Backed by the introduction of a crisper, more noticeable design language, Lexus is clearly committed to adding a little flair to its premium lineup, and that’s even the case with its entry-level offerings like the 2013 Lexus ES 350. The sixth-generation model of the sedan wears the brand’s dynamic “spindle” grille and some subtle-yet-effective design work at the rear, and—as discovered at a recent press gathering for the car’s launch—is expected to deliver “segment-leading value” when it goes on sale in mid-August. (With exact pricing info to be released between now and then.)
Also among the deliverables: The first hybrid powertrain ever offered in the ES family. Helping motivate the new 2013 Lexus ES 300h, the setup should provide 39 mpg in combined driving and could be an important advantage for a vehicle that plays in one of the most competitive classes of the industry.
What else is new for the all-new ES? Here’s a quick look:
2013 Lexus ES350/ES 300h: Style Comes to the Forefront
In the past, about the only time you heard the words “Lexus” and “style” in the same sentence was when they were separated by the phrase “is lacking in.” The brand’s new face—featuring what Lexus terms its spindle grille—is a strong effort to change that kind of perception, and it’s fairly successful. The grille itself is sort of pinched in from the sides by the car’s detailed headlights, which, in turn, are accented by lower LED daytime running lamps, and the result is a stronger, more aggressive look that’s accentuated by a chrome grill surround and a prominent lower front valence. In fact, the way the bottom lip flares outward is somewhat reminiscent of the look of the Ford Mustang Boss 302.
There’s similar attention to detail at the rear, highlighted by a sculptural effect that creates an unusual, multi-faceted appearance around the back corners of the ES. It’s a bit hard to see from some angles, but look for the triangular surface just on top of the crease between the ES’ flanks and the rear of the car.
Lexus also raised the beltline in the ES as compared to the previous iteration for a more imposing presence and cheated a bit with a very subtle character line that brings the eye’s focus to the rear wheels; it’s the kind of thing usually meant to remind folks that a car offers rear-wheel drive, but just keep in mind that the ES doesn’t.
Key differences between the traditionally powered and hybrid models are minor but naturally include the exhaust tips, with dual outlets in the former and a single, hidden outlet in the latter—which also gets a small deck-lid spoiler for improved aerodynamics. And speaking of which, the coefficient of drag here is now down to .27, thanks to underbody enhancements and the deployment of aero fins at the side mirrors, door frames and rear lights.
2013 Lexus ES350/ES 300h: A Bigger and Better Interior
The cabin of the 2013 Lexus ES simply provides more of a good thing. Lexus engineers have set the car on a longer wheelbase, and the new structural proportions make themselves known in a roomier cabin, especially in the rear seats. Second-row passengers will be able to enjoy an extra 4.1 inches of legroom, an additional 2.8 inches of knee room and even a further .8 inches worth of headroom. Of course, the pilot and co-pilot also gain comfort upgrades and will benefit from a new, more supportive seat design with added bolstering, while an ergonomically improved steering-column angle enables the driver to control the car from a more natural position. That column also is attached to a brand-new steering wheel design with metallic and wood highlights that are another step in the right direction, stylistically, for Lexus.
The 2013 Lexus ES also switches to a fresh dual-dash layout that groups gauges and readouts on the “display” level and the car’s switchgear at the “control” level for ease of operation. The second-generation Remote Touch Interface (RTI) is on hand to provide drivers with easy access and control of key vehicle systems and infotainment resources, but in in a way that doesn’t require fussing with a touchscreen; instead, the RTI was designed to mimic the functionality of a wireless computer mouse. It’s surprisingly simple to get used to, and Lexus engineers claim it allows drivers to keep their hands and eyes in proper driving positions better than with a touchscreen setup. (The RTI in the ES 350 was a bit overly sensitive, but some allowances must be made for the fact this is a pre-production vehicle. There were no issues in the hybrid, nor in past Lexi I've tested.)
