Lexus ES 300h Review: First Drive

By Ishan Raghava | on September 25, 2018

With the seventh-generation ES, Lexus can truly rival the Germans in the luxury car space. But, with a brand that’s still a work in progress in India, is it enough to match up to the bigwigs?

Disruption is the word that most aptly describes Lexus’ entry into the automotive world, about three decades ago. With the might of parent company Toyota behind it, the brand quickly set about competing in a segment, which, at that point of time globally, was dominated by the German brands. The luxury segment was a tough nut to crack, mainly because it’s a punishing task to convince the segment buyers to opt for an expensive product from a brand that they’re not completely familiar with. But the true disruption here happened on two fronts with Lexus. Firstly, their cars – built with meticulous attention to detail – offered a combination of refinement, reliability and quality levels that truly shocked the luxury vehicle industry. And, secondly, their focus on improving the customer experience of buying and maintaining a car truly surpassed the industry standards of those days.

Lexus ES 300h Front View

Stand out
With the seventh-generation ES, Lexus is attempting to do something similar in the Indian market – especially since it competes in one of the largest segments in the luxury car space, that of the mid-size luxury sedans. What helps the ES is its striking design language. The highlight, as with all Lexus products today, is the oversized spindle grille that dominates the design. However, in this form, it only features a chrome outline, while the innards of the grille are a dark grey – which I think is quite well executed. The front and rear ends also feature big head and tail light units, while the lighting at both ends is powered by LED lamps. The sides also feature deep shoulder lines, which make quite a bold statement and were quite an engineering feat to achieve for production.

Attention to detail
As Lexus officials communicated to us at the drive, the basic premise of the latest ES – now based on the brand-new GA-K platform – were two things. One was to design the car to give it a wide and long look. Second was to focus on reducing fatigue of the car’s occupants and making driving the ES as easy as possible. If there are two traits that explain this approach in detail, it’s how the driving position and the view out from inside the car can affect and, in fact, encourage fatigue. To remedy that, the engineers worked on pushing the A-pillars of the ES as far back as possible to enhance visibility and, at the same time, lowering the seating position for enhanced comfort. The second, and even more staggering, feat was the work done on making the car as quiet as possible. In fact, Lexus engineers went to the extent of identifying just how much isolation from the outside world is perfect for the occupants of a car. They discovered that total silence inside the cabin can also be very disturbing, so they dialled some noise back into the cabin to give it a more natural feel. That means that the ES has active noise cancellation that dials out unwanted noise and dials in a little bit of (wanted) noise to make the cabin environment feel more natural. The engineers also increased the amount of damping in the car by about 25% and engineered a new kind of alloy wheel – which helps further in reducing road noise. Like I said, attention to detail has been one of the founding mantras of Lexus as a brand, and the ES epitomises this obsession by being as close to perfection as possible.

2019 Lexus ES 300h Interior

Experiencing luxury
After a long presentation, we finally headed out onto the road, and the first thing that struck us in the ES was isolation from the outside – which, to put it simply, is really astonishing. It makes the cabin a much more relaxing place to be in, which is further accentuated by the 1,800W Mark Levinson audio that comes as standard. The audio system is simply stunning! This, combined with the low NVH levels of the 2.5-litre Hybrid engine and E-CVT gearbox, means that most competitors of the ES will struggle to match the interior refinement of the Lexus. The seats are another highlight, which, in my opinion, are some of the most comfortable perches I’ve sat on in recent times. The front seats come with heating and ventilation as standard, while the rears are only heated. The dashboard and instrument layouts are also quite impressive, and the big 12.3-inch central display, as well as the 7-inch display in front of the driver, work quite well. Another highlight is the new head-up display.

2019 Lexus ES 300h Instrument Cluster

Behind the wheel
The first impression of the ES on the road is dominated by its refinement. Right from its isolation to its ride comfort, the ES is a very impressive product. The 2.5-litre Hybrid engine might not be a power monster, at just 215bhp, but it works quite well and the extra torque of the Hybrid system means that progress is swift – and yet very refined. When pushed, the CVT system does have that annoying rubber band effect, which I’m not very fond of. But, given that the car is not really aimed at a driving enthusiast, but somebody who values the total experience of what a luxury product delivers, the ES does its job very well. It has fantastic comfort levels, with class-leading refinement and a very competitive price tag. What also works in its favour are its green credentials, as it happens to be the only Hybrid in its segment – which means its carbon footprint and emissions levels are much lower than traditional petrol and diesel-powered cars.

2019 Lexus ES 300h Rear View

However, it’s not perfect. While there’s not much to fault with the product per se, the fact remains that the luxury segment in India is still diesel dominated, and with Lexus globally moving away from diesel engines, that is not an option on the ES. This means that quite a number of potential customers will fail to experience the fantastic experience that the ES offers. Secondly, while Lexus India has built absolutely amazing customer experience centres, their footprint in India is still very limited, and that too will be an issue for many customers – especially those in smaller cities. But, none of this takes away from the fact that the ES delivers an unmatched experience, in terms of what a luxury vehicle should feel like. And, of course, it comes fully loaded with all the bells-and-whistles – including 10 airbags. Therefore, if you’re in in the market to buy a mid-sized luxury sedan, the ES definitely deserves a look.   

  • Lexus ES 300h

Engine: 2.5-litre / In-line 4-Cylinders / Hybrid Engine

Fuel: Petrol

Transmission: E-CVT, Front-Wheel Drive

Power: 215bhp

Torque: 221Nm

Price: 59.13 Lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)

X-Factor: If you’re looking for a car that’s comfortable, exceedingly refined and a pleasure to spend time in, the ES makes a phenomenal case for itself in a German-dominated segment.

Pros           
• Amazing in-cabin experience
• Great refinement & ride quality

Cons
• Petrol only, no diesel option
• Badge value still a work in progress

Tags: Lexus Lexus ES Lexus ES 300h

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Starts at ₹ 56.55 Lakh Ex-showroom, New Delhi

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