By Kingsley Wijayasinha
Lexus hopes to grow sales dramatically this year with a new generation of products that come with the high level of quality and craftsmanship that its customers expect, but also with more drama in the way they look and drive.
While a large number of Lexus sales come from the RX sport-utility models, another top seller for the company over the years has been the ES sedan, with the latest model being officially launched in the United States recently.
The ES is scheduled for launch in Thailand later this year, and several Thai journalists were invited to participate in the global dynamic press launch of the new model last week in Nashville.
Models offered for driving impressions were the ES 250, ES 300h (hybrid) and ES 350. But according to Lexus marketing, only the hybrid will be offered in the Thai market, and the retail pricing will be announced at the launch.
The ES has been in the Lexus model range for ages (30 years to be exact) and this is the seventh-generation model in the line.
While the ES is well-known for offering excellent ride comfort and super-quiet cabin, what Lexus engineers wanted to do with the new model was to not only better those qualities, but also give it an emotional design and a higher level of driving enjoyment.
At the same time, the new model is also longer (65mm), wider (45mm) and lower (-5mm) than the outgoing one. Architecturally, this enables engineers to increase the wheelbase by 50mm, and move the wheels closer to the corners – the track widths have also been increased (10mm front and 30mm rear).
The result is a stance that appears much sportier than previous ES models, and with the elegant and bold exterior design (look at the size of that spindle grill) the new ES is a car that catches attention. The chief designer sums up the new design as “provocative elegance”.
I pretty much agree. The previous ES models weren’t exactly exciting to look at – they were more on the clean and graceful side of the spectrum, something that housewives would approve of and drive.
Lexus says the essence of the new characteristics are derived from the new GA-K (Global Architecture-K) platform. I think that while the general customer group for the ES is age 40 years and above, the new design will surely appeal to some younger customers as well.
Being a Lexus, L-shaped designs are to be found around the vehicle, particularly in the headlight and tail-light sections. The side profile maintains a strong resemblance to the previous model, but gets stronger highlights.
The GA-K platform is also responsible for the improved handling of the new ES. While the excellent ride quality remains, a highly-rigid front-wheel-drive chassis that uses increased laser welding plus adhesives gives the car dramatically increased rigidity compared to its predecessor. There are all sorts of braces used too, and all these details put the Lexus models above lower-end Toyotas that might share the same basic structural platform.
Another plus is lower road noise – as much as 96 per cent of the floorpan is covered with sound deadening material along with other insulation.
With the new suspension, the ES delivers a surprising level of nimbleness for a Lexus this size, showing off some good body control during quick directional changes. Meanwhile, the well-weighted steering offers a good level of precision on winding Tennessee roads where the driving event was held.
As mentioned, Thailand gets the hybrid, which boasts an average fuel economy of 22.7km/litre. The ES 300h features the latest fourth-generation Toyota hybrid system with a 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle engine mated to a new motor and hybrid transaxle. According to Lexus, the total package delivers more than 215hp of output.
The new ES hybrid still isn’t a plug-in, and still uses a nickel-metal hydride battery pack, which is cheaper than lithium-ion types used by other luxury brands. The pack has been relocated to under the rear seat to increase luggage space (473 litres) and improve front/rear weight distribution.
I really didn’t get a chance to speed much in the US, with maximum legal speed set at 55mph. Nevertheless, from low speeds, it was easy to feel the linear acceleration provided by the hybrid drive system. The front-wheel-driven ES comes with all the hybrid benefits, including a pure EV mode, although there are disadvantages too, such as the noisy Atkinson engine (thankfully the cabin is well-protected from that rattle) and noises from the hybrid system that owners will have to get used to.
The interior borrows some elements from the new LS sedan and blends it with the ES theme, resulting in an exciting-looking interior (that can appear a little messy though). Apart from striking upholstery colours such as Chateau and Topaz Brown that really lights up the interior, you also get headup display and a large display screen along with a 7-inch LCD instrument panel.
The larger dimensions directly give the cabin more space both front and rear. Rear passengers enjoy plenty of legroom (about the same as the LS) and personal air vents for maximum comfort.
The Thailand-bound model gets a Pioneer infotainment system and it is unfortunate that the Mark Levinson option is not on offer as it would drive up retail pricing considerably as the car is imported as a CBU. Nevertheless, read the Mark Levinson review featured below.
Lexus has been present in the Thai market for many years, but has never really caught up with the major players such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Lacking the local production of the German cars, Lexus suffers from a high import duty. In other markets, particularly the US, the new ES would be a worthy challenger with the super-strong popularity of the Lexus in that part of the world.
For potential ES customers in Thailand though, the message is clear. The new ES will offer you the expected elegance, comfort and quality. But this time around, be ready for a small surprise in terms of styling and driving dynamics as the new ES has got some grunt in it as well.
Lexus ES 300h Specs
Engine: 4-cylinder DOHC 16-valve VVT-iE and VVt-i
Bore and stroke: 87.5 x 103.4mm
Compression ratio: 14.0:1
Max power: 178ps/5,700rpm
Max torque: 221Nm/3,600-5,200rpm
Motor type: permanent magnet
Max output: 120ps
Max torque: 202Nm
Total system output: 218ps
Transmission: electronic continuously variable transmission
Motor reduction ratio: 3.389
Differential gear ratio: 3.389
Battery type: nickel metal hydride
Nominal voltage: 244.8V
Battery cells: 204
0-100kmh: 8.9 secs
Top speed: 180 km/h
Average fuel economy: 22.7km/litre
Average CO2: 102g/km
Suspension (f/r): McPherson strut, stabiliser/multi-link, stabiliser
Steering: electrically-powered rack-and-pinion
Turning circle: 11.8 metres
Brakes (f/r): vented disc/disc
Track (f/r): 1,590/1,610
Weight: approx. 1,680-1,740kgs
Wheels: 18-in alloy
Fuel tank capacity: 50 litres
Distributor: Toyota Motor Thailand Co Ltd