Monday, December 4, 2023

IN THE DRIVEWAY: The 2024 Lexus ES300h

When the Lexus brand was born in 1989, two models were introduced - the flagship LS sedan and the entry-level ES sedan. Since then, we have seen models come and go from the luxurious automaker, but both the LS and the ES have stood the test of time. And while the LS is the flagship Lexus, the ES plays an equally important role in the lineup - as it is typically the entry point for those first getting into premium luxury cars. This week we look at the Lexus ES. 

For 2024, the Lexus ES comes in three flavors - the ES350, the ES250 and the ES300h.  All share the same appearance, unless you opt for the F Sport package which adds a black mesh grill and trucklid spoiler. The ES, which is the same size as a Toyota Camry, has the look of a luxury car and carries the traditional Lexus lines - and even resembles the larger, more expensive LS from certain angles.

Going with the ES350 gets you a 3.5-liter V6 engine under the hood that makes power the old-fashion way - naturally-aspirated with no turbochargers. It makes a healthy 302 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque while an eight-speed automatic transmission sends that power to the front wheels. While the F Sport package doesn't add any additional power, it does include 19-inch wheels, an adaptive variable suspension and various driving modes.

If all-wheel drive is needed, the ES250 is the way to go. Coming standard with all-wheel drive, it uses a 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine that makes 203 horsepower.

Then there is the ES300h, which is how the tester arrived. It uses a hybrid powertrain that combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric motor that makes a combined 215 total system horsepower and sends the power to the front wheels by way of a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

The ES has always been known for its appealing interior and this current one doesn't disappoint. Even being labeled as an "entry-level" luxury car in the Lexus lineup, there is nothing entry-level about today's ES. Open the ES and the door panels and center console are all wrapped in indulgent and cushiony leather that looks so soft you just have to touch it to believe it. And if it's not covered in leather, it's probably set in wood (or both like the steering wheel). For the driver and front passenger, a 12-inch infotainment touch screen is at their fingertips and looks spectacular and is simple to use. For those seated in back, they will find themselves with tons of room, even if they are over 6-feet tall.

Not only does the ES carry its passengers in comfort, but it can carry a lot of their cargo as well. All ES models provide 17.0 cubic feet of room in the trunk, giving the ES more cargo space than its rivals. Unfortunately, the ES isn't available with a folding rear seat. 

Behind the wheel, it doesn't take long to realize that Lexus designed the ES to be a luxury sedan for buyers who want maximum comfort and none of the compromises that come with a sport sedan. With that in mind, driving the ES300h, there isn't a lot of excitement being generated from under the hood and it moves down the road in total comfort and quietness. While not fast, I would call the ES300h brisk - able to hit 60 mph in the mid-8 second range - and it does handle well. When thrown into corners, it stays composed with better body control than one might expect from a luxury sedan.

Of course, the main purpose of picking the ES300h over the other two models is for fuel efficiency, and it sure shines there. The EPA gives the 300h a city rating of 43 mpg and a highway rating of 44 mpg (with a 44 mpg combined). In comparison, the ES350 is rated at 26 mpg combined while the ES250 is rated at 28 mpg combined.

Being around for nearly 35 years, the ES has come a long way. While it initially shared many mechanicals with the Toyota Camry, over the years the ES has developed its own identity and has continued to be the top selling car in the Lexus lineup. With its highly attractive pricing and its impeccable attention to detail, along with the Lexus reputation, it is easy to see why the ES is one of the best selling luxury cars on the road today.