Back in the old days, I used to regard Lexus cars as vehicles no one wanted because I subscribed to the opinion that only the Germans were capable of building viable luxury cars.
That has changed over the years and now people buy cars not because they are popular but because they offer comfort, refinement and luxury.
Which brings us to the seventh-generation Lexus ES 300h I drove recently.
I will not go into detail about the car’s looks – the photographs will serve that purpose.
The thought-provoking part is how this Japanese car squares up against direct market competitors like the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E Class.
Built on a new platform called GA-K, it has grown. It is 65mm longer, 5mm lower and 45mm wider than the model it replaces.
On a trip to Mpumalanga, about 480km away, the Lexus ES performed in a most pleasing way.
Making the drive easier is navigation, a Mark Levinson sound system, four USB ports (two front, two back), a 12.3-inch multimedia display and a second-generation remote touchpad control.
Using the infotainment system was easy, thanks to that touchpad in the centre console.
The big boot managed to gulp our luggage with ease and we still had enough space to seat five grown-ups. Seating position for the driver is spot-on with all round visibility, thanks to the height adjustable seats and steering wheel. Rear passengers are treated to power reclining heated seats and sun blinds.
There is a mobile phone charging pad. Safety comes from a host of features, such as lane departure assist, front collision warning, blind-spot monitor, adaptive cruise control, adaptive highbeam system, rear cross alert, pre-crash system and 10 airbags.
Also attractive is the self-charging hybrid system, which had a remarkable effect on fuel economy.
There is a lighter, compact and more power-dense electric motor paired to a nippy four-cylinder 2.5-litre petrol engine, with a combined power output of 160kW.
A six-speed automatic CVT gearbox has, to my mind, unnecessary paddle shifters. It’s not a race car, but can sprint from 0- 100km/h in 8.9 seconds en route to an electronically governed top speed of 180km/h.
What does the electric motor do?
You need to learn how to drive the car efficiently.
It can run on electricity alone at low speeds, but automatically starts the engine when you press the accelerator pedal with intent.
You feel when the engine starts, but the transition is smooth.
How does it recharge?
The primary drive motor also works as a generator to recharge the battery pack, as does the regenerative-braking system. So you need to watch your braking inputs and anticipate traffic to let the motor run to recharge the battery.
In addition, the engine charges the battery pack, mostly while cruising downhill.
The ES 300h performs well, although the engine does get noisy during hard acceleration inputs – I blame the CVT gearbox. It attacks corners with style and composure.
It is comfortable, even on gravel, thanks to MacPherson struts at the front and a trailing arm, multi-link setup at the rear. There are three driving modes – Normal, Eco and Sport.
My drive was mostly done in Normal which, according to Lexus, provides an optimal balance between driving performance and fuel efficiency.
During my week with the car, I managed to get fuel consumption down to around 6.7 l/100km and on the highway, the numbers hovered around 4.6l/100km – which is also claimed by Lexus.
It retails for R843 800 and included is a best-in-class seven-year/105 000km warranty and full maintenance plan. Vehicle service intervals are every 15 000km, or once a year.
- Fuel efficient
- Styling cues on point
- Engine can feel underpowered at overtaking speeds
Lexus is headed to the right direction with the ES