As prevalent as hybrid drivetrains have become in recent years, it is almost a given that any reference made to a term that once rated as a drawn-out swearword would result in Toyota and its luxury division, Lexus, being mentioned at some point.
Ever since the Prius, models sporting the famed ‘‘Hybrid Synergy Drive’’ or ‘‘h’’ nomenclatures on their bootlids have become as much a part of the automotive landscape as they have infuriated petrolheads across the globe for their promised but often controversial green credentials.
Unexpectedly, South Africa is well known for not conforming to the global status quo in a number of fields, and although the demand for SUVs breaks from that “the world goes one way and we go the other” mantra, petrol or diesel engines are still the preferred methods of motivation with hybrids more than a distant third.
This, together with the drastic slump in sales of the traditional three-box sedan, has seemingly not fazed Lexus in expanding the ES range to now include a third model in the shape of the 300h EX. Slotting in between the petrol-powered ES250 EX and the flagship ES300h SE, the EX retains most of the former’s standard specification items, albeit with the claimed advantages of the hybrid powertrain and at a lowered sticker price.
While the sleek and stately exterior of the EX has been retained, along with a touch of aggression in the form of the fan-shaped Lexus Spindle Grille and L-shaped LED daytime running lights integrated into the headlights, the interior is the main drawing card with its subtle chrome inserts and leather on every surface.
In typical Lexus fashion, the cabin is hard to fault from a quality standpoint, even if the switch for the drive mode selector on the side of the instrument cluster binnacle appears out of sorts and the inclusion of otherwise acceptable paddle shifters unnecessary in a car that’s not made to be driven vigorously.
Topped by an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system that is still sadly controlled by the frustrating mouse-like touchpad, the EX’s list of niceties includes a 10-speaker Lexus Premium sound system, heated front seats, a 15 GB in-car Wi-Fi bundle, seven airbags, dual-zone climate control, a reverse camera with rear parking sensors and cruise control to name but a few.
As mentioned though, the ES is all about comfort and out on the launch route on the N1 leading out of Sandton, the combination of the softly sprung suspension and 17-inch alloy wheels, cosseting faux leather trimmed chairs and superb levels of refinement lends the impression that you are a piloting a vehicle residing in a higher segment.
It is however the back where the ES stands out. With an overall length of 4 975 mm and wheelbase of 2 870 mm, rear passenger legroom is excellent with the addition of a central armrest containing two cupholders adding to the limousine-like feel. Headroom however is merely sufficient as the sloping roofline will leave taller passengers with some discomfort. As expected though, the boot is capacious with Lexus claiming a total capacity of 425 litres.
Given its status as a luxury cruiser, it comes as no surprise that the ES300h EX is anything but scintillating out of the blocks. Utilising a 2.5-litre normally aspirated petrol engine paired to an electric motor, the setup translates to combined output of 160kW/221Nm that is sent to the front wheels via an eCVT transmission.
Tipping the scales at 1 740 kg, progress is best described as relaxing with the petrol and electric motors going about their respective roles in an almost seamless manner with little fanfare. Similarly, the eCVT is geared towards efficiency, and in spite of its smooth shifts in the confines of the concrete jungle, it becomes vocal and causes the engine to sound strained when excessive throttle input is delivered.
In a time where SUVs have become the mainstay, the big Lexus comes as a breath of fresh air by harking back to traditional luxury motoring in the form of a comfortable and spacious sedan crammed full of kit. Combine these attributes with the hybrid powertrain, the ES300h EX simply offers incredible value for its R774 300 sticker price that no rival, or comparative SUV, will come close to matching.
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