Do you want to get where you’re going as fast as possible and kid yourself you’re Max Verstappen in the process, or, do you want a smooth, comfortable and quiet journey that doesn’t leave you debating whether to work out the kinks in your suit trousers, or the kinks in your back first? Lexus is betting that for a viable chunk of the mid-size luxury saloon market, the answer is the latter. Add in fuel efficiency, and cutting-edge technology and you’ll get the flavour for the recipe Lexus has worked to with the refreshed ES 300h.
Launched in 2018 as a replacement for the Lexus GS, the ES has been updated for 2022 and is up against competitors like the Mercedes E-Class and the BMW 5 Series. With distinctive looks, front-wheel drive and a single-engine, all-hybrid line-up, the ES stands out from the premium competition from the get go. Can the 2022 updates give the Toyota-based saloon the edge in the battle for middle-lane supremacy?
F-Sport and Takumi – how do the trims stack up?
F-Sport bumpers, 19-inch alloy wheels and a rear spoiler separate F-Sport models of the ES visually from more comfort-oriented cars in the range but, in terms of driving, the main benefit to F-Sport buyers is the addition of an adaptive suspension set up.
Takumi grade adds extra technology and comfort features like wireless charging, triple-eye LED headlights with adaptive high-beam system, heated steering wheel, 12.3-inch Lexus Navigation, Mark Levinson audio, head-up display, power sunshades, power boot operation with hands-free sensor and panoramic view monitor with pedestrian detection.
Is the 2022 ES 300h as comfortable as ever? What about technology?
Comfort, fit and finish has long been the strong point of the ES range and the refresh has done nothing to jeopardise that. The ES cabin is, quite simply, a delightful environment to sit in while you get from A to B.
The addition of touch-screen functionality and a 12.3-inch monitor has brought the infotainment interface up to date and, while the centre console trackpad is still present, you can choose to ignore it entirely if you wish.
The power-adjustable leather seats are supportive and comfortable, at least for my entirely average frame, and the driving position and visibility is excellent. Models with the Takumi pack also get reclining rear seats, increasing comfort for rear passengers as well. Rear headroom is a slight weak point due to the sloping rear roof, but it’s not going to bother many passengers under six feet.
Being a mid-sized saloon, the rear seats don’t fold down to expand the boot space, but the rear compartment is of a decent size and is going to be versatile enough for most use cases short of a set of skis or a new chest of drawers. Boot space is an area where the ES does lag behind direct competitors, however. It’s almost 100 litres down on the Mercedes E-Class and also falls short of the Audi A6 and BMW 5 series.
Is the Lexus ES 300h good to drive?
The ES 300h has been engineered to be a refined, luxurious and comfortable long-distance driver, not the last word in sporting performance, but the F-Sport pack adds adjustable suspension that succeeds in improving the handling without overly compromising the ride. The dampers are a little stiffer, the car that little bit more purposeful in cornering and it strikes a slightly better balance between handling and comfort than the rest of the range.
Is it a transformational experience that significantly narrows the fun gap between the ES and a BMW 5 series? Not paired with the 2.5-litre, four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine and e-CVT gearbox, it isn’t. Efficiency is the main advantage of the Lexus powertrain and the main drawback is fun. With 21bhp at its disposal and a kerb weight of between 1,680 and 1,742kg, outright acceleration was never supposed to be the ES300’s strong suit, as the 8.9-second nought to 62mph will attest.
It doesn’t exactly feel underpowered, but neither is it exciting. The advantage of the engine and transmission combination is smoothness. Continuous variable transmissions allow for a smooth and optimised power delivery that suits the use case of a luxury cruiser very well and Toyota’s tried and tested variant is at its best paired with the 2.5-litre unit in the ES. Like all CVTs however, the sound it makes is irritating.
While the slightly nasal tone under strain leaves a lot to be desired, the noise levels generally are very low and easily forgotten with the sound system on. At low speeds, the ES is as placid as you like in EV-only mode and the transition between the EV and petrol power seamless.
There’s a lot to commend about the Lexus 300h and the 2022 refresh has narrowed the gap in some areas versus the predominantly German competition while retaining the strong comfort and refinement proposition that was praised from the get go. There are still a few key areas where the car lags behind, but when you add in the reputation for reliability, plus the competitive pricing you can start to see where the scales will tip in favour of the ES for some buyers.
Lexus ES 300h F-Sport Takumi
Price: £49,900 (OTR); Engine:2.5-litre, 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle; Transmission: Electric CVT, front-wheel drive; Power: 215bhp; Torque: 221 ft-lb; Top speed: 112mph; 0-62mph: 8.9 seconds; Consumption: 50.4 – 53.2 mpg; Emissions: 128 g/km C02