Lexus has entered India with a three-pronged line-up comprising a hybrid sedan, a large hybrid crossover and a diesel-powered giant of an SUV. While the ES 300h sedan marks the smallest of these prongs, it will probably be the sharpest in terms of market penetration. Priced at Rs 55.27 lakh ex-Delhi, it slots just below the new Mercedes-Benz E200 and a couple of lakhs higher than the lovely Volvo S90. Can the ES cut it in the midst of such prime rivalry?
The Lexus ES 300h certainly looks sophisticated enough from the outside. While it packs the similar dramatic spindle grille from the Lexus RX 450h, the ES' design is more restrained than the shouty RX, and the sedan pulls it off with panache. The overall profile is long and sleek, and the sharp LED headlamps add just the right amount of aggression to the face. The side profile is relatively devoid of heavy metal creases with a single muscular line running just below the windows, adding some character. The pinched window line at the rear contributes to the overall stance while the 10-spoke 17-inch wheels fill out the arches nicely. Letting the world know that you care is a chrome hybrid badge at the bottom of the rear door. Large wrap-around tail lamps and a subtle spoiler complete the handsome rear design. Overall, the ES 300h has great street presence and pulls off an air of sophistication without trying too hard.
The cabin continues the feel-good factor with a lovely leather-wrapped dashboard that swoops over a large infotainment display. This isn't just for good looks but also forms a clever hood over the display that prevents direct sunlight from hitting the screen, which makes it hard to read. The infotainment display is controlled via clever joystick-like device in the central console, but it can be a little too sensitive to inputs. There's a 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system here as well, but it didn't sound quite as glorious as the one in the RX 450h. Still it's going to be one of the more acoustically pleasing systems in the segment. Passengers get a three-zone climate control system with Lexus' negative ion generator system that promises cleaner air and an increased feeling of freshness. The driver gets a lovely wood and leather-finished wheel that fits the hands perfectly.
The front seats have 10-way power adjustment and offer a seat-cooling function. Sadly, the rear seats don't recline but the space is highly comfortable and generously roomy nevertheless. The sunroof features a thick blind which will be helpful in quick cabin cooling in the summer heat. The rear windows have manual sunshades, but there is an electrically retractable sunblind for the rear windscreen that can be controlled via a button on the central armrest. Rear passengers can also control the audio system and air temperature through this armrest button console. Standard features include front and rear parking sensors as well as a reverse camera. The tyre pressure monitoring system also observes the pressure in the full-size spare enclosed in the boot, so there shouldn't be any nasty surprises in case of a flat someday. Even with the full-size tyre and hybrid hardware, the boot can hold 425 litres, which Lexus demonstrated is enough for four golf bags. In a nutshell, attention to detail in the cabin is high and everything feels beautifully put-together.
The ES 300h uses a drivetrain we're familiar with and rather fond of, the 2.5-litre hybrid from the Toyota Camry Hybrid. The 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle inline-4 makes 160PS and 213Nm while the electric motor can generate up to a max of 143PS. Combined system output matches that of the Camry's 205PS. There are three driving modes on offer - Eco, Normal and Sport. In Eco mode, responses are relaxed while the powertrain feels considerably more alert in Sport. Throttle response gets sharp and the eCVT transmission readily raises the revs when the driver requests it. You can also select an additional EV mode which allows the car to run purely on electricity for two to three kilometres at reasonable speeds. Once the battery depletes, the engine turns on and seamlessly begins to power the front wheels while simultaneously sending juice to the 204-cell NiMH battery pack. The battery pack also gets charged via regenerative braking and when the car is coasting.
Lexus claims a 0-100kmph time of 8.5s and the ES 300h feels about quick enough. The ARAI fuel-efficiency figure is a high 17.8kmpl. The driving experience with the ES is quite enjoyable. It's nearly silent when you want some peace, but it's brisk enough to entertain the driver when the mood arises. All-round performance should be on par with the other 4-cylinder engines in this segment, perhaps with the exception of the 240PS Jaguar XF petrol.
The ES 300h is based on the same Toyota K platform that underpins the current-gen Camry Hybrid in India. However, the ES is more closely connected to the larger, more luxurious Toyota Avalon and shares the same 2,820mm wheelbase. Suspension is non-adjustable but the set-up is at an almost ideal compromise between ride comfort and handling ability. There's an ever-present sense of plush suppleness that only gets shaken by nasty or sharp bumps. As a result, passenger comfort is high and the excellent NVH levels in the cabin elevate the sense of luxury. 151mm of ground clearance is sufficient enough to avoid scraping the underbelly, even over some large speed breakers with a full cabin. Regardless, as with any other car in this class, you still need to exercise caution.
However, when the right road arrives, the ES is taut enough and displays good body control. I had a fun time briskly flowing the car through the smooth but narrow and cambered roads of the Nilgiris. It doesn't have quite the chassis stiffness or steering feel to be considered an outright driver's delight, but the potential for fun is high nevertheless. Of the three Lexus models in India, this is easily the sweetest in terms of the driving experience.
The Lexus ES 300h is highly impressive. The car looks classy from the outside and in. It drives well and also happens to be a thoroughly comfortable machine to be driven in. In this segment, its biggest rival will probably be the Volvo S90. Both offer handsome design, impeccable interiors and are a unique offering in a sea of German luxury cars. With four active dealerships, Lexus still has a long way to go before it catches its European rivals. The company will handle service support through its own trained staff, but they will use the vast Toyota network infrastructure as and when required. Lexus' big focus right now is a superior customer experience and that's the right way to go. For those aware of the Lexus brand name and its reputation for uniqueness, exceptional quality and reliability, the ES 300h is perhaps the pick of the company's Indian line-up.
Images by Ishaan Bhataiya
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