2013 Lexus ES First Drive Review: Introduction
While most people think of the flagship LS model when they hear the word Lexus, or perhaps even the RX crossovers, the Lexus ES sedan is the marque’s most popular car in terms of sales. Further, it is one of two of the original models used to launch the brand back in 1989. Having been in continuous production since Toyota introduced the Lexus brand, the ES is now going into its sixth generation.
The original Lexus ES, the ES 250, as were each of the four generations of the car that followed it, were based on the Toyota Camry of their times. For the sixth generation of the ES, in an effort to imbue it with a quieter ride, better handling and more spaciousness, Lexus engineers chose the Toyota Avalon and its longer wheelbase to provide the model’s platform.
With this new generation comes another first for the front-drive mid-size luxury sedan—a hybrid version. Borrowing the hybrid powertrain from Toyota’s Camry (yes, there IS still some Camry in the ES after all) the 2013 Lexus ES 300h marks the first application of hybrid technology to the Lexus ES lineup.
Sharp-eyed observers will note this new ES has a sportier edge than previous iterations of the car. Lexus in general has been moving more toward a performance orientation, and wile the new ES doesn’t come close to threatening the Lexus GS models dynamically, this new version of the ES is a more engaging car to drive overall. Additionally, its look is now less milquetoast and more spicy.
And, of course, in keeping with modern trends, the expected levels of connectivity in terms of telematics are well represented in the new Lexus ES. The Lexus Enform smartphone integration system is accompanied by the Lexus Remote Touch controller, which was introduced with the previous generation of the RX crossover.
2013 Lexus ES First Drive Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Slated to go on sale in August of 2012, as of this writing, pricing for the 2013 Lexus ES models has yet to be announced. However, the 2012 Lexus ES 350 started at $36,725and we have every reason to believe the 2013 model should in about the same price range.
Standard equipment includes seventeen-inch wheels, LED daytime running lights, fog lights, a moon roof, heated exterior rearview mirrors, keyless entry and start, cruise control, a dual-zone automatic climate control system, a pair of eight-way power adjustable front seats, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and an auto-dimming electrochromatic inside rearview mirror. The Lexus Safety Connect emergency communications system, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, and an eight-speaker sound system featuring a six-disc CD changer, with satellite radio, an auxiliary audio input jack for portable devices, and a dedicated iPod/USB audio interface are included in the base price as well.
And while there will be for the first time a hybrid version of the ES—the Lexus ES 300h—Lexus does not employ “trim levels” in the usual sense of the word. Rather, the company equips its models with packages. For the 2013 ES, the Lexus product planning team has delineated three packages; Premium, Luxury, and Ultra Luxury.
The Premium Package, over and above the very generous roster of standard features of the Lexus ES adds genuine wood trim and memory for the driver’s seat, steering wheel and outside rearview mirrors’ positioning. The Premium Package also includes a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel made of wood, and a wood shift knob.
The Luxury Package, incorporating all of the aspects of the Premium Package, adds climate control seats, HID headlamps, a leather trimmed interior treatment, Park Assist, and a power rear sunshade.
The Ultra Luxury Package builds upon the Luxury Package’s offerings with ambient lighting, a driver’s seat cushion extender (a.k.a. adjustable thigh support), a heated wood steering wheel, manual door sunshades, a one-touch power trunk, passenger seat memory, rain sensing wipers with a deicer function, and a panoramic sunroof.
Both the Premium Package and the Luxury Package require the selection of either the Lexus Display Audio option or the Navigation package. The Display Audio option consists of a seven-inch video screen, a backup monitor, Bluetooth for telephone and audio streaming, a CD player, HD radio with iTunes tagging, the remote touch interface, and SDARS radio.
The navigation package is comprised of an advanced voice command casual language voice recognition system, a backup monitor, Bluetooth streaming for audio and telephony, the HD radio with iTunes tagging, HDD navigation, Lexus Enform 2.0 with safety connect, Lexus Insider, the Lexus remote touch navigation controller, and Sirius XM NavTraffic with a one-year trial subscription.
