Sharp­ened Smooth

The all-new Lexus ES 300h jux­ta­poses an edgy and stun­ning ex­te­rior with a smooth and re­lax­ing in­te­rior. How does it fare in the real world? We drove it hot out of the oven

Car India - - COVER STORY - Story: Jim Gorde Pho­tog­ra­phy: San­jay Raikar

If ever there was a book on car build­ing, its cover would be some­thing sharp and ex­cit­ing to catch the eye of any­one’s field of vi­sion it en­ters. Yet, if that book was sold to­day, the in­sides would be all about re­spon­si­ble and clean mo­bil­ity. Never have I seen a car look so dra­mat­i­cally ex­cit­ing, yet pack an in­te­rior that is com­pletely re­lax­ing, with a driv­e­train to com­ple­ment its in­ten­tions. The Lexus ES 300h is that car.

As the wraps came off in Bei­jing ear­lier this year, the new, sev­enth-gen­er­a­tion Lexus ES ar­rived, mak­ing a state­ment in many minds with its bold new styling. It may be larger, but, in a bid to re­place both the ES and GS, the new ES sports some thor­oughly al­lur­ing styling rem­i­nis­cent of the larger LS, with sharper lines like a fine pressed suit and a more pro­nounced slop­ing roof. More than any­thing, it’s the new spin­dle-grille that stands out — and not re­motely in an un­wel­come way. The part­ing of the air spear­headed by this num­ber means it not just looks great, but is also func­tional. Flanked by those Bi-Beam three-eye LED head­lamps with light­ning-bolt style day­time light strips, the front end brings the ES into the fu­ture by one gi­ant leap. The lines, too, are pro­nounced but not too bold. Yet, the ES ap­pears lower and sportier. The lines flow rear­wards well, swoop­ing in waves to ex­ude a cer­tain el­e­gance along the side pro­file. The sharp LED tail-lamp clus­ters have a dis­tinct light sig­na­ture.

Size-wise, the car is 65 mil­lime­tres longer and is now closer to five me­tres long. It’s built on the new GA-K (Global Ar­chi­tec­ture-K) plat­form for fron­twheel-drive mod­els. Lexus say that is just as strong and rigid as the GA-L that un­der­pins the rear-wheel-drive LS which we drove this past March. The lower cen­tre of grav­ity and stiffer re­in­forced con­struc­tion make for a good base. Rigid­ity is one thing and ca­pa­ble sus­pen­sion is an­other facet of the han­dling di­a­mond. And Lexus have done their bit there, too.

A MacPher­son Strut front and multi-link with trail­ing arm rear sus­pen­sion are tuned for even bet­ter re­sponse. While the front set-up is from the pre­vi­ous car, there have been many changes made to im­prove upon it con­sid­er­ably. The an­gle of the strut has been changed to bet­ter align it with the load path from the lower con­trol arm to im­prove ride com­fort. Sec­ondly, the al­tered

The ES 300h is a pre­mium ex­ec­u­tive chal­lenger that has the styling to stare down a BMW 5er, with space and com­fort to ri­val the Mer­cedes E-Class

caster an­gle and trail help im­prove straight-line sta­bil­ity. The Dy­namic Con­trol Shocks in the rear set-up are new as well and re­spond to even the tini­est move­ments thanks to smart man­age­ment of the oil in the dampers. The re­sul­tant ride height is a us­able 152 mil­lime­tres; enough ground clear­ance for a car of this cal­i­bre. Part­ner­ing the smooth ride is an­other key el­e­ment: sound dead­en­ing. Lexus have padded pretty much the en­tire un­der­body and paid spe­cial at­ten­tion to po­ten­tial spoil­sports. For ex­am­ple, the alu­minium wheel rims have been cre­ated with a res­onator func­tion and help dis­perse the high-fre­quency vi­bra­tion from the air in the tyres by turn­ing it into dis­si­pat­ing heat. That is also a first for Lexus, is what we’re told.

