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Lexus ES Review

heycar editorial team

Written by

heycar editorial team

Lexus ES
Lexus ES

1/9

1 / 9

00/10
heycar rating
"Comfy, quiet, almost too understated"
  • Launched: 2018
  • Premium
  • Hybrid

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Quick overview

Pros

  •  Vast cabin space
  •  Quirky but appealing
  •  Low running costs

Cons

  • Non-descript looks
  • Performance lags class norm
  • Stodgy handling

Overall verdict

"The Lexus ES is the direct replacement for the GS executive saloon. If you think that a mild change of name means any significant change in tack for the firm’s mid-size saloon, you’re in for a disappointment."

Lexus ES front

On the other hand, if you liked the Lexus GS, and there was plenty to admire about it, then the ES offers a lot more of the same. It is a sharper looking saloon than the GS, which slowly evolved to become a handsome if slightly anonymous car. The ES has crisp lines and a slightly coupe-esque profile, though it’s certainly not in the mould of the Mercedes CLS.


The rivals for the ES are the usual suspects from the executive sector, namely the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Jaguar XF and Mercedes E-Class. All of these cars have the added ace up their wheelarches of an estate model for anyone wanting more carrying capacity. This is an area where Lexus has long lagged behind its European counterparts as the ES remains resolutely only available as a four-door model with boot rather than tailgate.


On the inside, you won’t mind the ES isn’t an estate as the cabin offers up a whole load of room. This is certainly one area where Lexus has listened to critics of the GS and responded in very definite terms. In fact, you could almost accuse the firm of overreacting as the rear seat now serves up almost as much knee room as the LS luxury limousine in Lexus’ range. Still, we’ll take that over the cramped back seat of the GS that went before.


The front of the ES’s cabin is no less generous in the space it offers its occupants. The driver is presented with a very high-tech looking dash, which includes a couple of unusual column stalks poking out of the sides of the main binnacle. They are for the drive modes and, while they seem a little unusual at first, they are an example of Lexus daring to think differently and come up with a solution that works even if it appears a little left-field.


That thinking also underpins why Lexus has resolutely stuck with hybrid power for its mid-size saloon models for many years now. The petrol-electric set-up for the ES is familiar, but it now drives the front wheels rather than the back pair. Again, this puts the Lexus at odds with conventional thinking for this class of car, but there’s no denying it has upsides such as the huge rear seat space now provided in the ES.


As far as driving goes, the ES is much the same as the GS in that it is smooth and unflustered in most conditions, but try to exploit its grip or power and its poise begins to unravel all too rapidly. A BMW 5 Series will simply drive away from the Lexus on a twisting road with no apparent effort from the BMW’s driver. However, on crusty surfaces, the Lexus gets right back on terms with the plushness of its ride.


All of this blended with the Lexus ES’s low running costs make it an interesting package. Not necessarily a class-leading one, but definitely worthy of consideration.



Is the Lexus ES right for you?

The executive sector is full of cars with sporting touches and muscular appeal in a bid to draw in buyers, yet comfort is a much longer lasting talent to have and this is what the Lexus ES offers. Its supple suspension soaks up lumpy roads and whisks them away with barely any disturbance to its occupants.


For this reason alone the ES is a great car for anyone who has long commutes to complete. It deposits you at journey’s end feeling comfy, relaxed and ready for what comes next.


This calm demeanour is enhanced by the hybrid powertrain’s easy-going nature, while the cabin has masses of space and build quality that makes a bank’s seem a little slapdash. The interior is also packed with lots of standard kit to make your life easier and more cosseted.


Lexus also gets it right when it comes to running costs, which will be of vital importance to the many company car drivers faced with the choice of picking from the Lexus or the multitude of other executive saloons available.


What’s the best Lexus ES model/engine to choose?

Guess what? You don’t get a choice when it comes to the engine in the Lexus ES as there’s only one and it’s a petrol-electric hybrid. The 2.5-litre V6 petrol unit is spliced with an electric motor to produce a combined 218PS.


That’s not a lot when compared to the ES’s usual rivals with either petrol or diesel engines. So it proves on the road and against the stopwatch, with the ES needing 8.9 seconds to cover the 0-62mph dash, which is around two seconds slower than you’d expect from its direct rivals.


No matter, the ES’s engine combo rewards with smoothness and it pulls away from a standstill using just electric power for a very quiet, smooth start to your journey.


