All-new Lexus ES is a smooth oper­a­tor

LO­CAL LAUNCH

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS - De­nis Droppa

Since its launch here in 2013 the Lexus ES has be­come the premium Ja­panese brand’s best­selling ve­hi­cle. That’s no mean feat in a mar­ket that has seen so many buy­ers shun­ning sedans in favour of SUVs.

The vol­umes have been small, but Toy­ota South Africa CEO An­drew Kirby be­lieves the new-gen­er­a­tion ES, with its smart new styling, will do bet­ter than its anony­mous-look­ing pre­de­ces­sor at at­tract­ing buy­ers and tak­ing on Ger­man ri­vals.

Those ri­vals, size-wise, are the BMW 5 Se­ries, Mercedes Eclass and Audi A6, but in terms of pric­ing (at least for the en­trylevel Lexus ES) they’re the 3 Se­ries, C-class and A4 — and that’s what makes the ES an at­trac­tive prospect, says Kirby.

At 4,975mm long this fron­twheel drive Lexus has grown in length and width and the stretch-out space in­side the cabin is truly of busi­ness-class spec. The boot is also a rea­son­able 420l in size con­sid­er­ing it houses a full-sized spare wheel.

But did you hear me say front-wheel drive? Yup, and this may be a put-off to some driv­ers in a seg­ment where rear or all­wheel drive is de rigueur.

The ES isn’t an en­thu­si­ast’s car how­ever, and doesn’t pre­tend to be, be­ing built on the same plat­form as the deeply un­ex­cit­ing Toy­ota Camry.

At the car’s me­dia launch in Cape Town last week I stretched its legs through some curvy moun­tain roads and the ES dis­played typ­i­cally safe and pol­ished front-wheel drive han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics. Emo­tion and feel were in short sup­ply but the big sedan did the di­rec­tion­chang­ing busi­ness as neatly as any­one might ex­pect for its size. And it has a full gamut of elec­tronic aids, in­clud­ing ABS and sta­bil­ity con­trol.

Where the car ex­celled was in ride qual­ity, and the ES wafted com­fort­ably across long stretches of vary­ing-qual­ity as­phalt. This smooth ride, to­gether with its hushed op­er­a­tion, pro­vided the ex­ec­u­tive driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence promised by its price tags, and a more rigid new body helps to achieve this re­fine­ment.

The lat­est ver­sion of the brand’s most con­ser­va­tive car now has more ex­cit­ing wrap­ping, in­clud­ing the spin­dle grille that has be­come the Lexus fam­ily look, along with LED lights front and rear and more ap­peal­ing body curves. The restyle has def­i­nitely given the ES more show­room ap­peal and pres­ence.

As be­fore, two ver­sions are avail­able, the ES 250 petrol and the more lux­u­ri­ously equipped ES 300 petrol-elec­tric hy­brid — re­spec­tively priced at R593,300 and R843,800. The ES 250 costs just 20 grand more than its pre­de­ces­sor but the hy­brid’s seen a huge 160 grand hike.

Nei­ther of them are pow­er­houses. The hy­brid, with 160kW, has enough grunt for a re­laxed long-dis­tance stride and com­fort­ably swift over­tak­ing abil­ity.

Feed­ing the power through a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion, the ES 300h is claimed to sprint from 0-100 km/h in 8.9 sec­onds and is elec­tron­i­cal­ly­gov­erned to a top speed of 180km/h. The fig­ure wor­thy of most at­ten­tion is the fac­to­ryclaimed fuel econ­omy of just 4.6l/100km, though at­tain­ing that in real-world driv­ing would be an un­likely feat.

With 152kW and 243Nm the petrol-only ES 250 makes for a rea­son­ably easy-go­ing cruiser with­out any per­for­mance fire­works. The 2.5l four cylin­der en­gine is fairly re­fined too, but gets quite vo­cal at higher revs.

Linked to an eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, the ES 250 is rated for a 210km/h top speed, 0-100 in 9.1 sec­onds, and sips petrol at the claimed rate of 6.6l/100km.

In an age of neat dash­boards with tablet-like touch­screens, Lexus has opted for in­ex­pli­ca­bly com­plex con­trols for its in­fo­tain­ment. The dash­board is a busy riot of but­tons and the mul­ti­in­for­ma­tion dis­play is con­trolled by a touch­pad be­tween the front seats which is finicky to use.

The in­te­rior trim on the Lexus ES 250 EX is Nu­lux sim­u­lated leather, while the ES 300h gets gen­uine cowhide, mixed with old-school wood pan­elling. The hy­brid also fea­tures Vis­cotecs — an un­usual three­d­i­men­sional painted fin­ish which is ap­plied to selected leather sur­faces such as the arm­rest and door trim.

Safety in both ver­sions is top notch and in­cludes 10 airbags, while the ES 300 has a blind spot mon­i­tor, lane-keep­ing as­sist and a Pre-Crash Sys­tem ca­pa­ble of de­tect­ing on­com­ing ve­hi­cles and pedes­tri­ans.

Stan­dard com­forts in both mod­els in­clude elec­tri­cal ad­just­ment for the front seats and the steer­ing col­umn, park dis­tance con­trol and cruise con­trol.

The more ex­pen­sive ES 300 has ad­di­tional items like a high­end Mark Levin­son au­dio sys­tem, heated steer­ing wheel, head-up dis­play, nav­i­ga­tion and a wire­less smart­phone charge.

Co­in­cid­ing with the launch of the new ES, Lexus SA has an­nounced a new seven-year/ 105,000km war­ranty and main­te­nance plan which is also ap­pli­ca­ble to the rest of the Lexus range. Ser­vice in­ter­vals are ev­ery 15,000km or once a year.

The new Lexus ES is far eas­ier on the eye than its sub­dued pre­de­ces­sor. Right: At just un­der five me­tres in length the ES has a cabin of busi­ness-class pro­por­tions. Above left: It’s all lux­ury in­side but the dash­board is very busy.

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