Over the past decade, Lexus has become an industry leader in luxury hybrids.
The brand’s Hybrid Drive (shared with parent company Toyota) is one of the most popular and effective systems of its type on the market today.
Two of the most visible cars to feature the parallel hybrid system, which sees a gasoline powered engine and an electric motor work in unison to provide propulsion, are the compact CT200h and the mid-size ES300h.
Earlier this year, Business Insider had the chance to check out the compact CT200h.
It was a car that divided Business Insider’s transportation team.
While my colleague Matt DeBord expressed his admiration for the fuel-sipping hybrid, I found the 134 horsepower, Prius-based CT and its continuously variable transmission to be unrefined, underpowered, and completely underwhelming.
However, my well-documented disdain for the CT200h does not mean I shy away from Lexus’ hybrids on spec. In fact, one of my favourite cars on sale today is a Lexus hybrid — the ES300h. Recently, Business Insider had the chance to evaluate a blue Lexus ES300h hybrid on the streets of suburban Atlanta. The 2017 ES300h starts at $US41,820, but our test car came in at a tick over $US50,000.
In 1989, Lexus arrived in the US and took the auto industry by storm with a lineup of cars promising European luxury and Japanese reliability at a much more affordable price point.
Since then, the ES has been a staple in the Lexus lineup.
In that regard, the ES300h is a throwback to the fundamentals upon which the company was built. It’s comfortable and supremely quiet while exuding an air of solidity that befits a vehicle of a much higher price point.
Under the hood is a 2.4-litre, inline-four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with an electric drive unit to produce a total of 200 system horsepower. Those horses are routed to the front wheels through an electronically controlled CVT that forgoes traditional gears in favour of varying gear ratios tailored to the needs of the engine.
In the ES, this version of the Lexus Hybrid Drive offers a truly refined motoring experience. Even under hard acceleration, the engine remains relatively subdued and creates a far less intrusive racket than the CT. Under normal conditions, the hybrid drive system is eager to please and delivers acceleration figures on par with most mid-size family sedans. According to Lexus, the ES300h is capable of hitting 60 mph in 8.1 seconds. At highway speeds, the Lexus cruises effortlessly with its suspension successfully smoothing out any and all imperfections in the road.
Being a hybrid, the ES300h also delivers more than a respectable fuel economy for a full-fledged luxury sedan. During my week with the ES, Business Insider’s test car managed around 32 mpg of fuel economy in combined city and highway driving. This falls short of the 40 mpg highway/39 mpg city/40 mpg combined fuel economy claimed by Lexus. However, much of this discrepancy can be attributed to my enthusiastic diving style and the Georgia heat that required the car’s A/C to work overtime.
Styling-wise, the ES feels restrained when compared to the bold lines and striking features that adorn its Lexus siblings. The sixth generation ES, which debuted for the 2013 model year, received a mid-cycle refresh in 2016 that included an update to the company’s signature Spindle Grille. On the ES, the more fluid look of the Spindle gives the relatively low-key hybrid sedan a stylish look that stands out from the pack.
But, it is inside the cabin where the ES really shines.
The interior features expertly integrated leather with wood and chrome accents, giving the car an elegant and modern look. In fact, virtually every surface features quality leather or rich wood veneer. Heck, even the plastics feel expensive. You can tell Lexus spent a considerable amount of time and money to make sure the ES is a truly pleasant place to spend time. As result, the interior of ES feels like it’s been transplanted from a much more expensive car.
Alas, the ES isn’t perfect. Unfortunately for Lexus, where the ES falls short is also where its entire lineup falls short — the infotainment system. The infotainment system on our test car was infuriatingly difficult the use. The rotary “puck” input system is inaccurate when the car is stationary and borderline dangerous at speed. In addition, the user interface is convoluted and the voice controls struggles to understand basic accent-free American English.
The Lexus system is a frustration in comparison to its top-tier luxury rivals, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, and Audi’s system blows it away.
However, in my opinion, one shortcoming — albeit significant — doesn’t spoil the car. For me the Lexus ES300h represents everything that a Lexus should be — refined, luxurious, and well made. So if you’re looking for a $US42,000 luxury hybrid sedan, look no further than the Lexus ES300h.
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