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2022 Lexus ES 300h F Sport first drive review: Better than before, still room to improve

Additional technology and a smattering of other enhancements make the fuel-sipping ES hybrid more comfortable and easier to live with.

The F Sport trim is a new addition to the ES hybrid.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Nobody buys the Lexus ES for driving excitement, and that will not change for 2022. Mildly refreshed, this cushy cruiser remains true to its roots, focusing on comfort, fuel efficiency and long-haul dependability instead of corner-carving performance or cutting-edge design. The 2022 Lexus ES 300h gains new infotainment tech, added safety features and a few styling enhancements -- including a new F Sport package -- which are small alterations that make a solid product just a little bit better. 

Minor updates for 2022

A few things set the ES apart from last year's model, the most noticeable of which is an updated grille on non-F Sport models. The texture filling that gaping maw is more pronounced than before, consisting of chiseled "L" shapes radiating outward from the Lexus badge. Beyond that, several fresh wheel designs are offered, and the rear suspension gains a new brace for greater torsional rigidity, which Lexus claims enhances stability and riding comfort. Even rolling on honkin' 19-inch wheels, this ES 300h F Sport is still a paragon of refinement. When driven on pockmarked backroads the suspension does an excellent job filtering out harshness, meaning there's little vibration or grittiness to be felt in the passenger compartment.

The ES also gains an updated braking system. On gasoline-powered models, this includes an upsized vacuum booster for a more linear pedal feel. Hybrid variants also benefit from a massaged regenerative braking system, which supposedly provides improved performance. In testing, the ES 300h's brake pedal is firm yet easy to modulate for mostly smooth performance, though it can feel a bit abrupt when slowing to a stop, like the brakes grab too much at 1 or 2 mph.

For 2022, the Lexus Safety System Plus 2.5 is standard across the ES range. This includes things like forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking. Beyond these features, a new Intersection Turning Assist function is bundled, as well. During left-hand turns this tech can recognize oncoming traffic and while making right-hand turns it can detect pedestrians. In either case, the car can warn the driver of obstacles and even automatically apply the brakes to prevent a collision. 

As you'd expect in a luxury vehicle, adaptive cruise control is included, too, and it works extremely well, even in stop-and-go congestion. Lexus' lane-centering technology is among the best in the business, minimizing vehicle wandering and quickly building driver confidence. The ES' ACC has a couple additional tricks up its sleeve. When approaching a slower-moving vehicle, if you activate the turn signal to change lanes the car will accelerate up to your preset speed to help you get around dawdlers more easily. Curve Speed Reduction is another feature of note; when the cruise control is activated, this feature can automatically slow the vehicle down while going through corners to enhance safety. 

The hybrid powertrain might not be potent but it should return 44 mpg combined.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

One of the most significant changes for 2022 is the addition of an F Sport trim on the hybrid model. Mirroring gasoline-powered ES sedans, this is mostly an appearance package, dressing the car up with a mesh-filled grille, black 19-inch wheels and a rear spoiler, among other minor tweaks. Inside, F Sport variants come with a unique steering wheel, special front seats and a half-digital instrument cluster with a center display that moves from side to side, revealing various menus. 

Other news for 2022: A pair of fresh paint colors replace two other hues, and ES 350 F Sport models can now be had with a Dynamic Handling Package. This includes Sport Plus and Custom drive modes, parking assist and an adaptive suspension system for enhanced ride and handling. 

One big change inside

Lexus' detestable infotainment system with its laptop-like trackpad on the console is still present, but the automaker has taken baby steps to make things a little easier to use. Two display sizes are offered -- an 8-incher is standard and a 12.3-inch screen is available. Thankfully, both panels are touch-enabled and have been moved more than 4 inches closer to the driver so they're relatively easy to reach. 

The touchscreen is nice, but overall the ES' infotainment system needs work.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Those changes are a good start, but the infotainment system is still a mess. The interface looks outdated and is unintuitive, plus nothing has really been optimized for touch. Many icons are still tiny, which makes them challenging to hit with a finger (especially while driving) and certain menus don't scroll or move how you'd expect. I'm happy to see Lexus working to improve the ES' tech, but the brand still has a long way to go. I mean, even the backup camera is substandard. As in practically every Toyota and Lexus vehicle these days, the image quality is embarrassingly low-resolution.

Lexus may fall short when it comes to offering cutting-edge technology, but the brand has no such deficiencies in the luxury department. The ES 300h F Sport's interior is comfortable, refined and surprisingly spacious. The soft plastics and leather employed are all of high quality and most of the switches and controls feel nice. I especially love the concentric volume and tuning knobs, which puts both dials in one spot. This arrangement feels great and is easy for the driver to reach. 

The ES' front chairs are super-comfortable and supportive. Similarly, this car's backseat offers miles of legroom, though headroom is at a slight premium. (My noggin kisses the ceiling if I sit up straight.) Another downside -- the rear backrest doesn't fold down, limiting the car's versatility.

The F Sport pack adds 19-inch wheels.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

A refined cruiser

Matching its supple, well-controlled ride, the ES 300h's powertrain is similarly smooth. Built around a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine -- one that's augmented by a pair of electric motors that provide additional oomph, help with regenerative braking and function as a continuously variable transmission -- this car is graced with a total of 215 horsepower. That's certainly not a lot of giddy-up, but it's more than enough to provide perfectly adequate acceleration. The ES moves well when you give it the spurs, though a race car it is not.

The trade-off for not having insane power is eye-popping efficiency. Lexus estimates the ES 300h's city fuel economy will increase by 2 mpg for 2022. These are not official EPA numbers, but the car is expected to return 43 mpg city, 46 mpg highway and 44 mpg combined. In real-world driving I'm having no trouble getting more than 46 mpg in mixed use, which is phenomenal for a car of this size.

The Lexus ES is not the most exciting car around, but it's comfortable and efficient, important attributes to be certain.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Better than before, still room to improve

Fundamentally, there's nothing wrong with the ES. In hybrid form, this car is comfortable, efficient and surprisingly roomy. Still, I'd still like to see Lexus try a little harder. That infotainment system, while improved, is still a glaring drawback, and the backup camera leaves much to be desired.

Pricing has not been announced, but it should not change dramatically. The 2021 ES 300h starts at around $43,000 including delivery fees, and I suspect this one will be all over that figure like gravy on a wet burrito. Look for the 2022 Lexus ES at dealerships this fall.