With all the money buying a hybrid vehicle could save at the pump, some drivers might be hoping to splurge on something a little more luxurious than a Prius. That's exactly the idea behind the new Lexus ES300h, the first ever hybrid ES, which will be hitting US dealerships in mid-August. We first spotted this best-of-both-worlds ride at the New York Auto Show back in April, but were finally able to get behind the wheel ourselves for a test drive this month. Read on to see what we thought about the way the car handled and the fuel economy we were able to maintain even while pushing 80mph on the winding backroads of Oregon wine country.
Before we get into any more details about the car, I should mention that I’m not a car expert – but if you’re reading this, you probably aren’t, either. Lexus provided us with a comprehensive press packet filled with important information about the ES300h like the wheelbase (111.0 in.) and coefficient of drag (0.27), but instead of reiterating those figures to you, I wanted to focus this article on the things you actually care about if you’re thinking of buying it – the car’s fuel economy, aesthetics and, of course, how it drives.
Just because you care about the environment or want to save some cash at the pump doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on style or luxury, and the Lexus ES300h makes a great case for that. With its signature spindle grille (which Lexus apparently just trademarked), a surprisingly spacious interior, and unique 17 inch alloy wheels, it was difficult to tell this vehicle apart from its non-hybrid counterpart, the ES350, in terms of refinement and opulence – which we think is exactly the way it should be.
The ES300h’s artistic exterior betrayed nothing of the economic benefits its hybrid engine affords save for a shiny “h” at the end of its emblem, a subtlety that we think affluent drivers who don’t want their eco-friendly cars to look like “eco-friendly cars” will appreciate. Wrap-around LED taillamps, integrated foglamps and headlamps (w/LED DRLs) complete the exterior package, which will be offered in 9 colorways – Matador Red Mica, Starfire Pearl, Silver Lining Metallic, Nebula Gray Pearl, Obsidian, Satin Cashmere Metallic, Fire Agate, Deep Sea Mica and Cerulean Blue Metallic. For more details about the car’s cabin, bamboo trim, animal-friendly NuLuxe leather alternative seats, cockpit controls and Mark Levinson sound system.
If you love the cushioned ride of a luxury vehicle, the ES300h maximizes that experience with its comfortable, near-silent driving. Lexus has been criticized in the past for the “floating” feeling of its cars, and we have to say that while in Eco Mode, the ES300h did feel rather cloud-like (which we actually found quite pleasurable). That being said, this car definitely isn’t slow. In fact, it was so easy to drive and responsive that we easily ended up going 80 miles an hour. If you prefer to really “feel the road,” then this car is probably not for you, although dropping it into Sport Mode boosted the powertrain, steering responsiveness and fun factor. As an added perk, when you switch from Eco to Sport, the IP also changes from a hybrid power monitor to a sexy tachometer. To really save on fuel, you can also put the car into EV mode with the press of a button for short distance, low-speed driving using only the power from the hybrid battery pack.
Personally, we loved the weightless, ultra-smooth sensation of the Eco and EV modes and had only one qualm – it was actually difficult to tell at times if the car was on. In fact, even the seasoned vehicle expert who was riding with us kept asking “Is it on?” To add to this point, Lexus solved the issue of the car being precariously too quiet for pedestrians to hear by equipping it with speakers that emit a whirring “spaceship” sound that is only audible from outside the car.
So you’ve heard about how beautiful the car is and how it drives, now for the moment of truth – how many miles does it get? According to Lexus’s press materials, the ES300h is expected to earn EPA fuel economy ratings of approximately 40 mpg city, 39 mpg highway and 39 mpg combined, but how did our test vehicle stack up to those figures? Believe it or not, we were unable to push the car below 39 mpg, even while blazing over the scenic hills of Newburg at speeds we wouldn’t admit to in a court of law. While we weren’t able to try driving the car in a more stop-and-go environment, we’re certainly impressed with this number and attribute it to Lexus’s trademark “pursuit of perfection”.
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