The plush in­te­rior is a com­plete con­trast to the al­most ag­gres­sive de­meanour the ex­te­rior de­sign lends the new ES. Key el­e­ments are, as ex­pected, the ma­te­ri­als used and their high­qual­ity fin­ish. The art­fully crafted Shi­mamoku wood trim that adorns the dash­board, con­sole, doors, and steer­ing wheel is avail­able in a choice of two colours, with a Bam­boo op­tion avail­able, too. The leather up­hol­stery is also avail­able in four colour themes. Our car had the “Rich Cream” treat­ment. The

cli­mate con­trol is three-zone and uses nano e neg­a­tive-ion tech­nol­ogy for main­tain­ing op­ti­mum air qual­ity, some­thing much needed in many met­ros to­day. The cen­tre con­sole also houses the full-colour dis­play and an in­put pad — which takes some get­ting used to. Con­nec­tiv­ity is taken care of well, too. Then there’s the Mark Levin­son pre­mium au­dio sys­tem which packs a mix of 18 speak­ers, tweet­ers, and woofers with a de­com­presser that recre­ates al­most live per­for­mance-like vi­brant sound qual­ity.

Get into the driver’s seat and there are 14 ways to ad­just it, in­clud­ing power-ad­justable sup­port for your thighs and four-way lum­bar. Com­fort­able in­deed. The front pas­sen­ger seat also gets a 12-way set-up, with the thigh-sup­port omit­ted. Un­der­stand­able, be­cause the ES, more of­ten than not, is go­ing to be chauf­feur-driven. The rear seat is where the com­fort seems even more fo­cused. The longer body has led to more room and the seat-backs now re­cline as well. The side win­dows, quar­ter glasses, and rear wind­screen all have sun cur­tains and the cen­tre arm-rest puts ev­ery con­trol at your fin­ger­tips. The side of the front pas­sen­ger seat has con­trols to move the seat-back or the whole seat for­ward to free up even more stretch­ing space. The rear prom­ises sleep-in­duc­ing com­fort and the more time you spend in the car, the more ev­i­dent its re­lax­ation-boost­ing lev­els be­come. I had no in­ten­tion of doz­ing off and was eager to hit the open high­way.

The pow­er­train is in ef­fect a fur­ther evo­lu­tion of the Hy­brid Syn­ergy Drive sys­tem con­tin­u­ally be­ing re­fined by par­ent Toy­ota. The new Lexus ES 300h now has an equally new, fourth-gen­er­a­tion Hy­brid Drive Sys­tem. Fur­ther­more, the com­bus­tion en­gine, too, is not the same old unit. An all-new, 2.5-litre, four-cylin­der, Atkin­son-cy­cle petrol en­gine with dual in­jec­tion has been de­vel­oped. Although the dis­place­ment is iden­ti­cal, it now has a nar­rower bore and longer stroke for bet­ter high-speed com­bus­tion due to an op­ti­mized swirl pat­tern. As a re­sult, the en­gine puts out 20 horses and 16 Nm more than its pre­de­ces­sor. That, paired to a new and more pow­er­ful elec­tric mo­tor that puts out a healthy 120 PS-equiv­a­lent and 202 Nm of torque, means there is no short­age of po­ten­tial. The com­bined out­put is now 218 PS, with a higher peak torque to ac­com­pany that as well. The eCVT, or elec­tron­i­cal­ly­con­trolled con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion, fun­nels the amassed power to the front wheels.

Head­ing out through morn­ing traf­fic was a re­lief, the sen­sa­tion am­pli­fied by the re­lax­ing seat­ing po­si­tion. The er­gonomics are spot on and even in Eco, the first of the three drive modes, the re­sponse is more than ad­e­quate and the car glides along in pure elec­tric mode. The range is just about a kilo­me­tre and a half be­fore the en­gine kicks in at idle speed to gen­er­ate the

power needed to recharge the bat­tery pack. Soon, I was do­ing 50 km/h and the heads-up dis­play — which is quite huge and dis­plays ev­ery­thing from the nav­i­ga­tion and cur­rent au­dio track to the rev counter — showed just about 1,000 rpm. At 80 km/h, the en­gine was turn­ing over at 1,500 rpm or so. Give it some foot and the new 2.5 four purrs louder.