The Ultra Luxury Package requires the selection of either the Navigation- or the Navigation with Mark Levinson package. The Navigation with Mark Levinson package is comprised of an 835-watt Mark Levinson premium audio system, featuring both DVD audio and video. It uses 15 speakers and a 5.1 channel surround amplifier with 7.1 architecture. Advanced voice command, a backup monitor, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and an HD radio with iTunes tagging are also part of the package. Additionally, the Mark Levinson package includes Lexus Enform 2.0 with safety connect, Lexus Insider, the Lexus remote touch navigation controller, and SiriusXM NavTraffic.
2013 Lexus ES First Drive Review: The Competition
Numbered within the Lexus ES competitive set are the Acura TL, Buick LaCrosse, Hyundai Azera, and Lincoln MKS. With the ES 300h version of the Lexus, the company has a competitive advantage, in that none of those other models offers a hybrid version. In fact, the Lexus is the only hybrid model in its class.
On the other hand, the standard Lexus ES competes in a pretty heated segment. However, being a Lexus it has a decided advantage. Routinely outselling all of the other cars mentioned above, the Lexus ES also enjoys a considerable degree of owner loyalty. Most people who buy the model opt for a newer version of the ES to replace it. This is partly why it is the best-selling car in the Lexus lineup.
The Hyundai Azera benefits from an all-new model for 2012, while the Buick, Acura, and Lincoln soldier on with pre-existing versions. There is an all-new Lincoln MKS coming soon, which, by all indications should be a considerable improvement over the present car. But for now the only real all-new competition for the Lexus ES is the Hyundai Azera.
2013 Lexus ES First Drive Review: Exterior Styling
Benefiting considerably from its lower profile, the new Lexus ES cuts a graceful figure with its clean styling lines from front to rear. Immediately recognizable as a Lexus model, the new ES nevertheless looks sportier and more aggressive than the version it replaces. While the 2013 Lexus is slightly longer than the 2012 ES, its corners are pulled tightly inward, and its front and rear overhangs are very minimal.
The 2013 Lexus ES also wears the new face of Lexus quite well. The “spindle” grille treatment (introduced with the 2012 GS models) looks right at home on the ES and bodes well for future executions of the design cue. LED daytime running lights complement the combination LED and halogen rear lamps, while the fog lamps are seamlessly integrated into the sculpted lower front bumper fascia. Particularly observant individuals will note the way the sculpted rear end of the new ES mimics the design of the spindle grille.
At the back of the car, the ES 350 can be distinguished by dint of its dual exhaust outlets, while the hybrid Lexus ES 300h is differentiated with hidden exhaust tips and an integrated rear spoiler on the trunk lid. Its unique blue badging also readily identifies the hybrid—in addition to a hybrid-specific set of 17-inch alloy wheels.
2013 Lexus ES First Drive Review: Interior Styling
We're talking about Lexus here, the company whose original tagline was; “The relentless pursuit of perfection.” That said, the interior of the 2013 Lexus ES reflects quality in every aspect. A perfect example is the leather covering the dashboard. Hand sewn by master craftspeople who undergo outrageously rigorous training for dexterity, the look of it absolutely screams luxurious.
The new interior design feels—at once—airier and more spacious than that of the 2012 models. Thanks to the larger wheelbase, there's more legroom and knee-room in the rear seat. Further, by mounting the seats just a bit higher off the floor, the Lexus design team improved foot room in the rear compartment as well. The front seats were also redesigned to improve comfort over long distances, and the steering wheel angle was reduced from 24° to 22° to similarly reduce fatigue.
The redesigned instrument panel is configured with a long and layered look and houses highly legible displays placed directly in the driver's line of vision. Just to the right of the main instrumentation, the center-mounted 3.5-inch multi-information screen is just as easy to decipher.
The Lexus Remote Touch Interface (RTI), now in its second-generation, gives the driver control over the climate, audio, communications, and navigation systems and more. According to Lexus, the new user interface reduces eye and hand movement, helping to decrease effort and minimize distractions.
