The ES 300h is the more fuel-efficient version of Lexus' midsize sedan, with its hybrid powertrain burning about 40 percent less fuel than the gas-only ES 350. That makes it one of the most fuel-efficient luxury cars out there. Sure, it's down on power compared with the V6-powered ES 350, but thanks to an all-new platform and sportier suspension tweaks across the board, the hybrid luxury sedan is surprisingly fun to drive.
Embarking on its seventh generation for the 2019 model year, the Lexus ES is far less a geriatric proposition than before.
The 2019 ES is one of the most comfortable cars I've ever driven. A pleasant antidote to failing infrastructure, the ES makes Los Angeles' 405 freeway's unevenness inconsequential. Not even sharp speed bumps can upset this Lexus.
But that doesn't mean it's a wafty snoozefest. Sure, the ES 300h is not a sports sedan, but crank some angle into the steering and it responds with quickness. Turn-in is immediate, and the ES stays relatively flat through corners. Overall, the ES feels pretty light on its feet, despite being weighed down by a heavy, nickel-metal hydride battery.
But that battery pulls its own weight, helping the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine up front deliver a combined 215 horsepower to the front wheels via a surprisingly smooth-acting continuously variable transmission. With a 0-60 mile-per-hour time of 8.1 seconds, the ES isn't going to cause a catharsis off the line, but mid-range, highway passing power is impressive, the electric motor delivering a nice punch of instant torque.
The hybrid ES brings just enough power to the table, but it also brings a generous helping of efficiency, as well. The EPA rates the ES 300h at 43 miles per gallon in the city, and 45 mpg highway. Much of my 242 miles were spent idling as the car and I helped organize a charity event, so I only ended up averaging 36 mpg during my week with the ES. Still, that's markedly better than the 26 mpg combined (22/33 city/highway mpg) the EPA says you'll get with the ES 350.
When it comes time to brush off some speed, the ES does that well, too. The regenerative braking system has about 90 percent of the linearity of a vehicle with conventional brakes, so it only takes a few minutes to get used to the minimally altered braking feel. Some car companies aren't even half as good at integrating their regenerative braking, so this is a great example of Toyota's and Lexus' expertise with building hybrids.
Comfort for all
Plop your backside into the ES's driver's seat, and it'll be love at first sit. There's more than enough room to stretch out, too. The ES has never been a stranger to spaciousness, but the new seventh-generation ES is 1.8 inches wider than its predecessor, while also offering a 2-inch-longer wheelbase. As a result, there's not an uncomfortable seat in the house, especially with high-quality cabin materials throughout. The interior is quiet, too, but not noticeably quieter than competing cars in this segment.
With the hybrid battery sitting underneath the back seat, the ES 300h offers the same 16.7 cubic feet of trunk space as its ES 350 kin. Ultimately, that's more cargo room than what you'll find in the Buick LaCrosse, Kia Cadenza, Lincoln MKZ and even the ES's platform-mate, the Toyota Avalon, which has 16.1 cubic feet. Unfortunately, due to structural V-bracing between the rear seatbacks and the trunk, you can't fold down the back seat to boost your cargo space
Great tech behind a bad interface
Your yelling and frustration at the ES 300h's infotainment may interrupt the interior's tranquility. The Lexus Enform Remote Touch Interface, arguably the worst on the market, is tricky to use.
Aside from that, there's plenty of standard tech to speak of. The ES comes equipped with an 8-inch display featuring Apple CarPlay. You also get Wi-Fi, a 10-speaker sound system and a 7-inch TFT instrument cluster display. That compulsory tech is complemented with an impressive suite of standard safety features, which include pedestrian- and bicyclist-detecting collision-mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, road sign recognition and automatic high beams.
How I'd spec it
The 2019 Lexus ES starts at $39,600 plus $1,025 for destination, and gets you a 3.5-liter V6 engine producing 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. If you want the extra efficiency of the ES 300h hybrid, you're looking at a $41,410 starting price.
I like all the bells and whistles, so I'd opt for the ES 300h in top-spec Ultra Luxury trim, which commands $51,135. The top-shelf ES 300h includes features like rain-sensing wipers, acoustic side glass, a power trunk lid with a kick sensor and performance dampers. Inside, there's a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, heated and ventilated seats, plus semi-aniline leather upholstery. Other features bundled with the Ultra Luxury package include a heated steering wheel, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, ultrasonic parking sensors.
For an additional $1,080, I'd add the Navigation-Mark Levinson Premium Audio Package, which features embedded navigation on a 12.3-inch display and an 1,800-watt, 17-speaker Mark Levinson. The package also bundles an auto-dimming mirror with an integrated HomeLink transceiver.
I'd also add the 10.2-inch head-up display for $500, triple-beam-LED headlights for $1,515 and the wireless smartphone charger for $75. That brings me to a total of $54,305 including destination, which is about five grand more than my tester's $49,730, which lacks the Mark Levinson audio, head-up display, heated steering wheel and wireless charger.
Comfort with improved consumption
It's worth noting at this point that a similarly equipped (and nearly as nice) Toyota Avalon is roughly $6,000 less expensive than the ES, but the Lexus' prestige badge and arguably better design -- especially against the Avalon's controversial gaping-maw grille -- could make the price premium worthwhile. The Lexus also gets slightly better fuel economy than the Toyota.
Overall, the 2019 ES is a pleasing example of a car that can offer remarkable plushness while still being fun to drive. The 2019 ES 300h is fuel-efficient, comfortable, spacious, stylish and reasonably priced. Sedans may be losing popularity, but the ES shows that there's still life left in this waning class. In fact, the ES 300h is among all the vehicles I've tested this past year.