Lexus ES Review
The Lexus ES 300h is a distinctive, comfortable and efficient executive car let down by an ill-matched engine and gearbox.
Strengths & weaknesses
- Low running costs
- Lots of equipment
- Very comfortable and refined
- Thrashy automatic gearbox
- Not much fun to drive
- Not as rounded as some rivals
It’s different from these cars in a few key ways. First, Lexus really goes the extra mile in offering good customer service - an effort that’s reflected in consistently high owner satisfaction results. For the past 30 years, it’s been quietly nibbling at the heels of BMW and others with its models’ blend of eye-catching styling, advanced technology and high quality.
Second, the ES is available with only one engine. It’s a petrol-electric hybrid, where rivals offer traditional petrol and diesel engines, as well as one or two hybrids.
This means the ES combines electrical power with a petrol engine to reduce emissions, and therefore company car tax where charged, as well as boost economy. At best it emits just 100g/km CO2 and does 53.3mpg, both very impressive figures.
Third, the ES is not only extremely well built – at least as well built as, say, an Audi A6 – but is also likely to be very reliable. For example, its predecessor, the GS, ranked ninth in this year’s Auto Express Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, just a few places down from two other Lexus models. It has a four-year warranty, too, where rivals’ warranties are three years.
Since there’s just one engine in the model range and only three core trim levels, choosing an ES is a relatively simple exercise. Basic ES is well-equipped and good value. It’s the sensible choice but mid-spec F Sport still costs less than £40,000 while looking and feeling more exciting. In addition, you can choose from a few option packs that bring different combinations of technology, luxury and safety kit at prices ranging from £700 to as much as £4000.
The ES places comfort and refinement above a sporty drive. It really is very relaxing to drive and in its element on long motorway journeys, although the F Sport’s adaptive suspension undoes some of these gains by making the car feel a little jittery, even on smooth roads.
Unfortunately, if you want lots of powerful acceleration and fun handling, you need to look to the BMW 5 Series or Audi A6. The ES’s lack of driving excitement is largely the fault of its underpowered petrol engine and automatic gearbox, which can send the revs soaring with little increase in speed.
The ES’s interior is stylish, refined and comfortable, and beautifully finished. In fact, in these respects it could be the best in its class were it not let down by a sloping roofline that impinges on rear headroom. Rivals are roomier.
|Boot size||454 litres|
|Tax (min to max)||£130-£150 in the first year; £145-£465 from the second|
Best Lexus ES for...
Best for Economy – Lexus ES 300h
On the smallest 17in wheels, the ES returns a range-best 53.3mpg. Being the cheapest version also helps reduce your costs.
Best for Families – Lexus ES 300h
Lower running costs but still lots of standard equipment, both essential and luxury, make this version the best choice for a family.
One to Avoid – Lexus ES 300h Takumi
This top-spec version is very expensive and brings the ES into contention with far better cars such as the BMW 530d SE.
2018: Model launched in ES, Sport and Takumi trims. Optional Premium Packs is £3500. Has a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
2018 (December): New suspension damper called the Swing Valve Shock Absorber introduced as standard to give a more composed ride.
2019: New WLTP economy figures released.
Understanding Lexus ES names
The number means the power of the engine is equivalent to a 3.0-litre petrol engine, while the letter ‘h’ stands for hybrid.
Trim F Sport
This tells you what level of luxury you can expect. There are three core trims called ES, F Sport and Takumi, plus option packs called Premium, Tech & Safety and Takumi, so you can mix and match as your budget allows.
These letters stand for constantly variable transmission, a type of automatic gearbox. It’s standard on the ES.
Lexus ES Engines
Where rivals favour a range of large diesel engines, the ES makes do with just one engine: a hybrid, meaning it has a petrol engine supported by a small electric motor.
Fortunately, it’s a powerful 2.5-litre engine, although it has just four cylinders and not six, which is usual with engines of this size. Unfortunately, it's not a plug-in hybrid so you can't recharge the battery from a remote power source. Instead, it’s charged as the car drives along, coasts and brakes.
Its main benefit is in bringing emissions down to as low as 100g/km CO2 with a consequent reduction in company car tax, giving it a real edge over diesel rivals whose emissions are typically 130g/km. Economy of up to 53.3mpg is very impressive and at least as good as most comparable diesels.
Its predecessor, the GS, was rear-wheel drive but the ES is front-wheel drive. Since it’s not a sporty car, most drivers are unlikely to care and in any case, front-wheel drive provides better traction on slippery surfaces so is safer and feels more secure.
As you’d expect of a luxury car, the ES is only available as an automatic. However, it’s not one of the new generations of efficient double-clutch autos. Instead, it’s a constantly variable transmission (CVT) with six artificial change points. It’s smooth but less sophisticated than rival gearboxes and can make the engine sound noisy and revvy when you accelerate hard.
Lexus ES Trims
ES, F Sport, Takumi
The ES is well equipped as standard with basic ES trim having features including powered and heated front seats, an electrically adjustable steering column, a sunroof, adaptive cruise control, and daytime cyclist and night time pedestrian safety systems.
For another £3000 F Sport provides more aggressive styling and 19-inch wheels. It and basic ES cost less than £40,000, meaning their road tax in the second year is £145.
Top-spec Takumi costs over £45,000, so taking the car into the luxury car tax bracket for years two to six. The extra price buys an upmarket Mark Levinson stereo, a 12.3-inch entertainment screen, head-up display, a 360-degree camera and LED headlights with an anti-dazzle function.
Both ES and F Sport can be upgraded with Premium (includes leather seats, LED headlights and extra safety kit), Tech and Safety (LED headlights, wireless charging and a heated steering wheel), and Takumi packs (the previous packs plus Mark Levinson stereo, a sat nav and a powered bootlid). However, they can be expensive and, being options, they depreciate faster than the car itself.
Lexus ES Reliability and warranty
In terms of peace of mind, the ES’s lead over rivals begins with its four-year warranty compared with most car makers’ three years. Better still, it’s underpinned by the car maker’s superb showing in the Auto Express Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, not just in 2019 but in all previous years, too.
Lexus models account for three of the top 10 positions in this year’s chart, with other models in its range also ranking highly. The ES is too new to have been surveyed but its predecessor, the GS, does put in an appearance, in no less a position than ninth.
We’ve no reason to believe the ES is a lesser car. In fact, its interior is especially well finished and, in places, of a standard to worry even the likes of Audi.
In short, you can buy an ES with total confidence.
Used Lexus ES
As a new car, the ES is already well priced. Add its high quality, good specification, low sales numbers and strong image and it’s no surprise that, as this was written, prices of nearly new examples were not much less than they are for new ones.
However, there’s no escaping the fact that the ES is a saloon at a time when SUVs are more popular and also that it’s available with a choice of just one engine whose tax advantages are of value only to a business user.
For this reason we would expect the ES to be a better used car buy as the miles and years roll by. One with the optional Premium pack would be good value buy as also would the most expensive Takumi whose price would need to reflect its higher road tax.