With just one powertrain, your big decision is which trim to choose. There are three to pick from, comprising ES, F Sport and Takumi. The latter is the most luxurious, while the F Sport has a more dynamic outlook. Yet there’s nothing missing from the standard ES, so this is the one we’d head towards.


What other cars are similar to the Lexus ES?

Lined up against the wall as rivals for the Lexus ES are the usual suspects. They are the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class from Germany, while the British connection is taken care of by the Jaguar XF.


The BMW is the one keener drivers will gravitate towards, while the Mercedes appeals for its comfort and solid build. The Audi A6 has a more avant-garde appeal, while the Jaguar is the Union Jack in automotive form and with a supremely comfortable ride.


Yet perhaps the closest rival in approach to the Lexus is the Volvo S90. The Swede is another that does things its own way and doesn’t give a damn what anybody else thinks. That’s rather attractive.


Comfort and design

"In keeping with the Lexus GS’s comfort rather than sporting approach, the driving position is a little more upright than you’ll find in the likes of the BMW 5 Series or Jaguar XF. It gives superb support and the front seats are deeply cushioned to give an old-fashioned armchair feel, yet there is also sufficient side bolstering to keep you in place during cornering."

Lexus ES front interior

The F Sport model comes with more sculpted and heavily bolstered seats, in keeping with its more dynamic nature. These seats are no less comfortable than the standard items.


In every ES, there is a mass of space for the driver’s head and shoulders, as well as a huge range of electric seat adjustment for the shortest or tallest drivers. For anyone in between these two extremes, you will also find it easy to attain the right driving position as the steering wheel also moves for height and angle.


The view from the driver’s seat is good to the front and sides, but the sloping rear pillars restrict vision when changing lanes or pulling out of side streets at an angle.


Looking inside the cockpit, the digital dash display is clear and easy to read and the controls are clustered in a way that makes them easy to reach for. That includes the two unusual looking rotary control jutting out of the main binnacle that operate the traction control and driving modes. At first, they seemly strangely positioned, but you soon forget they are there unless you want to alter which mode the car is in when you have instant access.


Quality and finish

If there is one area where Lexus leads the pack in the executive saloon field, it is this one. The ES has a peerless sense of quality that is clearly derived from the LS luxury saloon. It imparts an identical sense of calm and faultless construction, which is a pleasing feeling when you’re sat in the ES.


Everywhere you look, there are neat little touches to the way the materials are finished or mixed to provide just enough contrast to make it easy to pick out the right button or dial. There’s even a softness to the lighting of the ES’s instruments’ that makes it feel like a cut above the herd in a sector where high quality is the norm.


The same approach applies to the more fundamental side of the ES, so every surface and joint is millimetrically accurate and consistent. It works in harmony with the precision of all the buttons, though we’d like it even better if the infotainment system were easier to use as its touch-sensitive pad to work the on-screen functions is fiddly and misses the simplicity of BMW’s iDrive set-up.


Infotainment

The ES and F Sport come with an 8-inch infotainment screen as standard, but the latter can be upgraded to the vast 12.3-inch screen used in the Takumi model. This is operated using a touch-sensitive pad on the centre console rather than directly with a touchscreen, so you use it like you would a trackpad on a laptop computer.


This was undoubtedly Lexus’ thinking, but what works on a stationary laptop is not so good when driving a car. The pad is much too sensitive to the smallest movement of your finger, so the cursor on the infotainment screen can spear off in an unwanted direction. Even with familiarity, it’s tricky to use and frustrating, immediately undermining the whole calm demeanour of the ES.


As for the functions themselves, they work well and the sat-nav is quick to respond, but some of the graphics are a little dated. It’s also a shame the larger 12.3-inch screen is not an option for the ES model. Still, the main 17-inch digital dash display is easy to read and simple to configure in a number of different ways.


Space and practicality

The ES banishes the cramped rear accommodation of its predecessor, the GS, at a stroke. Much of this is down to the ES using a front-wheel drive platform, so there is not nearly such a pronounced transmission tunnel. This design has also allowed Lexus to devote a lot more of the car’s considerable length to the passenger area and means the ES now offers very nearly as much rear legroom as the LS luxury saloon.


A pair of tall adults can sit in imperious comfort in the back of the ES and they will have plenty of room to spare for their heads and elbows too. A third passenger might find it a bit snug, but at least they geta flat base and back to aid comfort. They also get a full three-point belt while the outer pair of seats come with Isofix child seat mounts as standard.


Those in the rear of the ES get individual air vents and the Takumi model also boasts heated rear seats, though this is not even an option for the other two models in the ES range.


