Less vanilla, more tech for the seventh-gen ES
The longer, lower, and wider Lexus ES is better-looking than ever. Tech hasn’t been the brand’s forte, but the redesigned 2019 ES received a number of new goodies. But is it enough? We got our hands on an ES 300h hybrid to find out if the sedan known for its comfort and luxury retains those qualities but can also sway a younger buyer like me with its new tech features.
The Hybrid Powertrain
Powering the 2019 ES 300h is Lexus’ fourth-generation hybrid powertrain that consists of a revised 2.5-liter I-4 backed by a CVT, a generator motor, and a drive motor powered by a smaller but more potent 29.1-kW-hr nickel-metal hydride battery pack now located under the seat and not in the trunk. Due to the improved packaging, the trunk is the same 16.7 cubic feet as that of the non-hybrid ES 350.
Total system horsepower is rated at 215, up from last year’s 200 hp. The 2019 ES 300h delivers a fuel-sipping EPA-rated 43/45 mpg (5.5/5.2 L/100km) city/highway, which is impressive considering it’s a large 3,700-pound (1,678-kg) vehicle. That is up from 40/39 mpg (5.9/6 L/100km) in the outgoing model and 22/31-33 mpg (10.7/7.6-7.1 L/100km) in the 2019 ES 350 V-6. As I drove around town, the electric motor provided a very generous amount of initial thrust, and the sedan didn’t feel underpowered on the highway. The gasoline engine kicks in smoothly and the CVT felt smooth. At full throttle, NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) was surprisingly minimal.
A Soft Interior
An abundance of soft premium materials cover the luxury sedan’s interior. The door panels and center console are wrapped in indulgent and cushiony leather, which also covers all the major touchpoints. A few times I caught myself touching the door panel just to enjoy its smooth feel. The seats are trimmed in NuLuxe perforated synthetic leather, and the front seats are 10-way adjustable (14-way seats are available). Our tester had the optional heated and ventilated front seats, but they don’t get very warm. And although there’s plenty of wood trim, I wish it had some texture to it.
Behind the wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel is a mostly digital instrument cluster with a 7.0-inch screen (8.0 on the ES 350 F Sport model), and to the right is a large and crisp 12.3-inch multimedia screen that’s part of the Navigation package. The standard 10-speaker Pioneer audio system sounds good, but audiophiles should spring for the optional 17-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system. Other 2019 ES features not on our tester include semi-aniline perforated leather seating, a heated steering wheel, hands-free power trunk, a panoramic sunroof, and a power rear sunshade. Also, except for moving the analog clock and removing a tuning knob, the interior layout of the 2019 ES is similar to the outgoing model, so previous ES owners should have an easier time adjusting to the current model.
The ES is the first Lexus vehicle with Apple CarPlay, and it’s standard on the ES 300h along with Siri Eyes Free voice control. Android Auto is still not offered, but owners of Amazon Alexa-enabled Android phones can take advantage of the service’s car-to-home and home-to-car verbal commands (iPhone compatibility is scheduled for late 2018). A standard Wi-Fi hotspot is complimentary for one year and allows you to connect up to five devices. A 10.2-inch head-up display, a wireless phone charger, and a navigation system are optional. Lexus’ Enform App Suite 2.0 offers various entertainment and service apps but can also access other apps on compatible smartphones.
Although the 12.3-inch center display is impressive, the infotainment system it displays and the touch pad that controls it don’t quite measure up. The system has been improved over previous versions, but there’s still a big learning curve to figure out simple things like adjusting the audio settings or scanning through SiriusXM channels. The control pad is also improved, but it’s tricky at first. I often missed the icon I wanted to click and sometimes didn’t how to get the cursor where I wanted it to go. After a few days of using it, I got used to the system, but if someone else drives your ES they’ll likely be confused. Fortunately, Apple CarPlay is quick to load and easy to use. Tech in the new ES is a definite step in the right direction, though some additional tweaks could improve its usability.
Loads of Standard Safety
Lexus’ suite of driver-assist features—dubbed Lexus Safety System+ 2.0—comes standard on the 2019 ES 300h and includes emergency automatic braking that can now detect bicyclists, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beams, rear parking sensors, and road sign assist, a feature that displays certain road signs in the instrument panel or head-up display. Lane tracing assist is a new feature that tracks lane markings in order to center the vehicle; it can also center the car behind the vehicle ahead when lane markings disappear and adaptive cruise control is activated. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and emergency automatic reverse braking are available in a separate package.
The ES 300h’s interior is a very pleasant place to be, not only for its luxury but for its notable ride quality and vault-like quiet. Its superb ride is a result of the newly developed Dynamic Control Shocks, which can respond to the smallest movements by utilizing an additional auxiliary valve in addition to the main damper valve. Lexus also revised the front suspension for improved ride comfort and straight-line stability. Trailing arm and stabilizer bar mount adjustments in the rear suspension increase damping ability and reduce body roll.
With 93 percent of the ES 300h’s floor pan covered in sound deadening material (up from 68 percent), a church mouse can probably be heard. Underbody covers and front fender liners supplement the insulation. Engineers also doubled the use of structural adhesive, leading to less vibration and noise.
Auto Gliding and Drive Modes
Further improving efficiency is a new feature called Auto Glide Control. With the car in Eco mode and the feature engaged, the ES 300h will coast (like a normal, non-hybrid) when the driver lifts off the accelerator pedal instead of slowing down more rapidly with the hybrid’s regenerative braking.
As with many hybrids, the ES 300h comes with an Eco mode that maximizes the powertrain’s fuel consumption and an EV mode that allows the sedan to drive on all-electric energy for short distances. Enthusiasts may appreciate the hybrid’s sport mode that increases torque at low speeds, activates six simulated gears that can be shifted manually with paddle shifters, and displays a tachometer in the center of the digital instrument panel.