Craftsmanship was impeccable, with particularly nice hand-sewn leather that actually lived up to Lexus’ press propaganda and a restrained, tasteful use of wood accents; the ES proper gets a dark bird’s-eye maple, with the hybrid offering a lighter but no less elegant bamboo. (In addition to actual leather, Lexus ES customers can choose NuLuxe seating surfaces that provide the same kind of supple comfort but without the need for environmentally iffy tanning procedures, etc.) My only real concern was the headliner material, which seemed a bit cheapish for a Lexus—although perhaps not an entry-level one.
2013 Lexus ES350/ES 300h: Road Manners
Although the Lexus ES350 still holsters its same powertrain—a 268-hp V6 that makes 248 lb.-ft. of torque and features dual intelligent variable valve timing, mated to a six-speed sequential-shift automatic—the company did squeeze out a few extra miles per gallon in all EPA measures. The new ratings are projected to come in at 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway/24 mpg combined, representing improvements of 2 mpg/3 mpg/2 mpg. Also, engineers worked overtime to upgrade the car’s ride and handling: The body structure is stiffer, the steering ratio is quicker, and both front and rear suspensions have been modified as well. Given the car’s slipperier aerodynamics and a relatively low curb weight of 3,549 lbs. (about 30 lbs. lower than in 2012), the all-new Lexus ES350 might just improve on its 0-60 time of 7.2 seconds, too.
The new Lexus still isn’t exactly a sport sedan, but it does include a Drive Mode selector with a Sport mode that significantly tightens up the steering and improves responsiveness in the ES 350. This feature also shows up in the ES 300h, to much less noticeable effect in terms of performance; Sport mode transforms the car’s hybrid-power monitor display to a tachometer, too.
As for the ES 300h’s Lexus hybrid Drive system, it combines a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle I4 engine, a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack and electric motor to deliver a total of 200 hp and some eye-popping fuel-economy numbers. Lexus is expecting the car to post an EPA line of 40 mpg city/39 mpg highway/39 mpg combined, while being the least-expensive hybrid in its class.
It should be the “go to” choice among ES buyers, too, at least in this reviewer’s opinion. The V6 delivers adequate power, but, frankly, performance is not the car’s strong suit. For all its suspension upgrades and Sport modes and whatnot, the Lexus ES 350 will feel a bit sloppy to enthusiasts, who aren’t really in the target audience anyway. The ES 300h, on the other hand, more than lives up to its billing as a high-efficiency luxury sedan, easily topping 39 mpg during a 25-mile driving loop that included more than a few miles in Sport mode. There was more wind noise than I would have preferred, and the hallmarks of the hybrid driving experience—the occasional droning sound from under the hood and grabby regenerative brakes—have not been entirely eliminated, but overall, the Lexus ES 300h was a very satisfying package.
2013 Lexus ES350/ES 300h: Gadgetry
As expected, the 2013 Lexus ES showcases a wide range of lux goodies, from the latest electronic safety measures to the usual gamut of creature comforts, including:
- Lexus Enform with App Suite, allowing access to connected resources such as Pandora, Bing and Facebook Places
- A hard-drive-based navigation system with integrated backup camera, voice command and an eight-inch display screen
- 835 watts and 15 speakers worth of Mark Levinson audio performance
- A blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert
- Lane-departure warning
- Lexus’ Pre-Collision System, capable of detecting potential obstructions ahead of the ES and then automatically preparing the vehicle for a possible impact
- 10 airbags, including knee units for both driver and front-seat passenger
- A panoramic glass roof with two separate panels—one that opens for front-seat occupants and a fixed pane for rear-seat passengers
- Ambient interior lighting
- Heated/ventilated front seats
- Automatic recirculation control, capable of detecting potentially harmful smog levels and switching the car’s climate system to recirculation mode
- On the ES 300h, a vehicle proximity notification system that uses an audible alert to keep pedestrians aware of the car even if its travelling in its low-noise EV mode
- Automatic high beams that switch off if oncoming traffic is detected and in other scenarios
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Adaptive cruise control