You may never believe your eyes when you see the new 2013 Lexus ES series, because the styling is so modern, so clean, and so handsome that you swear that you are looking at an expensive European luxury car costing twice as much.
It's significant this year because the new sixth generation ES series also includes the hybrid version called the Lexus ES 300h.
More and more consumers are opting for the green choice even though there's usually an extra monetary outlay involved.
In the case of Lexus ES, the 300h (hybrid) costs $4.400 more than its gas-engine-only partner, the ES350.
The emphasis is decidedly on comfort in a cabin that also provides a nice sense of openness and refinement. My test 300h came with a Leather Package ($6,550), which also added wood trim on sections of the steering wheel.
While the trunk of the ES 300h is smaller (by 87L) than the ES 350, it's still a good size. Fold-down rear seatbacks are not offered on either vehicle, though a pass-through flap (for long skinny objects) is offered on the ES 350.
The ES comes standard with a class-leading 10 airbags. The selection of optional safety features include Blind Spot Monitor, Lane Departure Alert, automatic high beam dimming technology, and even a Pre-Collision sys-tem that uses sub-millimeter wave radar.
While I wouldn't go so far as to call the ES 300h a "sport sedan," it's certainly no couch on wheels. Unexpected driving delights included quicker responding electric rack-and-pinion steering, rock steady straight line directional control on the highway and driver selected performance modes that change engine, transmission and steering settings.
The emphasis is on a relaxed driving experience, when you get behind the wheel of an ES 300h. Its controls are clearly marked, easy to find and uncomplicated.
Basically, it's a Lexus version of the Camry hybrid drive system. An Atkinson-cycle 2.5litre, four cylinder gas engine that can produce 156 horsepower is linked to an integrated hybrid electric motor/generator. Together they can produce a total yield of 200 horsepower.
The transmission is a CV (continuously variable) type and there's a 245-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack stored in the trunk.
Around town a driver can use an EV (or electric only) mode at speeds up to 40 km/hour, until battery charge is depleted.
Exceptionally good fuel economy is possible in an urban setting or during a heavy traffic commute, where this mode and the hybrid drive system can be used to their full potential.
It transitions between electric or gasoline power, or both, almost seamlessly.
City fuel consumption in an ES300h is about half that of the ES 350 (4.7 L/100km vs 9.4 L/100km), based on Natural Resources Canada ratings.