Hybrid gets impressive makeover
2019 Lexus ES 300h
Every so often, I drive a vehicle that turns into a love-hate relationship. I love driving it, but I absolutely hate operating it. And that’s how I got along with the redesigned-for-2019 Lexus ES 300h, the hybrid version of the company’s midsizesedan.
It’s roomy, it’s comfortable, and it’s bank-vault quiet, for a truly pleasurable drive. But should you want to access functions in the infotainment system, you get a computer-style touchpad that would be best fixed with dynamite.
For the most part, the ES300hh as the best of intentions. Both it and its non-hybrid ES 350 sibling are based on a new platform; it’s wider, lower, and longer in length and wheelbase than the model it replaces. I’ve yet to be sold on the gaping maw of the Lexus “spindle” grille, although obviously there are plenty of buyers who are (or who buy in spite of it), but the rest of this car is gorgeously swoopy and stylish. Be warned, though: that fast-flowing low roof line means rearseat passengers have to duck when getting in, lest the yb on kt he ir noggins on the door frame.
Power comes courtesy of a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with hybrid system. It’s rated at 176 horsepower on its own, but when gas and electric work together, it’s a maximum of 215 hp going to the front wheels. It’s a conventional hybrid so you don’t plug it in, and the battery is stored under the floor where it doesn’t affect the roomy rear seat or the trunk space.
The ES300h starts at $47,000, a $2,000 premium over the ES 350, but that’s just the beginning. Three progressive ly more lavish option pack scan be added, which layer on such items as navigation, heated steering wheel, blind-spot monitoring, wireless charging and LED headlamps. My tester’s Ultra Luxury Package, at $14,500, topped them with highest-end audio and upholstery, hands-free trunk, head-up display, and 360-degree camera, among other items, bringing the car’s price to $61,500.
Toyota/Lexus knows hybrid, and the ES 300h’s system is no exception. It automatically and seamlessly transfers between gasoline, electricity, or a combination of the two, depending on what’s required. Don’t get too excited by the EV (electric vehicle) Mode button on the console, though, as it’s not an electric car. I’ve never understood why the automaker includes it on its hybrids. When you press the button, the car runs on its battery alone at lower speeds, such as in parking lots, but the system will do that anyway, and the button’s EV mode abruptly shuts off if you exceed its lowspeedlimit.
There’s a sport-mode setting that mostly just increases the engine’s rpm, and there are paddle shifters to toggle between the CVT’s six simulated gears, but this is not a sports sedan. Acceleration is smooth but not brisk and the steering is accurate but lacks crispness and feedback. Go in expecting old-school luxury and you’ll be fine. The bonus is the fuel efficiency: in coldweather driving I averaged 5.9 L /100 km, just a tick above the car’s published consumption, and it takes regular-grade fuel.
The cabin design is very busy yet still manages to be high-tech handsome (although, truth be told, the two dials jutting out on either side of the tall instrument-cluster cover remind me of the bolts in Frankenstein’s monster’s neck).
There’s also a real shifter, instead of the ghastly electronic push-pull-hita-button-for-park stalks that so many automakers are using.
There are real buttons for the climate control, the heated seats and steering wheel (which can be set on an automatic mode that ties them into the cabin temperature you’ve set), and a couple of the stereo functions, along with a dial for the volume. It’s also the first Lexus to offer Apple CarPlay.
But oh, touchpad controller, how do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways. The centre screen isn’t touch activated; instead, you slide your finger over the touchpad to move the screen’s cursor, and then tap the pad to activate what you’ve selected. These touchpads work fine when you’re using a computer at your desk. On the road, especially a bumpy one, when you’re supposed to be watching traffic instead of a bull’s-eye stuttering across a screen, not so much. It’s even worse in winter, when skin dries out and the pad doesn’ t always respond easily to desiccated fingers. Really, I want to drive a Lexus, not a laptop.
2019 Lexus ES 300h with Ultra Luxury Package.