Full 2013 Lexus ES 300h Review
What's New for 2013
The ES 300h is the new hybrid version of the equally all-new 2013 Lexus ES.
There have been five Lexus hybrids to date, but only the RX crossover has connected with car buyers in a significant way. The others were either not fuel-efficient enough or just didn't possess the premium look and feel expected from Lexus. With the new 2013 Lexus ES 300h, however, it certainly looks as if the brand has finally come up with another winning formula.
It starts with the 2013 Lexus ES, which represents a complete redesign. The new ES is a bit larger, and Lexus has overhauled the suspension and steering for improved car control, and revised the interior for more modern design and additional high-tech features. At the same time, the new ES maintains the model's reputation for reliability, solid construction and a supremely comfortable ride.
The ES 300h owns these same qualities as well, but that little "h" represents big differences under the hood. Unlike past Lexus hybrid sedans that used hybrid technology as a means to achieve greater performance while maintaining the fuel economy of a regular gasoline model, the 300h is a hybrid in the classic sense. In other words, it's all about fuel economy, which in this case means an EPA combined rating of 40 mpg. A Prius it's not, but that's 5 mpg better than the not-so-dearly departed Lexus HS 250h and basically even with the Toyota Camry Hybrid.
Given the model's historically strong sales, the Lexus ES is obviously a car that has resonated with consumers. The addition of a hybrid model that actually does what people expect a hybrid to do -- sip fuel -- should only increase its appeal. However, this doesn't mean the 2013 Lexus ES 300h is the only show in town. The sleek, equally new Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is similar in concept to the ES, but should be sharper to drive and is likely to match or slightly surpass its fuel economy. You may also want to consider a fully loaded Ford Fusion Hybrid or Toyota Camry Hybrid. However, Lexus is the brand people most likely associate with luxury hybrids, and the ES 300h is the first Lexus hybrid sedan that actually lives up to expectations.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Lexus ES 300h is the hybrid version of the Lexus ES 350 luxury sedan, which is reviewed separately.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, LED running lights, a sunroof, heated mirrors, keyless ignition/entry, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats (with two-way lumbar adjustment), "NuLuxe" premium vinyl upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Lexus Safety Connect emergency communications, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker sound system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The Display Audio package adds the Lexus Remote Touch electronics interface, a rearview camera, Bluetooth streaming audio and enhanced phone capabilities, a single-CD player, HD radio and iTunes tagging. The Navigation package includes all of the Display Audio items plus a navigation system, voice controls and the Enform suite of smartphone-connected apps. A 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system with DVD-audio capability can be added to the Navigation package.
There are several packages available on those cars already equipped with either the Display Audio or Navigation packages. The Premium package includes a power-adjustable steering wheel, driver memory functions and wood trim placed on the steering wheel, shifter and other interior surfaces. The Luxury package includes all the Premium items plus xenon headlamps, parking sensors, heated and ventilated front seats, leather upholstery and a power rear sunshade. Finally, the Ultra Luxury package includes both the Premium and Luxury package items, plus automatic wipers, a power-closing trunk, a 10-way power driver seat, a heated steering wheel, passenger seat memory functions, manual rear side sunshades and ambient lighting.
All of the Ultra Luxury package items (minus the extra driver seat adjustability and passenger seat memory) are available as stand-alone options. Others include a blind spot warning system that includes rear cross traffic alert, a lane departure warning system that includes automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control that includes a pre-collision system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2013 Lexus ES 300h features a hybrid powertrain consisting of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor that together produce 200 horsepower. Front-wheel drive and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) are standard. According to Lexus, the ES 300h will go from zero to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds, which isn't quick for an entry-level luxury sedan but pretty good for a hybrid.
EPA-estimated fuel economy is an excellent 40 mpg city/39 mpg highway and 40 mpg combined.
Every 2013 Lexus ES 300h comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags and front knee airbags. Also included is Lexus Safety Connect with automatic crash notification, stolen vehicle location and an emergency assist button.
Optional equipment includes parking sensors, a lane-departure warning system and a blind-spot warning system that includes a rear cross-traffic alert system. The optional adaptive cruise control includes the pre-collision system, which primes the seatbelts and brakes when it senses an impending collision.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the ES the highest possible rating of "Good" in its frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests. The ES did receive the worst rating of "Poor" in the Institute's new small overlap front crash test, but few cars have been subjected to this test, and a majority received similarly poor ratings.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2013 Lexus ES's cabin presents a far more modern, stylish environment than that of past models. There's still wood trim available, but it's more subtly applied and looks more like the genuine article. The hybrid's bamboo is especially fetching. The analog clock in the center of the dash is a classy touch that breaks up the otherwise high-tech environment. Of course, the quality of materials depends on whether you opt for one of the luxury packages, but build quality is excellent in typical Lexus fashion.
The climate controls are still quite simple to use, but those for the audio system have become more complicated than past Lexus models due to the increased number of available media types. When you opt for the Display Audio or Navigation packages, you get the Lexus Remote Touch system, a mouselike device that controls a cursor on a large, centrally located screen. It does some things very well and others less so, and like every brand's electronics interface, we highly recommend trying it out on a test-drive to see if you could live with it every day.
There's little doubt that the ES cabin should be spacious enough for most drivers and passengers. The latest model is now closer to the full-size Avalon rather than the Camry, and as a result provides generous amounts of space, especially rear legroom. The trunk is merely average, with 15.2 cubic feet of space.
The 2013 Lexus ES 300h delivers a refined and serene driving experience that is bolstered by the quiet all-electric operation at lower speeds.
No one will ever deem the new ES sporty, but few people will expect it to be. Instead, its more precise steering response and feel is a welcome improvement that everyone should appreciate. There is indeed a Sport mode that further sharpens steering and throttle response, but the resulting driving experience feels like it would be a normal mode in many other cars. The actual "Normal" mode would be a comfort setting.
At highway speeds, the cabin remains remarkably silent and is largely devoid of wind or road noise. Bumps and ruts in the road are well absorbed, but don't expect complete isolation or the floating sensations many assume the ES is known for.