The 2023 Lexus ES300h is a unique entry-level luxury sedan with the lowest cost of ownership.
In the automotive world, luxury and cost of ownership usually don’t go along well. When they do, you come up with a product that offers a balanced blend of elegance and efficiency, just like our tester for this week, the updated Lexus ES300h. The ES was one of the two models that kick-started the brand in the beginning of the 1990s to compete with German rivals, but it has been competing in a unique way.
The ES300h has always been a front-wheel-drive platform, prioritizing efficiency, interior space, comfort and reliability over performance. The Golden formula is still the same – it’s a midsize luxury sedan with a full-size interior space with a compact luxury price tag. For many years, Lexus offers the ES with a hybrid drivetrain, which makes it one of the most fuel-efficient luxury sedans, and the best-selling Lexus sedan ever made.
With the departure of the Lexus GS a few years ago, the ES has become more important despite the decreasing popularity of sedans. The current generation has the corporate design language that you would find in other Lexus models, including the spindle front grille with a lot of kinks. All ES trims get the full LED headlights, but the higher trims get the tri-LED option which moves based on your steering angle. Our tester was the base F-Sport trim, which came with the basic option that still offers cornering lights and offers a decent amount of visibility when it’s dark.
One of the reasons why you would choose the ES is the overall interior space, and you will find that the vehicle has a pretty long wheelbase that also helps with overall comfort. The ES is significantly longer than German entries, and having a horizontally placed engine allows Lexus to offer more space for the driver and rear-seat passengers. The rear-end design is also a great match with the rest of the vehicle, all trims get the full LED taillights, and the F-Sport trim comes with a small spoiler. The hybrid model does not have the fake exhaust tips as they are hidden behind the rear bumper.
The interior is where it feels like a time capsule in a good way. As most German entries offer bigger screens, fewer physical buttons, and a lot of shiny surfaces, they become more annoying to use every day. The ES still has tons of physical buttons and they feel very solid, there is a right-sized infotainment screen and the right materials used throughout the interior. The simplicity of the interior is what makes the ES stand out, there are no glossy piano black or shiny surfaces. The dashboard is leather-wrapped, and only soft-touch materials are used even in the places where you don’t usually see them.
This year, Lexus changed a few things to improve the overall experience, including the bigger 12.3″ screen which is located closer to the driver. The biggest change in the interior is that Lexus no longer uses the annoying touchpad which used to be in the center console, which means you are using the touchscreen to go through the menus. In fact, the center console design has been completely changed. Now there are two cupholders located right beside the shifter column, and the wireless charging pad is located behind them, instead of the armrest area. The updated design looks much cleaner and easier to use.
The screen has great resolution and excellent sensitivity, but most importantly the latest Toyota infotainment system looks so much better than the previous version. The half-digital gauge cluster is very functional, but it is probably the only area where you feel the age of the platform, it should have been fully digital just like other entries in this segment.
The seat comfort is exceptionally good, even though our tester was the base F-Sport trim, which is a base trim with sportier looks. That means there are fewer seat adjustment options and the seats are a little bit more aggressively bolstered, but nothing extreme. Just as expected from a luxury sedan, even the base trim gets the heated, ventilated and powered seats for the driver and passenger, and the driver also gets a memory function.
The ES has always been the first choice if you prioritize interior space, mainly due to the front-wheel-drive platform, but the biggest difference is in the rear seats. It offers approximately 4 inches more interior space than the E-Class, and the ES almost feels like as big as an S-Class. It also means that you do not have to move the front passenger seat forward if you have a rear-facing child seat.
Despite having tons of rear space, you will not be able to find fancy luxury sedan features in the rear, at least for the base F-Sport trim. There are no rear door or window sun shaders, and no heating or cooling function in the rear seats, but you will get USB ports as well as air vents for the rear seat passengers. For the price range, they are totally acceptable.
However, what’s not acceptable is that the rear seats don’t fold down, meaning that you won’t be able to fully utilize the interior space, in case you need to carry big items. There is only a small access port located in the middle row for tall items. Also, the Hybrid model has the battery pack under the rear seats, meaning that the rear seat bottom cushion is a little bit higher up compared to gas engine variants, and you have a tiny bit of limited headroom for the rear seat passenger. At 6’1″ I had no issues, but if you are a taller adult, you may have issues.
Just like the interior space, you get tons of cargo space behind the rear seats. Due to the battery location, the Hybrid version has exactly the same trunk space compared to the non-hybrid version. The ES comes with 16.7 cubic feet (472 L) and a wide trunk opening, which makes it very easy to load and unload bigger cargo. The base trims do not have power operated tailgate or kick sensor, and that’s where you feel the cost-cutting measures the most.
The 2023 Lexus ES comes with three different drivetrain options, but if you are looking for the most fuel-efficient option, nothing can compete with the Hybrid engine. If you choose the base engine (ES250), you can also choose an all-wheel-drive option, but both the Hybrid and the bigger 3.5L V6 engine come with a front-wheel-drive only. The Hybrid engine has a 2.5-litre inline-4 engine that makes 176 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque and 2 permanent-magnet AC motors that generate 118 horsepower and 149 lb-ft of torque. Both gas and electric motors generate 215 horsepower, which is adequate for this type of car.
This type of drivetrain with low horsepower figures might not sound premium, but actually, this is where Lexus makes a difference. The Hybrid engine has plenty of torque available anywhere, thanks to the electric motor, and the engine is responsive enough at highway speeds. The calm character of the engine is what makes the ES300h a better luxury vehicle. The 1.6kWh battery pack isn’t huge, but more than enough to provide excellent fuel economy numbers. I hope Lexus will offer a plug-in hybrid version in the future for people looking for more pure EV range.
The ES300h is completely silent at low speed, the gas engine only kicks in when the battery needs more juice, or if you need more power to accelerate, but it offers a super smooth transition when it kicks in. The continuously variable transmission does not pretend to be a regular automatic, but if you want to shift manually by using the paddle shifters, there are 6 different fake shift points to choose from. I would highly recommend keeping it in fully automatic mode because the eCVT transmission is a great match with the character of the vehicle.
Despite having sportier looks with the F-Sport trim, the Lexus ES is significantly less athletic than German entries. The suspension, throttle and steering are all tuned for comfort, just like the whole vehicle in general. The serene driving experience isn’t unique to the ES, as many EV luxury sedans will be just as good, but the ES comes with a much lower price tag with no range anxiety issues.
The 2023 Lexus ES300h is not here to convince traditional SUV buyers to switch to a sedan, as you get much less practicality and ground clearance, it is just not for everyone. However, the ES proves that luxury sedans don’t have to be overly complicated or flashy to perform well. The ES300h is not just the best value proposition in its class, but it might be the ideal choice for traditional sedan buyers looking for comfort, luxury, efficiency and traditional Lexus reliability in a simplistic fashion.
|Engine||2.5L inline-4 with 2 synchronous AC motors|
|Transmission & Drivetrain||Continuously variable automatic & front-wheel-drive|
|Max power (combined)||215 hp @ 6000 rpm|
|0-100 km/h||8.1 sec|
|Curb Weight||3793 lbs – 1720 kg|
|Fuel Economy (as tested)||43 MPG – 5.6L / 100 km|
|Price (as tested)||$59,132 CAD|