Lexus knows how to build a good saloon car, of this I am sure. Since driving the very first Lexus models to land in South Africa many years ago, I have been continually impressed by the level of refinement and luxury offered by these saloons from Japan. In keeping with that tradition, two all-new models have been launched as mid-level offerings called the ES range. We recently drove the range-topper called the Lexus ES 300h.

Bold styling

Most readers may know that Lexus is the luxury vehicle arm of Toyota. Cars from this manufacturer are not known for their particularly bold styling, not a bad decision from Toyota considering the wide target market across the globe.

It seems that Lexus is where designers get to flex their creative muscles. Recent models from Lexus have boasted bold styling and the ES range is no different. From the three-dimensional ‘spindle’ grille on the nose to the katana-slash headlamps and arching roofline, the new ES stands out from its rivals. Incidentally, those headlamps feature triple-beam LED technology and all-LED turn signals. The ES 300h is set apart from its sibling, the ES 250, by wearing 18-inch turbine-style alloys, designed to reduce noise and a slim lip spoiler on the boot.

Lounge-like interior

Sliding into the cabin of the Lexus ES 300h is an absolute treat for the senses. Soft-feel semi-Aniline leather covers the comfy front chairs, which feature heating and cooling functions, to the delight of one’s tushy. The steering wheel also has a built-in heater. The ES 300h features Viscotecs, which is a three-dimensional painted finish that is applied to selected leather contact surfaces such as the armrest and door trim. Light-coloured, unsealed wood trim offsets the leather, creating the sensation of being inside a Japanese day spa – quite relaxing.

Click here to read our BMW X5 launch report.

Added to these luxuries are plenty of high-tech modern conveniences. Centre stage on the facia is taken by a 12,3-inch full-colour infotainment display. Unlike some of its rivals, Lexus does not offer touchscreen control but continues to offer a trackpad mounted between the front seats. There is the option of voice control for major controls as well.

Chockfull of features

Lexus ES 300h is chockfull of features, from the heated/cooled electric seats to the sunroof, to privacy shades on the rear windows, wireless phone charger, radar-based cruise control, front and rear cameras, auto wiper and lights, satellite navigation, touchless entry, etc they are all standard fittings. There are no options on this car, except the colour. On top of all that Lexus SA throws in 7-year/105 000 km warranty and full maintenance plan. This is a lesson for all premium manufacturers.

A highlight for me was the 17-speaker Mark Levinson hifi. Regardless of your choice in music, this system is extremely pleasant on the ears. Warm vocal reproduction, crisp instrumentation and punchy bass notes made me spend a few extra minutes in the cabin after parking in my driveway after each drive.

With its long wheelbase, there is plenty of room inside the Lexus ES’ cabin. Both front and rear seat passengers can stretch out, regardless of how much legroom they require. Incidentally, the rear seats feature heating, too.

On the road

From ‘start-up’ this hybrid ES does makes no noise, which is great. Setting sail always takes place under electric power. The 2,5-litre petrol engine kicks in when the battery pack starts to run low or you demand extra power via your right foot. Such is the relaxed nature of the ES 300h that I spent almost all my time behind the wheel, in the slow lane. Low noise motoring really relaxes one while driving. Lexus quotes a quite optimistic 4,6 L/100 km fuel consumption figure, which will be difficult to match.

Although the ES 300h has three driving models, Sport, Normal and Eco, I rarely swapped between them. I think that sport mode is a complete waste of time in a car such as this. With the swap from electric to petrol and combinations of electric and petrol power so seamless, it hardly bothered me to click over to the eco setting.

Smooth sailing

Even more impressive than the engine’s power delivery is the ride quality. All independent suspension and adaptive dampers ensure a ride that is soft and smooth. In many ways, the Lexus ES 300h reminded me of Toyota Camry that I had as a long-term test car many years ago. There are no sporting pretensions here, and I think buyers will be all the more appreciative for it.

Summary

My opening statement referred to the quality of Lexus saloons. The Lexus ES 300h just underlines the impression I have of other models from the brand. It exemplifies the traits that make Lexus such a well-respected and well-supported brand on the world stage.

I suspect that the Lexus comparatively small market share in SA is due to brand loyalty and plain ignorance of buyers. If people did their homework and tried out every model in this price range, then I suspect we’d see a lot more Lexuses… Lexii? on local roads.

Click here to read more about the current Lexus line-up.

Price: R843 800

Engine: 2,5-litre inline four, hybrid drive system

Transmission: FWD

Max power: 160 kW

Max torque:  n/a

Top speed: 180 km/h

0-100 km/h: 8,9 sec

Fuel consumption: 4,6 L/100 km