THE VERY QUIET ACHIEVER

Lexus has added some deft touches to the ES with­out com­pro­mis­ing its value for money

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - CRAIG DUFF

A lot of peo­ple aren’t pas­sion­ate about driv­ing but do ap­pre­ci­ate qual­ity and value. They’re the types who buy a Lexus ES. Oth­ers want a touch more en­gage­ment in their au­to­mo­bile. Lexus has ac­cord­ingly im­bued a touch more re­spon­sive­ness to the lat­est model of its mid­sized sedan.

This sev­enth-gen­er­a­tion ver­sion shares the traits that earned its pre­de­ces­sors a small but faith­ful fan base in Aus­tralia, from the quiet­ness in the cabin to the fin­ish of the in­te­rior trim and in­su­lated ride.

Those fea­tures are now en­sconced in a more dy­namic body, with the ac­cen­tu­ated coupestyle roof sit­ting on a stretched and low­ered mod­u­lar plat­form the Lexus shares with the Toy­ota Camry.

The in­te­rior is just as stylish, from the 12.3inch screen just pro­trud­ing from the mul­ti­lay­ered dash to the feel of the con­trols, de­spite Lexus per­sist­ing with a fid­dly touch­pad to op­er­ate the in­fo­tain­ment menus.

De­fault kit in the base Lux­ury ver­sion in­cludes full LED head­lamps, a colour head-up dis­play, traf­fic sign recog­ni­tion, adap­tive cruise con­trol and lane-keep as­sist. With a start­ing price of $59,888 plus on-road costs, the ES Lux­ury hits the value for money equa­tion as a pres­tige sedan and is about $3800 cheaper than its pre­de­ces­sor. Metal­lic paint adds $1500.

The Sports Lux­ury is up by about $3000 to $74,888 but has 18-inch al­loys with hol­low rims to can­cel out tyre drone, a 17-speaker Mark Levin­son stereo, pow­ered rear seats, front and rear sway bars and a kick-ac­ti­vated sen­sor un­der the boot.

That boot has now grown to 473 litres as a re­sult of a smaller, denser nickel-metal hy­dride bat­tery now fit­ting un­der the back seat (which doesn’t fold flat).

Both vari­ants are now solely a hy­brid propo­si­tion, us­ing a 2.5-litre four-cylin­der en­gine and an elec­tric mo­tor for a com­bined 160kW.

The 3.5-litre V6 has been dropped from the ES line-up as the com­pany con­tin­ues its push to ed­u­cate buy­ers on the ben­e­fits of hy­brids. In the case of the ES, it’s hard to ar­gue with an of­fi­cial fuel use of just 4.6 litres/100km.

Lexus touts the ES as “the most fuel-ef­fi­cient car in its class that does not re­quire a plug”.

ON THE ROAD

A lit­tle voice is cau­tion­ing me to “please obey all traf­fic reg­u­la­tions”. It’s not my con­science, so it has to be the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of the Lexus Safety Sys­tem. So I won’t be repli­cat­ing the claimed 8.9-sec­ond run to 100km/h with­out be­ing elec­tro-nagged. In any case, the time doesn’t re­flect the ES’s solid per­for­mance just off the line when ac­cel­er­at­ing to change lanes.

It’s no per­for­mance car but it can cred­i­bly hold its own around town or on the high­way, es­pe­cially with the drive modes and CVT set to sport. In that case six pre­set “gears” can be man­u­ally se­lected via pad­dle shifters. Al­ter­na­tively, the ES will slip into neu­tral and coast when cruis­ing on flat roads in Eco mode.

The steer­ing is light in the nor­mal drive mode and has a touch more ar­ti­fi­cial heft in sport. Feed­back in ei­ther mode still seems a bit di­luted once it reaches the steer­ing wheel but the steer­ing does re­spond well to changes in di­rec­tion, though at the cost of some body roll.

To be fair to the Lexus it isn’t set up for sporty han­dling. Tree root-lined boule­vards won’t rate a men­tion be­yond a bit of gen­tle fore and aft pitch­ing and the cush­iony ride en­sures it wafts over man­hole cov­ers and road joins.

The cabin is sim­ply serene — so quiet that your pas­sen­ger jumps when a truck en­gine­brakes while pulling up along­side. Even then the 17-speaker stereo in our car didn’t need more than a cou­ple of clicks on the vol­ume con­trol to drown out what lit­tle noise does man­age to in­trude on the iso­la­tion.

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