the regular gas version. City mileage is nearly double at 40 vs. 21, and highway mpg is still improved at 39 vs. 31.
The 265 horsepower six-cylinder does out-gun the 200-horsepower hybrid and uses a more driver-controllable manumatic transmission – specifically, a six-speed sequential-shift automatic Electronically Controlled Transmission with intelligence (ECT-i) – whereas the hybrid uses a more fuel-saving continuously variable transmission (CVT).
If you want a sports-oriented sedan, the regular gas car will provide more, but many drivers wanting an effective intermediate-level luxury sedan with respectable performance and much-improved fuel mileage will be fine with the hybrid.
Under the Hood
The Lexus ES 300h hybrid makes use of what is essentially a variant of the Toyota Camry Hybrid’s extremely efficient gas-electric powertrain. It was thus a perfect time last year to hybridize the ES series, as Toyota has just outdone itself by substantially improving the Camry Hybrid’s powertrain for 2012.
The new 2.5-liter, four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine sheds as much parasitic drag as possible by becoming entirely beltless. It uses an electric water pump, electric power steering, and an integrated hybrid electric motor/generator. The beltless design helps improve fuel economy and overall reliability.
The other motor is the traction motor that aids the gas engine to drive the car’s front-wheels. Power figures are not quoted by Lexus, but Toyota’s version adds 141 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque.
The 156-horsepower engine utilizes a high 12.5:1 compression ratio, and its power pulses are merged via computer control with two electric motors. One is a motor/generator that primarily is engine driven and recharges the liquid-cooled nickel-metal hydride battery pack. It also is used as a starter for the gas engine during its stop/start function.
Because the gas and electric motors hit their peaks at different points, the system power is rated at a flat 200, and no peak gas-electric torque figure is specified.
In updating the ES 350 and ES 300h, Lexus attempted to sculpt sporty design language with a lower profile and clean styling.
The wheelbase was lengthened to increase already decent interior passenger space, and otherwise, inside the car is designed with a form-follows-function mantra.
The vehicle s loaded with safety features and offers optional Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), Lane Departure Alert (LDA) integrated with automatic high beam dimming technology. Also available is a Pre-Collision System (PCS) that uses sub-millimeter wave radar to detect obstructions traveling ahead and to prepare the vehicle for a potential collision.
Ten airbags are standard, including driver and front passenger knee, front and seat-mounted air bags, as well as rear seat-mounted side airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags.
Also, Lexus uses Whiplash Injury Lessening (WIL) front seats to limit excessive head movement in certain rear-end collisions.
On the Road
Grasping the sustainable bamboo steering wheel, the car offers quicker steering over predecessors as the steering ratio was reduced from 16.1:1 to 14.8:1 for more responsiveness.
The CVT transmission can be switched from normal, eco, and sport modes. Operation of the hybrid system toggling itself between gas and electric is seamless and Lexus has refined the car to a high level.
Its stop/start function is also smoother and absent the shudder still present on some higher line European hybrids give when restarting from a shutdown at a stop.
As mentioned, the hybrid will not be as engaging as a “driver’s car” if that is what you are looking for, and have plans to drive it aggressively. It is however an effective, smooth, and reasonably luxurious tool to get you to and fro, and is capable of decent 8/10ths driving without feeling like something is sorely lacking.
The Michelin 215/55R-17 low rolling resistance all-season tires do an adequate job of holding the road, and bumps and pavement irregularities are damped well by the four-wheel independent suspension which is further aided by the rigid body structure.
Price & Warranty
The ES 300 h starts at $39,250. Like all Lexus vehicles, it is offerd with a 48-month/50,000 mile basic limited warranty with roadside assistance for 48 months/unlimited miles. Powertrain, restraint system, and corrosion perforation protection coverage are provided for 72 months. Core hybrid-related components are covered for eight years/100,000 miles.