2013 Lexus ES
Base price: $36,995 – $37,745
MPG: 21 city/31 highway (ES 350), 40 city/39 highway (ES 300h)
- First-ever ES hybrid model
- Larger, more luxurious interior
- More car, less price
- Frustrating “Remote Touch” operating system
- Exterior styling
By Jim Prueter
For 2013, you can see that Lexus has definitely brought its A game with its fresh redesign of the ES, the brand’s best-selling sedan.
With a look that closely follows the GS sedan introduced earlier this year, the ES breaks with tradition, foregoing the Toyota Camry platform in favor of the larger Toyota Avalon platform. This change nets a much welcome 4.1 inches of extra rear-seat legroom that is especially important to buyers who are looking for comfort and size in a sedan.
Let’s start with the styling: The new ES has an attractive, yet conservative look that features Lexus’ new spindle grille. Viewed from the rear, it takes on the sharper proportions of the LS sedan.
The problem with the design is that it viewed as languid and void of emotion or passion. Let’s say it’s a casually graceful, lovely effort. I’ll confess, the car grew on me as I spent more time with it, but I’m not head over heels.
Inside, the ES is sophisticated, compelling, constructed with great materials, and beautifully designed. I’d say it’s the best effort yet. But I wish Lexus would back off excessive use of brushed aluminum trim that’s integrated throughout the instrument panel, center console, steering wheel, and door panels.
Cars are becoming cybernetic adjuncts to our lives. The new ES is virtually a delivery system of digital and high-tech “conveniences,” the most noticeable of which is the remote touch controller, a trackpad system that makes selections with a cursor on the dash screen. There’s even a haptic feature that delivers a slight vibration to your fingertips as you navigate through seemingly endless menus.
We found the next generation entertainment-information system that Lexus dubs Enform with AppSuite a pain to operate. I consider myself pretty adept using auto technology, but this system simply kicked my behind. I could work most of it with the vehicle parked but on the road driving? Forget about it.
The big news for the ES is the first-ever hybrid model, the ES 300h, with its gas/electric powertrain that’s lifted nearly intact from the Toyota Camry. The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, two electric motor/generators, and continuously variable transmission that powers the hybrid receives only a modest tweak from the Camry hybrid. Fuel economy is rated at 40 city/39 highway mpg, and an EV mode enables drivers to reach up to 25 mph for short distances on electric power alone.
The incumbent engine that powers the gas-only ES 350 uses a 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 268 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Power is more than adequate, and overall, it performed exceptionally well. Fuel economy is rated at 21 city/31 highway mpg.
We spent time behind the wheel of both vehicles and surprisingly found the performance to be almost identical: easy and capable. And, you can fiddle with vehicle performance settings for eco, normal, or sport. No complaints here.
The interior is library quiet, and the ride smooth and effortless. The experience seems to force passengers into a relaxed condition devoid of mental stress. I know a car ride soothes an overtired, wide-awake crying baby but honestly, an adult?
The ES 350 ($36,995) and the ES 300h ($39,745) are the only two models offered. The price of the ES 350 reflects a decrease of 1.7 percent from the 2012 model and the base price of the ES 300h carries a premium of just $2,750 over the ES 350, the lowest hybrid premium in the Lexus line-up. Both are front-wheel drive; there is no all-wheel drive option.
Three major packages are offered on both models. The Premium package upgrades to leather seating, maple wood trim, a driver memory system, and power tilt/telescope steering wheel. Premium requires an audio or navigation upgrade. The Luxury package builds on Premium with HID low-beam headlights, leather interior trim, heated/ventilated front seats, a power rear sunshade, and park assist. The Ultra Luxury package further adds a panoramic glass roof, rain-sensing wipers, a heated wood steering wheel, passenger seat memory, driver's seat cushion extender, ambient lighting, manual rear-door sunshades, and a power trunk lid.
Stand-alone options include many of the items in packages, plus 17- and 18-inch wheels, radar cruise control with a pre-collision system, blind spot/cross traffic alert systems, and lane departure assist/auto high beam.
Safety features on both ES models include 10 airbags, including front-knee and rear-seat side that are compatible with properly installed child seats, plus electronic stability, braking, and traction controls. Options include predictive rearview camera (included with any audio or navigation upgrade), blind spot and rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure alert, and parking assist. It has not been crash tested as of this writing.
The ES is a very important car for Lexus. It’s beautifully made — big, soft, and super comfortable on a long drive. Given the minimal price and driving dynamic difference between the two models, we recommend the ES 300h if you’re in the market.