Getting in and out of the ES’s rear seats is easy thanks to the back doors swinging to almost 90-degrees. Also, the rear bench is a little higher set than many of its rivals, so it’s a shade better for just turning and stepping out of the car rather than having to lever yourself out.


At the rear of the ES, the boot lid has powered opening and closing either using the buttons on the dash or key. If you choose top level Takumi or the F Sport model with the optional Takumi pack, you get a boot that can be opened hands-free by waving your foot under the rear bumper.


With the boot open, the luggage compartment is usefully bigger than the old GS’s and offers 454-litres of space. That’s still a way behind the likes of the BMW 5 Series or the Mercedes E-Class, and the Es is further hampered by the shape of its boot as there are structural supports that mean you cannot use the full length of the floor.


Another demerit for the ES’s cargo bay is the rear seats do not split and tip forward like most of its rivals.


Handling and ride quality

"Any executive saloon buyer looking for a bit of excitement in their daily drive will feel a little let down by the Lexus ES. This is not a car for scything along country roads or making fast progress in round the ring road on your way to a vital sales meeting. Lexus is happy to leave that to others as the ES makes no bones about being an upmarket saloon with comfort on its mind."

Lexus ES front exterior

With this understood, the ES makes a much more appealing prospect in this class as it does a good job of smoothing out motorway expansion joints and the usual A-road ruffles. It’s not so competent when it comes to urban potholes and dips, where the suspension can judder a little, especially in the F Sport with its 19-inch alloy wheel and lower profile tyres.


The F Sport comes with adaptive dampers for its suspension, which lets you choose between Normal and Sport settings. The Normal mode seems to handle corners fairly well, but the Sport offering doesn’t serve up any appreciably sharper dynamics. There’s a bit more weight to the steering feel in this set-up, but that’s about it and the steering in any ES is not burdened with an abundance of sensation or feedback.


Still, even if the ES is not the be all and end all of driving pleasure, it can be pushed on through bends with confidence as there is plenty of grip. You just have to trust that its there more than sense it as you do in a BMW 5 Series or Jaguar XF, which let you make the most of their available talents much more readily.


On the other hand, the ES is a doddle to park and meanders through town in a thoroughly refined, relaxed manner.


Engines and gearboxes

The ES comes with one engine and gearbox combo, and that’s your lot. Luckily, it’s a decent pairing and helped along by the 88kW electric motor. The 2.5-litre V6 petrol engine produces 178Ps, so together in hybrid mode the ES has 218PS on tap. This is enough to deliver 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds, which is behind the Lexus’s direct rivals.


This sense the ES is short on power next to the competition is realised as you drive more and more. Where you could make easy overtakes in the likes of a BMW 520d or Mercedes E-Class, the Lexus needs more forethought and planning as it just doesn’t have a big enough dollop of mid-rev urge. No matter how hard you press on the accelerator pedal, the ES just always feels a beat behind its rivals.


Pulling away from a standstill, the ES is very smooth, but on the move its responses are dulled by the use of a CVT (continuously variable transmission) rather than the slick eight- or nine-speed automatics commonly found in the competition. You can select a Sport mode and use the steering wheel paddle shifters to give the impression of separate gears and to liven up the Es’s reactions, but it doesn’t make the car any quicker to react in reality.


So, it’s much better to accept the ES’s limitations and enjoy the smoothness of the 2.5 V6 motor and the way it will propel the Lexus along a motorway in an unruffled, almost silent manner.


Refinement and noise levels

Lexus has taken the superb refinement of the previous GS model and used it as a springboard to make the ES even more hushed. Where the F Sport model of the GS could suffer from a little rumble created by its 19-inch wheels and tyres, the ES suppresses this much more effectively. There’s still a little noise to be heard, but it’s only really noticeable in comparison to the other ES models.


In both the ES and Takumi models, road noise is all but absent from the cabin, while the 2.5-litre V6 petrol engine is almost always a distant burr. Only when you demand the most from acceleration does the V6 make itself heard and, even then, it’s a pleasing growl. As you pull away from a start, the ES usually does this in electric mode, so it scores there too.


The sleek shape of the ES does a very good job of slicing through the air and keeps buffeting noises on the outside, even at higher motorway speeds. On top of this, all of the controls work with a satisfying positive, crafted action that speaks of great refinement.


Safety equipment

Choose a Lexus ES and you are getting one of the safest cars in its class. It comes packed with driver and passenger airbags, as well as front and rear side ’bags, curtain and front knee airbags. That’s a lot of protection just for starters and the ES adds to this with three-point seat belts for all occupants and Isofix child seat mounts on the two outer rear chairs.