2013 Lexus ES First Drive Review: Powertrains and Fuel Economy
The 2013 Lexus ES 350 is powered by 3.5-liter V6 engine tuned to deliver 268 hp and 248 foot-pounds of torque. The engine is paired with an electronically controlled six-speed sequential shift automatic transmission. According to the EPA, the ES 350 should return 21 miles per gallon in the city, 31 miles per gallon on the highway, and 24 miles per gallon combined.
The ES 300h uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine and an integrated hybrid electric motor/generator for a total system output of 200 hp. Employing an electric water pump and electric power steering, the design of this engine enables it to run without any accessory belts at all, both reducing friction and improving its efficiency.
The hybrid powertrain uses a continuously variable transmission to route drive power to the front wheels. Fuel economy of the 300h is quoted by the EPA at 40 miles per gallon in the city, 39 miles per gallon on the highway, and 39 miles per gallon combined.
Both the ES 350 and ES 300h feature a drive mode selector. Available modes are; Eco, Normal, and Sport. The eco-mode optimizes fuel efficiency, while the normal mode provides a blend of everyday usability and fuel efficiency, The sport mode makes the powertrain and steering systems more responsive. The 300 h hybrid adds an EV mode, which enables it to run for short distances at speeds up to 25 mph, using only battery power.
2013 Lexus ES First Drive Review: Driving Impressions
Many people have questioned why Lexus has the similarly sized ES and GS models in their lineup. After driving both cars, it becomes rather evident. The rear drive GS model places more emphasis on handling and performance, while the front drive ES model places more emphasis on luxury and ride comfort.
This enables Lexus to offer the best of both worlds.
Overall, the Lexus ES 350 is endowed with strong acceleration, reasonable handling abilities and a very comfortable ride. Even though the ES 350 is biased more towards the luxury end of the spectrum, the car still manages to deliver a comfortably engaging experience.
The 268 horsepower V-6 winds freely all the way up to its redline, producing good thrust all the way. The six-speed automatic shifts with considerable competence and generally keeps the engine in the sweet spot of its rev band. The steering is highly accurate and provides good feedback for an electric system—particularly when the drive mode selector is set to sport.
The hybrid model, the ES 300h, with only 200 system horsepower and more weight to carry, feels somewhat lethargic in comparison. However, if you only ever drive the hybrid model you won't feel you're missing anything. And, given the promise of 40 miles per gallon from a car offering this much luxury, we're inclined to be more forgiving of the driving experience.
As you might expect from a Lexus, interior comfort and quietness of both models are first rate.
2013 Lexus ES First Drive Review: Safety Equipment
On the safety front, the new Lexus ES features four disc brakes with ABS, brake assist, and electronic brake force distribution. The Lexus features an occupant classification system for the front passenger seat to inform the deployment of the twin chamber airbag. The ES also offers front and rear side curtain airbags, front and rear seat-mounted side airbags, and driver and front passenger knee airbags. The seat-mounted side airbags are designed to provide hip protection in side impacts. Safety-oriented telematics include automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, emergency assist, and enhanced roadside assistance.
2013 Lexus ES First Drive Review: Summary
As a mainstay of the Lexus lineup, the ES model must evolve with the brand. Now that Lexus is moving in a more performance-oriented direction (one need only witness the LF-A, IS–F, the sport version of the LS, and the various Lexus F-Sport models to see this) the ES, while still providing the levels of comfort and sophistication expected of it, is now also more dynamic in terms of the way it looks and feels.
Once the most “average” car in the Lexus lineup, the ES was little more than a high-end Camry. And while the model is still based on a more plebian Toyota-branded vehicle, where before the car’s roots were obvious to the well informed, this new model is more thoroughly separated from its Toyota Avalon relative.
Still just as comfortable, nicely appointed, and in all probability—affordable as it ever was, this new Lexus ES demonstrates exceptional improvement in every measure. The addition of the Lexus ES 300h hybrid version will only serve to make the car more attractive to an even wider audience. Larger, more comfortable, and arguably more rewarding to drive, this new 2013 Lexus ES should have no difficulty maintaining its sales position in the Lexus lineup.
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