The latest incarnation of Lexus ES has arrived in South Africa and we got a chance to sample both derivatives at its local launch in the Western Cape.
Japanese brand Lexus has launched its 7th generation ES to market. South Africa only ever received the 6th generation and now this 7th. It's interesting to note that the ES is available as a Toyota, in the form of the Camry in the US.
What's new, you ask? Well, the new Lexus ES features an all-new platform and as a result, is longer and wider than before. With a 50 mm extension to the platform, cabin space (which has never been a fault before) has grown considerably, making it one of the most spacious cars in the segment. In comparison to its rivals, the Lexus ES goes up against the likes of the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series, and yet it has legroom equalling the A6, E-Class and 5 Series.
The ES 250 has a brand-new 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine as well as a new eight-speed Direct Shift automatic transmission and with outputs of 152 kW and 243 Nm, you can expect it to hit 100 kph in 9.1 seconds and go onto a top speed of 210 kph. The ES 300h features Toyota's 4th generation hybrid system. It too features a 2.5-litre four-cylinder motor. It boasts a total output of 160 kW with the electric assist (the petrol engine delivers 131 kW and 221 Nm) and is brisker than its sibling, at 8.9 seconds to 100 kph. Its real strength is economy and it's said to consume just 4.6 L/100 km.
One of the factors which makes Lexus products excel is the standard specification. There are no optional extras and you get a fully specced car. Despite the ES 250 sitting at the bottom of the range, it's still comprehensively specced with luxury features such as heated seats, leather trim, reverse camera, and keyless start to name but a few. The hybrid ES 300h adds on niceties like autonomous safety capability, uprated audio system, heated steering wheel, heated seats for all 4 passengers, navigation, and a wireless charging pad. Safety spec is excellent, with 10 airbags fitted to both models.
Note the digital dashboard behind this steering wheel, which comes straight from the flagship Lexus LS limousine
What's it like to drive?
The Lexus ES has always impressed us for outright comfort and refinement. Not only is the cabin exceptionally well assembled, but the ride quality is superb and insulation from the outside world is amongst the best. In terms of performance, the ES 250 is not going to blow your hair back, but it's adequate. Perhaps we have been spoilt by the German turbocharged engines and their quick-reacting dual-clutch transmissions they offer, but the Lexus feels comparatively tepid.
Obviously, Lexus isn't to bothered by the lack of performance, as it creates a relaxed and comfortable driving style. The engine is of the smooth-revving variety, which is good, because if you're in a hurry, you'll be calling upon every last rev. The real star of the powertrain is the gearbox. It's a new 8-speed unit and it flicks through the gears exceptionally smoothly. There are paddles located on the steering wheel, but given the executive commuter nature of the ES, we left the car to its own devices.
The Lexus ES doing what it does best: comfortable and refined cruising. Rear legroom is commendable.
Our launch route took us through some sweeping driving roads and the latest incarnation of the ES showed a hint of dynamic prowess. While it was never intended to offer the direct feel and rear-wheel drive antics of say an Alfa Romeo Giulia, we're pleased to say that the ES can show a bit of athleticism when hustled through some curves. The previous generation ES wasn't like this at all, preferring to turn into a giant squishy marshmallow at the sight of a corner. The key here is the steering, which has been reworked to deliver a bit more feel and response. Body roll has been tightened up too and the result is not bad at all for a large front-wheel drive luxury barge. As mentioned before, the ride quality is really good and much of that comes down to the base-spec 17-inch sporty alloys, while the hybrid ES 300h features 18-inch units.
We then had a go in the ES 300h. Essentially, the powertrain is similar to that of the ES 250 with a 2.5-litre, but here it is tuned to run on the Atkinson cycle and swops the automatic gearbox for a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) to make the most of the engine's sweet spot. The batteries are located underneath the rear bench and there's some smart tech to recover charge through braking and off-throttle recuperation. You can drive the car in a fully electric mode, which is great in start/stop traffic and frequently, you'll find yourself pulling away from standstill in complete silence, before hearing the petrol engine engage at around 40 kph. Impressively the Lexus ES 300h was reading 7.5 L /100 km despite some brisk open-road driving. We predict that you'll easily get into the mid-6s if you drive in lots of traffic.
The styling is a big leap forward for the ES brand and when paired with the right colour, looks upmarket
While Lexus products don't get nearly enough support and love, despite their quality, refinement and specification. The badge may not offer as much prestige as the German counterparts locally, but there's no denying you're getting a bigger, more spacious and better-equipped sedan for a similar price. We're a bit puzzled by the massive price difference between the ES 250 and its hybrid ES 300h, which is why we'd happily opt for the former.
Despite the massive surge in SUV sales at the expense of sedans, we still believe that there will be more than a few customers who will be wanting a big and well-appointed sedan. We also think that the Lexus ES will find favour amongst UberBlack drivers, whose customers will appreciate the cavernous boot and expansive legroom in the rear.
The ES is available in petrol and petrol-hybrid flavours
Lexus ES Price in South Africa (October 2018)
Lexus ES 250 EX R593 300
Lexus ES 300h SE R843 800
Lexus is offering a best-in-class 7-year/105 000km warranty and full maintenance plan. Vehicle service intervals are at every 15 000km, alternatively once a year.