The revs climb to just over 5,500 rpm as peak torque from the en­gine is passed and peak power is set­tling in. The ES 300h feels brisk, but at full chat, de­spite its ex­ten­sive sound damp­en­ing in­clud­ing the use of ac­tive noise can­cel­la­tion, the en­gine is quite au­di­ble, even with the eCVT do­ing its best to belt out the power. How­ever, again, some chauf­feur would prob­a­bly lose their job if their foot got too heavy too soon. Put that to rest and, re­gard­less, speed is a given. Lexus claim a 0-100 km/h run of 8.9 sec­onds and a top speed of 180 km/h. It’s un­hur­ried, yes. That’s the best way to put it across. The hy­brid driv­e­line es­sen­tially means it’s in­tended to be ef­fi­cient, and it is. Lexus claim an ef­fi­ciency of over 22 km/l over­all, the real-time econ­omy dis­play came close to sup­port­ing that fig­ure. Push­ing it hard, I saw 10.8 km/l. Feather­ing the throt­tle, with the en­gine half-bur­bling and e-mo­tor work­ing to help the 1.7-tonne ES cruise at a steady 80 km/h, I saw 30.4 km/l. The Auto Glide Con­trol coast­ing func­tion also helps con­ser­va­tion mat­ters fur­ther.

Then there’s the equip­ment. The safety kit is sub­stan­tial: 10 airbags, in­clud­ing two front knee airbags, and the cred­i­ble brak­ing nan­nies for drama-free, sure-footed brak­ing. The mo­tion-ac­ti­vated power-tail­gate gives ac­cess to a 454-litre boot, enough for a fam­ily load of bag­gage for a week­end get­away or for a va­ri­ety of sport equip­ment, what­ever it may be. The rear cen­tre seat-back opens up to ac­com­mo­date even longer ob­jects. Prac­ti­cal­ity is not some­thing the ES is short on. Then there’s the price.

At around Rs 60 lakh, the ES 300h is a pre­mium ex­ec­u­tive chal­lenger that has the styling to stare down a BMW 5er, with space and com­fort to ri­val the Mer­cedes E-Class. It all comes down to which seat you would be spend­ing more time in. The Lexus ES 300h is mod­ern de­sign state­ment with old-school com­fort that pri­or­i­tizes the oc­cu­pant’s sur­round­ings above a quick sprint and stiff cor­ner­ing. It’s an ex­ec­u­tive saloon with a cap­i­tal E and S. There’s no diesel model and the petrol-hy­brid is all there is. Again, if ever there was a brand stand­ing as a hall­mark to cer­tain be­liefs, it’s Lexus. The phrases “greater than the sum of its parts” and “not just on pa­per” are ex­actly what I’m on about. You need to spend time in one be­fore it be­gins to make sense. It’s how they man­age to be smooth while look­ing sharp.

( Above) Cabin is re­lax­ing and uses a rich mix of ma­te­ri­als ( Right) Mark Levin­son au­dio and sculpted de­tails ( Be­low) Lexus touch in­ter­face take a lit­tle get­ting used to

Lexus ES 300h Price: Rs 59.13 lakh (ex-show­room) En­gine: 2,487 cc, in-line four, Atkin­son-cy­cle, di­rect and port in­jec­tion, petrol Max Power: 178 PS @ 5,700 rpm Max Torque: 221 Nm @ 3,600-5,200 rpm E-mo­tor: Per­ma­nent mag­net mo­tor gen­er­a­tor Max Out­put: 88 kW (120 PS), 202 Nm Bat­tery Pack: 204-cell, 244.8-volt, NA kWh, Nickel-me­tal Hy­dride Net Peak Out­put: 160 kW (218 PS), 320 Nm (es­ti­mated) Sus­pen­sion: MacPher­son Strut front/multi-link rear Weight: 1,680 kg

( Above) Hy­brid sys­tem pairs petrol en­gine and e-mo­tor for 218 PS ( Left) Rear seat con­trols make for easy ac­cess; seats re­cline ( Be­low) Head-up dis­play is ex­tremely de­tailed ( Bot­tom) Drive-mode se­lec­tor has three modes

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