Lexus has been on a roll the past few years. With the recent introductions of the sleek LC coupe, and the technology packed 2018 LS 500 at the 2017 North American International Auto Show, the Japanese luxury brand is firmly focused on adding a new dimension to its ongoing battle with German luxury rivals. The 2017 Lexus ES sedan aims to bring this new-found spirit to the brand's core audience, but can it still stand out among a crowded field of luxury sedan contenders?
Crisp exterior styling is typically a proven formula when it comes to drawing stares, and Lexus designers had their work cut out for them on the ES. Once known for looking bland and underwhelming in past iterations, the 2017 model has undergone a commendable transformation in its attempt to lure younger buyers to showrooms. The front fascia of our Silver Lining (no pun intended) Grey ES 300h tester for example, embodies a greater sense of confidence than past efforts, and makes prominent use of the brand's spindle style grille. The headlights still look a bit awkward from certain angles, but the ES's mug still does a good job retaining a high level of premium style and substance. The rear fascia features redesigned taillights and crisper curves with some subtle cues borrowed from the bigger GS sedan. The end result is a look that is admittedly a bit disjointed, but it is certainly much more appealing to younger buyers especially those that might not have otherwise considered the ES for their driveway.
A key attribute that has defined the ES is its roomy, spacious interior and the cabin of our tester felt very cohesive and looked great doing it. Copious amounts of wood trim and high quality leather and plastics blend together to create a luxurious cabin that offers plenty of leg and headroom. The seats offered high levels of comfort, and were shod in soft comfortable leather. The fancy seats also highlighted an odd quirk that came with our tester, the lack of built-in seat heat. The absence of this almost mandatory feature, especially in a Lexus of all things, had us scratching our heads since there are hybrids out on the market that offer this winter friendly tool at a far lower price point than the $48,213 sticker on our tester. While we're complaining, we are still not fans of the mouse-like controller for the infotainment system, which borders between being annoying, and outright distracting when out on the open road. Thankfully the screen is decently sized, and the menus are intuitive and easy to understand.
The ES's long wheelbase also helps deliver large amounts of rear seat room with the rear seat being able to easily fit three adults in relative comfort. Each occupant will also be able to enjoy a musically friendly environment thanks to the Lexus Premium audio system which features an Automatic Sound Levelizer, and did an exceptional job delivering solid sound quality especially in the baritone and bass ranges. ES 300hs also offer a healthy amount of trunk space, though the addition of the battery pack did force engineers to eliminate the trunk pass-through as well as a tiny bit of room to fully accommodate the battery.
Following in the established tire tracks of its predecessors, the 2017 ES 300h will not set the motoring world ablaze with its driving dynamics with the car exhibiting copious body roll and tire noise when pushed hard. Instead, the ES is more adept at providing high levels of comfort which should please buyers that don't like the stiffer rides that many luxury cars have these days. This emphasis on comfort also makes the ES a stellar candidate for long road trips thanks to its ability to soak up the miles with minimal effort.
Performance for our tester comes from a 200 horsepower 2.5 liter Atkinson-cycle four cylinder engine which is hooked up to an electric motor generator system and delivers commendable levels of responsiveness. The four banger is very noisy under hard acceleration, but putting the Lexus Drive Select System into sport mode allows it to be surprisingly spirited when out on the freeway. A six speed automatic is the sole transmission choice across the ES lineup, and while it is down a couple of cogs when compared to the eight speed units wielded by some of its rivals, it still does a good job delivering smooth shifts, and allows the ES to hold its own against segment rivals. Buyers looking for more oomph can opt for the ES 350 which features a 3.5 liter V6 that produces a beefier 268 horsepower, and also delivers swifter acceleration. Our tester also features an EV mode, but its hard to maintain, and is largely suited to creeping up the driveway, or silently slinking through perfectly straight neighborhood streets.
The one area where we would like to see more improvement is braking behavior. Our tester did a good job delivering strong stops, but the brake pedal felt a bit too spongy, and the transition between the regen system and the formal brake pads didn't feel as smooth as we expected. This is especially apparent when the 300h is viewed against some of its hybrid rivals which offer smoother braking behavior, and hide the transition between regenerative braking and normal braking better.
Pricing for the 2017 Lexus ES 300h starts at $41,820 with our tester having a final sticker of $48,213. This figure was achieved thanks to its considerable list of options which included the $2,590 Navigation and Mark Levinson Premium Audio Package, the $730 Premium Package, as well as the $500 Intuitive Parking assist system. Buyers looking to add the absent seat heaters to their purchase will have to opt for either the $1,670 Luxury Package, or the $3,500 Ultra Luxury package with the latter package adding ventilation capability to the seat's list of tricks.
This pricing ladder also pits the ES 300h against its main rival, the 2017 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. The MKZ Hybrid also features slick styling, but it is slower than the Lexus, and its backseat is also decidedly more cramped. The Lincoln makes up for it by offering a better infotainment system, as well as slightly richer plastics. Another compelling contender is the 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid, and while it does not match the Lexus in terms of premium ambiance. It does get slightly more cohesive exterior styling, roughly the same fuel mileage, and also heated seats when equipped as an EX-L model.
We look forward to seeing the next chapter of the ES story, and finding out whether it will truly rise to its full potential when the next generation Lexus ES lineup makes its eventual debut at a future auto show.