First Drive: 2013 Lexus ES

While there might be endless arguments about the validity of trickle-down economics, the validity of trickle-down design and engineering is shown to great benefit and effect with Lexus’ new ES 350 and 300h. Both from an exterior and interior design, the new Lexus ES takes many of the great elements introduced in the GS and brings them down to the new ES.

Wearing the new Lexus corporate face along with other styling cues from the GS, the new ES goes from forgettable to striking. It’s not only the new signature spindle grill along with the LED lights, it is the fact that the sides have more character, and a bit more muscular appearance. That is not to say the car is overly masculine, because it’s not, rather these character traits make the car attractive and actually stand out a bit.

If you liked the interior of the new Lexus GS you will very much like the interior of the new ES. While not an exact copy of the GS interior, it takes the look and style and scales it down a bit. Rather than the giant 12.3 inch display, the new ES has a 7 inch display, the rest of the center stack is relatively uncluttered, and you do have the Lexus “mouse” to navigate the display interface.

Available only in the hybrid model, Lexus is offering the bamboo interior trim option that was first shown with the new GS. In talking with people from Lexus, they may offer this handsome bamboo trim in the regular  ES 350 if there is enough demand. They also stated, that they have  received positive feedback on this bamboo trim from journalists and consumers alike and are waiting for a bit more data before they move forward to offer it in other models then the hybrid.

The materials used in the interior of the new ES are quite nice.  There is plenty of leather, and soft touch materials, along with tastefully done wood trim to make this car feel upscale. When a lighter colored interior is chosen, the cabin in the ES feels much roomier than one whose interior is primarily darker colors. It’s strictly an optical illusion, but it makes a nice difference. While most reviews focus on the drivers perception of the interior, those riding in the backseat of the new ES will enjoy substantially more like room, as the two inch longer wheelbase allows for almost four more inches of rear seat legroom.

During the event in which we drove the new ES, we had a chance to have a longer conversation with officials from Lexus on the Harman Kardon stereo. Whether it be in Toyotas, Lexus’, or science, we find the Harman Kardon/JBL/Mark Levinson systems to be lacking. We have consistently found the highs to be thin, the midst to be “there” and the base/low-end to have no feeling. While officials from Lexus talked about how their engineers to the audio, using a Lexus supplied CD we were able to sit with those officials, and explain our perceptions. It was very nice to see the Lexus corporate people being very open to this feedback, and because we were using a disk with which they used to tune and evaluate the systems, they can they can take that feedback directly back to the engineers and walked him through our feedback.

The previous ES, while a solid car, was a bit forgetful. It has often been described as the stainless steel refrigerator of cars. That being it was an appliance, but it was in stainless steel to make it more upscale and a bit more attractive. The new ES on the other hand, can stand on its own as a car. While the new ES will never be a “driver’s car”, it at least does engage the driver especially when you select the sport mode. Again, that’s not to say the sport mode makes his car sporty, rather it firms up steering, throttle, and suspension, so that it feels much more connected to the road in the driver.

We had the opportunity to spend time behind the wheel of the hybrid ES and came away pleasantly surprised. One of the biggest revelations for us, was the transmission. We did have to double check that the transmission in the hybrid was actually a CVT. Normally, we enjoy CVT transmissions as much as we enjoy colonoscopies. The CVT in the ES was good enough for us to think that it actually was a real transmission, with real gears. No higher compliment can be paid to a CVT transmission.

On the road the new ES is quiet as you expect a Lexus to be. There is some road noise that comes through the tires, if you are on a particularly abrasive road service, but other than that we have no complaints about interior noise levels. As we said earlier, the steering in the new ES is far superior than the previous model. While it is an electric steering system, the ratio has been quickened and there is actually more feedback through the wheel, to give you more confidence while driving on the road. Power in the hybrid is a 2.5 liter I-4 Atkinson cycle four-cylinder along with Toyota’s hybrid drive system, the combined total of the two produced 200 hp.  While the car is not swift, it is really more than adequate for daily driving needs. The ES 350 uses the same 3.5L V-6 engine as the Camry which is 268 hp and comes with a 6 speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy in the hybrid is 40 city 39 highway 40 combined. For the V-6 is 21 city 31 highway and 24 combined. 0 to 60 times for the V-6 are estimated at 7.1 seconds, and 8.1 seconds for the hybrid.

Technology of course is readily apparent in the new ES as there are 324 different combinations of personal settings that you can set with the electronics. The ES will come with theEnForm infotainment system, smart key, which works on all 4 doors, and can be customized for air-conditioning and heat settings, steering wheel settings, as well as seat position settings. Each key for the car, can be set up to an individual, so that when that car recognizes the key all the settings will be tailored to that individual. Also available on the new ES are blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure alert and automatic high beams.

Overall, we have to say that the new ES surprised us. Never a big fan of the previous generation you cannot argue with that sale success. We feel however, that the new bolder styling, more engaging driving dynamics, along with a substantially better interior will turn the ES from a higher-end car for people who could care less about cars, to something that will be shopped by people who normally would be interested In a Lexus. We look forward to getting the new ES in for a longer-term look later in the year.

Please take a look at our full photo gallery of the new ES.

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