More style and substance are features the 2013 Lexus ES 350 can brag about. However the Toyota-Camry-based sedan can now include superlative fuel economy to its bag of tricks in the form of the gasoline-electric ES 300h hybrid.
The ES has always enjoyed a sterling reputation with Lexus buyers as the fleet's go-to entry-luxury model, even though the sportier IS series is less expensive. But in this league size counts for plenty and the longer, wider and roomier ES beats the pants off the IS in the space race.
For 2013, interior volume has been slightly increased due to the addition of about five centimetres between the front and rear wheels. That adjustment makes the ES more livable, especially for rear-seat riders, but it's the car's outward appearance that's bound to make it a lot more likeable.
Lexus's new character-building corporate face features a prominent lower air intake that first appeared on the GS sedan, along with restyled headlights and shapelier hood. It's a look that will show up on the rest of the fleet in due course. In addition, the backside has been reworked to give the sedan a bit more bustle. The physical adjustments add considerable sparkle to what had been a design that for years was unnecessarily understated. That's certainly not the case with the reshaped dashboard and control panel layout. Other than the primary tach and speedometer gauges, the control centre is a busy spot, with numerous minute knobs and buttons handling ventilation, audio and communications tasks. Fortunately, the console-mounted Remote Touch Interface can manipulate much of the car's aforementioned systems in a relatively uncomplicated manner and with minimal driver distraction.
The ES 350's powertrain is similarly straightforward, consisting of a 268-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 accompanied by a six-speed automatic transmission that carry over virtually unchanged from the 2012 edition. But, for 2013 it doesn't end there. A new ES 300h hybrid features a 156-horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder gas engine that combines with a 141-horsepower electric motor to generate 200 net horsepower. Both function through a continuously variable transmission. The hybrid borrows its powertrain from the Toyota Camry hybrid and represents a natural extension of the ES brand, especially since the recent demise of the Toyota-Prius-based HS 250h. That model never really caught on with the Lexus crowd, primarily because both its $40,000-plus price tag and less-than-stellar (for a hybrid) fuel economy left many Lexus shoppers scratching their heads.
By comparison, the ES 300h's 4.7 l/100 km city/5.1 highway values rival the Camry hybrid's 4.5/4.9 rating and clobbers the ES 350's estimated 10.7/7.0 numbers. And the ES 300h's claimed zero-to-60-mph (96 km-h) time of 7.1 seconds is but a second slower than the V6-powered ES 350.
Being in the luxury realm, the ES 350 starts out with considerable standard equipment including climate control, power moonroof, 10-way adjustable power front seats, backup monitor, push-button start and an eight-speaker auto system. In addition, there's a Drive Mode selector with Normal, Eco or Sport settings for the powertrain and steering system.
The base ES 300h pretty much mirrors that list, but also adds standard leather seat coverings. From that point you can load up the ES (and significantly inflate the estimated $44,000 base price) with options such as heated seats and steering wheel, voice activated navigation, 15-speaker, 835-watt premium sound system and genuine wood trim. There are also a variety of safety items designed to keep you in the
correct lane, alert you to traffic approaching in adjacent lanes, assist you when backing out from a parking spot and summon help should a crash occur. With its luxurious cabin environment, stress-free engine performance and trouble-free reliability, the ES should continue to garner serious consideration from entry-luxury shoppers. Dial in an invigorated redesign plus a fuelsipper option and more folks than ever will likely vote y-ES.
What you should know:
2013 Lexus ES 350/ES 300h
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive midsize entry-luxury sedan
Engines (hp): 3.5litre DOHC V6 (268); 2.5-litre DOHC V4 with electric motor (200, net)
Transmissions: Six-speed automatic; continuously variable (std. on ES 300h)
Market position: Through good times and bad, sales of luxury-oriented cars have remained strong. Now with both gasoline and gas-electric hybrid versions, the Lexus ES ser-ies should strengthen its near-luxury position.
Points: Even a relatively modest styling upgrade represents major upgrade for ES; New hybrid will prove popular; Dashboard/control panel still needs work; Suspension improvements gives ES more Euro-style driving characteristics; Ten standard airbags tops most
other vehicles in class; Overdoing it on options could push price into GS350 range.
Safety: Front airbags; front-/rear sideimpact airbags; side-curtain airbags; front knee airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy) 10.7/7.0 (3.5);
Base price (incl. destination) $44,000 (est.)
Lincoln MKZ Base price: $40,300 Ford Fusion-based sedan gets the allnew treatment for 2013.
Audi A6 Base price: $60,000 Spacious, well-equipped luxury car offered in all-wheel-drive only.
Cadillac CTS Base price: $38,800 RWD/AWD sedan delivers sharp looks and up to 556 hp in CTS-V livery.