First Drive: Forget-Me-Not 2013 Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h

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“Impossible to ignore, impossible to forget.” That is the marketing phrase Lexus is using to launch the next-generation ES premium midsize sedan.

The 2013 model ES will arrive as the sixth generation of the popular model line. Once a sales leader in the segment, Lexus is pinning its hopes of returning to the top with the new ES that includes – for the first time – a hybrid variant.

Lexus anticipates the luxury market to grow this year, especially the entry luxury segment where the ES resides. Currently it has a 17 percent market share between its CT 200h, IS and ES models and says with the addition of a hybrid on the ES lineup that market share will grow.

It’s been seven years since the last makeover for the ES, longer than any previous generation. Lexus describes this model change as “all-new” save for the carryover of one of its engines.

ES now moves to the Toyota Avalon architecture, up from Camry, and Lexus touts its “fun to drive” characteristics as a mantra missing from previous generations.

Lexus says its ES buyers are its most loyal customers to a certain model but to increase market share they will have to attract new buyers to the model line as well as the brand and they hope, in great part, to do this by offering the new ES Hybrid.

“The ES Hybrid offers high MPG in a true luxury car package, and our research showed that the hybrid was a ‘game-changer’ for competitive owners and move-ups who might never have considered an ES or a Lexus,” said Brian Bolain, Lexus National Marketing Communications Manager.

The new face of Lexus (and the brand’s L-Finesse design philosophy) is apparent upon walking up to the new model as the spindle grille design first seen on the new GS models is applied to ES. Overall body size is increased as is interior space, especially in the rear seat area.

Engine choices are the proven 3.5-liter V-6 gas engine in the ES 350 that produces 268 very smooth horsepower and an upgraded Hybrid Synergy Drive system borrowed from the Camry and next Avalon models. In the ES 300h application, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine produces 156hp and when combined with the electric drive system muster up a total output of 200hp.

Hybrid models feature a CVT gearbox behind the engine and motors while the ES 350 mates the V-6 to a slick six-speed automatic transmission. All ES models are front-wheel drive with no AWD variant on the horizon. Lexus says it only offers AWD on its models with rear-wheel drive to remain competitive in northern states.

Lexus engineers have improved steering and suspension components on the new model. The 2013 ES was given a tighter steering ratio while front suspension coil springs have been wound opposite of each other for improved road handling.

The 2013 ES models offer multiple drive modes of ECO, Normal, and Sport. My favorite, of course, is the latter but even in ECO mode should one need to “giddy-up” the ES will go when prompted. Sport mode offers the benefit of tighter steering response and enhanced throttle and gearbox response.

While exterior styling makes the 2013 model the most attractive ES yet, interior enhancements make the new ES one of the most comfortable, safe, and definitely state-of-the-art premium sedans in its class.

Designers paid attention to all the details – great and small – to make the 2013 ES so much better than its predecessors from the more supportive seating to the “Takumi” artisan stitching on the dash pad. The driver’s workspace is now divided into two distinct areas – the display zone above a centerline with all of the necessary instrumentation and controls, and the operation zone below into the center console where tasks of a physical nature take place.

On-road, the 2013 ES is a champ. As I stated, Sport mode offers true driving enjoyment but the car is smooth and ever-so-quiet. While the ES 350 models offer the best acceleration the ES 300h is not far behind and many folks are going to be surprised by the performance of this new hybrid.

Pricing won’t be announced until closer to launch date at the end of summer, but given our brief experience with the new model Lexus should find itself back at the head of the class in no time.

Categories: Autos

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