2013 Lexus ES 300h review:

Luxurious Lexus edged out by thriftier Toyota twin

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A basic level of cabin tech
Our ES 300h's equipped cabin tech was based around a $740, eight-speaker Display Audio package, which makes use of a 7-inch LCD of pretty low resolution. This display is where you'll see the output of the package's rearview camera and interact with the vehicle systems. The Display Audio interface is controlled by a control knob that can be twisted, nudged in eight directions, and tapped to select. The control scheme fairly intuitive, but somehow the control knob in the Hyundai Genesis manages to feel more substantial and easier to live with than this one.

7-inch screen
The Display Audio system is built around a 7-inch display. Josh Miller/CNET

Audio sources for this cabin tech package include a single-slot CD player, a USB port with iPod connection (iPhone 5-friendly with a Lightning-to-USB adapter), Bluetooth audio streaming and hands-free calling, AM/FM terrestrial radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and an auxiliary input.

Driver safety is enhanced by the Blind Spot Monitoring System with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (a $500 option) and the Intuitive Parking Assist, which is a $500 proximity detection system that beeps with increasing intensity as you approach an obstruction at low speed.

Control knob
Our ES was equipped with a control knob, but models equipped with navigation use Lexus' Remote Touch controller. Josh Miller/CNET

Other line items found on our 2013 ES 300h's delivery sticker include $300 for a leather-trimmed shift knob and wood-and-leather-trimmed steering wheel, $210 for a power rear sunshade, $515 for HID headlamps, and $1,370 for a Luxury Package that adds leather seats with heated and cooled surfaces, wood trim on the dashboard, power adjustment for the front seats, a steering wheel with memory for the driver's seat, and smart keyless entry and pushbutton starter.

Adding all of the options to the ES 300h's $38,850 base price and $895 destination charge brings our as-tested price to $43,880.

More available options
Our tester actually sits near the low end of the ES 300h's spectrum of available tech. We weren't able to sample the Navigation Package. Check this option box and the Display Audio system is upgraded with Lexus Enform 2.0 with Safety Connect, which combines an assortment of telematics features with the Enform App Suite (a rebrand and redesigned version of Toyota Entune). You also get a hard-drive-based navigation system with voice command and SiriusXM NavTraffic, NavWeather, Sports, Stocks and Gas Prices. Remote Touch controller replaces the control knob. This is not the same ultra-wide-screen unit that we saw in action in the newest Lexus GS and LS models earlier this year, but a simplified 7-inch system.

Further up the tech totem pole is the Mark Levinson Audio package that adds an 835-watt Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound Audio with DVD-audio/video, 15 speakers, and 5.1-channel surround to everything in the aforementioned Navigation package.

An Ultra Luxury Package adds more ambient lighting to the cabin, a heated steering wheel, nicer leather on the seats, a seat cushion extender on the driver's seat and a memory function for the passenger seat, rain-sensing wipers, and a power-opening and -closing trunk. Available safety options include Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, which is bundled with a Pre-Collision System that can reduce or avoid frontal collisions by automatically applying the brakes when an imminent crash is detected and a Lane Departure Alert system that is bundled with an Automatic High Beams feature.

Fully loaded with all of its comfort, tech, and safety options, the 2013 Lexus ES 300h's bottom line grows to $50,375.

In sum: Base Lexus or loaded Toyota?
For our 2013 ES 300h's final $43,880 price, you could instead get a fully loaded Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited. Choose the top-tier Avalon over the low-level Lexus and you get the same 2.5-liter hybrid engine with the same EPA-estimated 40 mpg and nearly every bullet point on our tester's list of amenities and features. However, you'll also get the full, Entune-powered premium navigation with an 11-speaker JBL GreenEdge premium audio, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated rear seats, and the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control package with Automatic high-beam lights and a Pre-Collision System. For my $44,000, I'd go with the Toyota.

2013 Lexus ES 300h
The 2013 Lexus ES 300h is good, but I can't help but think the Toyota Avalon Hybrid is a better deal. Josh Miller/CNET

Outside of the Toyota Lexus ecosystem, the ES 300h doesn't really face much competition. The Korean Hyundai Azera that competes in this class doesn't offer a hybrid power train. Infiniti's similarly sized M Hybrid sits above the Lexus' price and power classes. Lincoln's upcoming 2013 MKZ Hybrid will certainly give the Lexus a run for its money; we'll have to revisit that comparison when the American car hits the market.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Lexus ES
Trim 300h
Power train 2.5-liter Hybrid Synergy Drive, Continuously Variable Transmission, front-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy 40 city, 39 highway, 40 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy 36.2 mpg
Navigation optional HDD navigation with Lexus Enform 2.0
Bluetooth phone support standard
Disc player single-slot CD
MP3 player support standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection (iPhone 5-friendly)
Other digital audio SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Optional HD Radio tuner
Audio system eight-speaker Display Audio system
Driver aids Rearview camera, Blind Spot Monitoring with Cross Traffic Alert, audible proximity detection
Base price $38,850
Price as tested $43,880

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