Try to Find Another Sub-$50K Luxury Sedan This Spacious and Efficient
Lexus’ best-selling sedan offers something Mercedes and BMW can’t: lots of interior space for less than $50,000 USD. Maybe that’s why the ES, which is based on the front-drive Toyota Avalon, continues to sell decently even though its redesign is only one or two years away. All but 13 percent of ES buyers last year chose the ES 350, which is quicker, less expensive, and has a larger trunk than the more efficient ES 300h. We track tested and road tripped with the 2017 Lexus ES 300h to determine why you’d consider the hybrid luxury sedan over its main competition, the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, and other hybrid sedans.
Emptying the fuel tank of a car with a nearly 700-mile (1,126 km) driving range isn’t easy, but at least the 2017 ES 300h’s cabin is well-appointed. A spur-of-the-moment road trip helped us move the gas needle toward empty so we could run Real MPG tests, which involve using a $150,000 USD gas analyzer and a set test route to get a more real-world-focused data point besides the EPA’s numbers. Results for the 2017 ES 300h were OK, with our 36.5/36.1 mpg (6.4/5.6 L/100km) numbers below the EPA’s 40/39 mpg (5.9/6 L/100km). For comparison, the 2017 ES 350 is EPA-rated at 21/30 mpg (11.2/7.8 L/100km). We also Real MPG tested a 2017 MKZ Hybrid, which came in at 41.8/38.2 (5.6/6.2 L/100km) in Real MPG, just about matching the EPA’s 41/38 mpg (5.7/6.2 L/100km) ratings.
Even on hybrid sedans, efficiency is only part of the story. The ES 300h accelerates to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds (far quicker in our testing than Lexus’ 8.1-second claim), and full-throttle blasts feel stronger than you might expect, with the hybrid four-cylinder powertrain providing a surge of power you don’t feel in the MKZ Hybrid. The Lincoln hits 60 mph in 8.7 seconds and never feels slow, but the Lexus outdoes it in straight-line acceleration.
There’s also no comparison when it comes to interior space. The Lexus’ back seat feels much more spacious, and the drivetrain hump is nearly nonexistent, so a middle rear-seat passenger actually has somewhere to put his or her feet. The trunk in the Lexus is also 1 cubic foot bigger and shaped around the hybrid battery in an easier-to-use way. Thanks to styling that’s premium and mostly conservative (except for the awkward headlights), front and rear visibility is great. I much prefer the Lincoln MKZ’s styling to the Lexus ES’, but if you’re tired of having to rely on blind-spot monitoring systems to compensate for bold styling, the Lexus deserves a look.
The first time you attempt to smoothly come to a stop, however, you’ll start to understand why some ES buyers are on the fence about the hybrid’s near $3,000 USD price premium over the ES 350 V-6 model. Just as we noted in a review of a pre-refresh 2013 model, the nonlinear brake feel is off-putting. Especially at first, ES 300h drivers might find themselves getting closer than they expected to the vehicle ahead at a red light. Also, the car’s body motions could be better controlled—the ES 300h’s body dives too much when coming to a stop.
Head out on the highway, and the suspension is comfortable enough until you reach expansion joints, which will send the car bouncing a bit. The steering is appropriately light for this hybrid luxury sedan but also vague and leads to course corrections. This might not be as much of an issue on the next-gen Lexus ES 300h, which will ride on a new platform also underpinning the 2018 Camry, a car Toyota promises is better to drive than its predecessor. The ES 300h still maintains comfort as the top priority, but there’s room to improve the car dynamically.
The ES 300h’s driving manners haven’t aged well, but parts of the interior still look good. The Lexus’ average-sized 7.0-inch screen can be reconfigured to different combinations of info, and it’s positioned for optimal visibility at the top of the dash. I like the analog clock just below that screen and still think offering matte bamboo as a trim option is cool. The armrests are very cushy, too, but the door panels are hard. Also, the Lexus’ functional hybrid-specific displays aren’t particularly engaging, in contrast to the Lincoln’s more modern options. One particularly cool MKZ display has a trip summary with total distance traveled, as well as how many of those miles were on EV power alone and, if your commute involves a long downhill stretch, total regen miles. It’s not quite as neat, but I like how the Lexus changes the instrument cluster’s hybrid display to a tachometer when you move from Eco to Sport mode.
The Lexus makes up ground with its incredibly strong resale value, something the Lincoln can’t touch. When it comes to safety, though, the cars are about equal. The MKZ and ES both get five-star overall ratings from the NHTSA, and although both cars have identical crash test ratings from the IIHS, the Lexus’ superior headlight rating pushes it from 2017 Top Safety Pick (like the Lincoln) to 2017 Top Safety Pick+.
Maybe you’ve always wanted a Lexus but laughed at the IS sedan’s smaller back seat. Or you’re looking for an efficient car that’s hybrid-quiet in stop-and-occasionally-go traffic with a long driving range. Although the Lexus fits those descriptions and is slightly quicker than you might think, the driving experience of the 2017 ES 300h, which starts at $42,795 USD, could be better. Then again, the Lincoln is slower and has a cramped back seat, which leaves me at a similar conclusion as our 2017 MKZ Hybrid review: If you can stomach the idea of not owning a luxury-branded car, go drive a Ford Fusion Hybrid Platinum before you buy the more spacious Lexus.
|2017 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$49,630|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.5L/156-hp/156-lb-ft Atkinson cycle DOHC 16-valve I-4, plus front electric motor; combined 200 hp|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,748 lb (59/41%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||193.3 x 71.7 x 57.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.5 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.7 sec @ 90.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||126 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.76 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.1 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||36.5/36.1/36.3 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||40/39/40 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||84/86 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.49 lb/mile|