Road tests 10.10.2018 10:30 am

DRIVEN: All-new Lexus ES puts the sexy back in sedan

www.cornelvanheerden.com

www.cornelvanheerden.com

New releases offer an affordable gateway to a premium brand.

It’s no secret that the popularity of sedans has been on the wane ever since SUVs became the flavour of the day.

In August alone, Volkswagen sold more than three times as many Tiguans in South Africa than they did Jettas, Toyota sold three times more Fortuners than they did Corollas and Hyundai sold more than six times the number of Tucsons and Cretas combined than they did Elantras.

Sedans are not dead – well, not yet – but they are not thriving either in the midst of the rate in which the number of SUVs and multiple crossovers enter the market nowadays.

And the new models keep on getting funkier with a constant emphasis on the “millennials”.

With that said, I’m technically just too old to fit the millennial bill, but even I have to admit that a Nissan Qashqai is definitely better looking than a boring old Almera and that a Honda HR-V beats the Ballade in the aesthetics stakes.

So when Lexus sent out invites to the launch of their all-new Lexus ES in the Western Cape last week, I couldn’t help but let out a loud sigh and think: “How exciting can this possibly be? A brand perceived to be out of Joe Average’s reach trying to re-introduce something in a country where their sales aren’t exactly wow.”

But being ignorant to the old cliche about not judging a book by its cover, my pre-conceived conceptions had me eating humble pie sooner rather than later when first setting eyes on the two models that will be on offer, the ES 250 EX and the ES300h SE.

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Toyota’s official take on the latest Lexus offering is that “traditional buyers will find the new ES more spacious, quieter and safer than ever before, while a new generation of customers will be introduced to a sedan with sharpened performance, safety technology and a level of craftsmanship rarely found in this market segment”.

That is pretty much spot on, but instead of using the word “sexy”, Lexus opted for “provocative elegance” as the new ES goes a long way in breaking down the conventional boxiness so commonly found in any size of sedan.

The spindle grille, which has become a signature feature of Lexus vehicle design, provides a starting point for the car’s design theme, generating lines which flow through the body and converge at the rear.

And, speaking of the rear, the new ES at the back is clean and sharply chiselled, with LED lamps that wrap around the quarter panels to generate a continuous styling line.

Because the car is built on an entirely new chassis, designers had the opportunity to push the limits and therefore the new ES is 65mm longer and 45mm wider than its predecessor.

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And in a break with past generations, the design features a rearward-sloping fast roofline that emphasises the vehicle’s lower stance and slippery aerodynamics.

Two different 17-inch and 18- inch wheel designs are available for the ES models.

The 250 is equipped with 17-inch multi-spoke cast alloy wheels and the hybrid runs on 18-inch Hyper Chrome Cast Alloy noise-reducing wheels, featuring a turbine design.

But it’s on the inside that this car really comes into its own. It is a wonderful marriage of elegance, comfort and simplicity.

The finishing of the leather upholstery, the distinctive hand-stitching on the dashboard and the display on both the infotainment system and instrument cluster will mislead you into thinking this vehicle is more expensive then it actually is.

The analog clock built into the centre console next to the 12.3-inch screen didn’t find favour with everyone, though. It is almost like the designers were trying too hard to add a little extra class by popping this little number in.

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My honest opinion is that if the watch maker’s name is Rolex and this in the Centre Court at Wimbledon, then have an analog clock on display.

If not, rather leave it. It’s also on the inside where you realise why the hybrid is more than R250 000 more expensive than the 250.

A 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, navigation, heads up display, rear seat warmers, rear seat centre control console, steering wheel heating, semi-aniline leather wooden inserts in the steering wheel, dash and doors and a whole host of additional safety features are all standard features on the hybrid model.

While the 250 sports all of 10 airbags, it’s the hybrid that got the lion’s share of safety goodies from the latest Lexus Safety System+.

These include the PreCrash System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert,l Adaptive High-Beam System and Blind Spot Monitor Moving to the engine, the biggest change from the previous model to the current one is the eight-speed Direct Shift automatic transmission fitted on both models.

Compared to the previous six-speed automatic, the eight-speed Direct Shift transmission has a wider range of ratios, designed to return improved fuel consumption and more responsive performance.

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Although the 2.5-litre in-line four-cylinder engine which produces 152kW of power and 162Nm of torque on offer in the 250 won’t win you many street races, it does offer 17kW more than its predecessor and combines well for seamless shifts in the very impressive gearbox.

The claimed fuel consumption of 6.6l/100km is also very attractive.

The hybrid, which Lexus claims will use only 4.6l/100km, couples the aforementioned ultra-efficient 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder petrol engine with a lighter, more compact and more power-dense electric motor.

The nickel metal-hydride battery that powers the electric motor has been relocated from the boot to underneath the back seat. Its total system power is 160kW and Lexus claims that it can record a very laudable 8.9sec on the 0-100km sprint.

Although drive mode is adjustable between Eco, Normal an Sport on both models, the difference performance-wise between the three wasn’t really overwhelming expect for a bit more engine noise when in Sport mode.

Although the design of the front suspension is similar to the previous ES, several changes have been made to improve overall responsiveness, which we experienced first-hand on comfortably negotiating the winding mountain-passes around Franschoek and Stellenbosch.

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To make both models even more attractive, Lexus announced that they will come standard with a superb seven-year/105 000km full maintenance plan which will even be backdated to previous models which qualify for this.

All in all, the new ES hits the spot with the 250. Like Lexus would like to boast, it is cheaper and bigger than both premium small SUVs and mid-sized premium sedans.

It is very spacious and easily swallows four adults and plenty of suitcases.

The previous model was already the brand’s best local seller since 2013 and the new one should undoubtedly follow that trend.

At a price tag of R593k it’s difficult to think of it as “the poor man’s Lexus”, but that is exactly what it is. It offers a gateway to a premium brand.

The hybrid will be a harder sell, because even with all the added features, its R843 800 price tag places it in a tough bracket alongside premium competitors also fitted with all the bells and whistles.

But I’ll leave that for “millennials” to ponder over their kale smoothies…

What we like.

  • High-quality finishing.
  • Seven year/105 000km service plan.

What we do not like.

  • The lack of navigation in ES250.
  • Cheesy analog clock in dashboard.

Verdict. 

  • ES250 offers bang for your buck with the potential of luring buyers away from SUVs.

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