As well as this, every ES comes with autonomous emergency braking, which Lexus calls a Pre-Collision System that detects possible hazards ahead. If the driver doesn’t react, the system performs an emergency stop without the driver’s input.


Lexus also fits every ES with Automatic High Beam to prevent the automatic headlights from dazzling oncoming drivers by adjusting the spread of light. There is also Dynamic Radar Cruise Control to maintain a safe distance to the vehicle in front even as its speed varies, while Lane Tracing Assist keeps the ES between the correct road markings.


All ES models have a tyre pressure monitoring system, as well as road sign recognition to alert the driver of speed limits, and hill start assist. The Takumi model comes with Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and Braking, and both of these are options for the ES version.


Maximum EV range

Although it’s a petrol-electric hybrid, the Lexus ES doesn’t really have an EV-only range. Yes, you can trickle away from a start on battery power alone and the car will head up to 25mph with no input from the 2.5-litre V6 petrol motor, but you have to be fantastically gentle on the accelerator pedal to keep it in just EV mode.


Even driven in this considerate way, you will cover less than a mile on battery power before the petrol motor comes into play as the ES’s battery pack just isn’t big enough for a more meaningful range. Also, this isn’t a plug-in hybrid, so all of the battery’s energy comes from regeneration as the car slows down.


MPG and fuel costs

"The Lexus ES records a best combined economy of 53.2mpg under WLTP tests, which puts this hybrid saloon on a par with its diesel-fuelled rivals. This is for the ES model, but if you choose the F Sport on its larger 19-inch wheels, the combined figure drops to 48.7mpg."

Lexus ES gearstick

Looking at Real MPG figures, the ES has notched up an average economy of 55.0mpg, which is impressive in anyone’s books for a car with a 2.5-litre V6 petrol engine.

Insurance groups and costs

The standard ES model is the easiest on your bank balance when it comes to insurance. It sits in group 33, which is much the same as for its natural rivals from other manufacturers.


Choose the F Sport and slips up to a group 34 rating, while the upscale Takumi model jumps up four notches to sit in group 38 and be the most expensive when it comes to arranging cover and your premium.


VED car tax

For the first year’s road tax, the Lexus ES model will pay £125 in tax thanks to its 100g/km carbon dioxide emissions. Should you choose the F Sport or Takumi, they emit 103g/km and you will have to pay £145 that is asked for an alternative fuel car.


In subsequent years, the ES and F Sport pay a flat rate of £140 per annum, but the Takumi owner will have to fork out £365 as this model has a list price of more than £40,000. That means you have to pay an additional £325 on top of the usual VED rate based on the car’s emissions and taxation class.


How much should you be paying for a used Lexus ES?

"A one-year-old ES 300h with 10,000 miles on the clock can be yours from around £30,000. This will be from a franchised dealer and you will have the balance of the warranty left to run. Upgrade that to an F Sport version and you will need another £1500 to buy the car."

Lexus ES boot open

Nearly new ES models are around and you should be able to save £500 on the list price of any of the three trims by going down this route or choosing a pre-registered model.


Trim levels and standard equipment

Lexus starts the ES 300h range with the eponymously named ES. It has 17-inch alloy wheels, reversing camera and the Lexus Safety System Plus that includes radar cruise control, lane departure warning and High Beam Assist. On the inside, you get an 8-inch infotainment screen that works with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sunroof, and electric front seat adjustment. There’s also man-made leather upholstery, heated front seats and steering wheel, electrically adjusted steering column, climate control, rear privacy glass and Lexus Connected Services for internet access.


Many ES buyers will upgrade with the Premium Pack that brings full leather trim, wireless phone charger, rain-sensing wipers, ventilated front seats with powered lumbar support, rear screen sun shade and Blind Spot Monitor.


The F Sport has 19-inch alloys, sporty body kit, and Adaptive Variable Suspension with Sport S+ Driving Mode. There are front sports seats with a memory function for the driver’s chair, steering wheel paddle shifters, and aluminium pedals and dash trim inserts.


With the Takumi, you get 18-inch wheels, LED headlights with High Beam Assist, and a 360-degree Panoramic View for easier parking. The seats are trimmed in leather and have a greater range of electric adjustment, while the steering wheel is covered in wood and heated. Wood is also used for the trim inserts, and you get the 12.3-inch infotainment screen, head-up display, wireless phone charging and 17-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound stereo.


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£31K - £48K
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