Just last year, Lexus introduced the first hybrid version of its ES midsize luxury sedan, the ES 300h, with the distinctive Lexus spindle grille and the same enhanced handling of the redesigned ES 350.With last year’s makeover, the ES has a lower profile, longer wheelbase and attractive clean lines, and Lexus uses the same styling on both the gasoline-only and hybrid models. In other words, the ES 300h doesn’t look like a typical hybrid at all.Built on the chassis of the redesigned Toyota Camry, which also comes in a new hybrid model, the ES essentially is an upscale version of the Camry. The ES 300h comes in only one trim, with front-wheel drive, but lots of options are available, including leather seats, heated steering wheel and cooled seats. My 2014 ES 300h (base price $39,350 plus $910 freight) came with a Fire Agate Pearl (black) exterior color and a Parchment NuLuxe vinyl interior, black windowsills and dash, and bamboo wood trim.The bamboo wood is part of the Ultimate Luxury Package ($2,435), which also includes a memory system for the driver and front passenger seat, steering wheel and outside mirrors (all linked to the remote keyless entry fob), heated and ventilated front seats, rear sunshades, driver’s seat power cushion extender, ambient lighting, and a power tilt/telescopic steering wheel.The test vehicle also had lane-departure alert with intelligent high-beam headlights ($965); the hard-disk-drive navigation system, $2,625; bamboo and leather-trimmed steering wheel ($450), trunk mat, cargo net and wheel locks ($252); blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert ($500); power trunk closer ($400); intuitive parking assist ($500); and rain-sensing wipers with de-icer ($155).The 300h has the same drive system as the Camry hybrid: a 2.5-liter dual-cam inline four-cylinder engine coupled with a high-output permanent-magnet electric drive motor, producing a total of 200 horsepower.EPA ratings are 40 mpg in the city and 39 on the highway. Actual mileage depends on the driver’s judicious use of braking and coasting — which apparently takes a little practice to master. According to the information folder, I averaged 39.5 mpg without seriously attempting to optimize fuel economy.Together with the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission, my tester had all the power I needed. And thanks to the four-wheel independent strut suspension with gas-pressured shock absorbers, the ride was smooth as well as quiet.There are three driving-mode selections—EV, Normal, and Sport. EV mode allows the vehicle to travel short distances at a lower speed, using the electric motor alone.The navigation system included a backup camera; eight-inch color screen; Lexus Enform with AppSuite, Destination Assist and eDestination, Lexus Insider and voice command; a single DVD/CD player; and HD radio with SiriusXM NavTraffic, NavWeather and SiriusXM sports and stocks.It included a premium audio system with satellite radio, eight speakers, CD/MP3/WMA playback, automatic sound levelizer, Bluetooth technology and USB connection.Lexus Enform allows remote trip planning via computer or mobile phone using eDestination, while Destination Assist provides 24-hour live assistance from a response center, similar to General Motors’ OnStar.The in-car controls were easy to use, in spite of multiple folders and screens for audio and media, climate, phone, and navigation. The folders were clearly labeled and intuitive.Lexus uses voice activation for the navigation system, or a mouse-like joystick controller with a wrist rest, neither of which requires the driver to reach across to a touch screen.Enform also includes Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Location, Emergency Assistance Button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance – just like OnStar. The App Suite includes Bing, iHeartRadio, Movietickets.com, OpenTable, Pandora, Yelp and Facebook Places. Enform requires a subscription and Lexus includes one year free.The Info folder included average fuel consumption/mileage, traffic incidents, local fuel prices and weather for major cities, including local watches and warnings.The Lexus Personalized Setting — dealer programmed — allows the owner to customize certain electronic functions such as automatic door locks, power windows, illuminated entry, theft-deterrent system and moon roof operation.I found the ES to be very comfortable and nicely designed, with sueded headliner and visors; top-stitching on the armrests, dash, seats and steering wheel; a Piano Black control panel and shifter surround; large front map pockets and a driver’s side knee-level cubby; easy-to-find hood, trunk and fuel-door buttons; dual climate controls with rear vents; and even a fairly comfortable middle seat in the rear.The rear seat had three tethers for child safety seats with anchors in the outboard positions and three adjustable headrests.Front legroom was 41.9 inches, while rear legroom was a decent 40 inches. Front and rear headroom were both 37.5 inches. While headroom was the same, the sloped roofline over the rear door required even a short woman to duck to enter.Of course, Lexus has impressive safety features, such as energy-managing crumple zones and side door beams; front knee air bags; front and rear seat-mounted side impact air bags; front and rear side-curtain air bags; and three-point restrains in all positions, with pretensioners and force limiters in the outboard positions.Electronic stability control, antilock braking, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and Smart Stop technology are standard.Other available exterior colors include Starfire Pearl, Nebula Gray Pearl, Silver Lining Metallic, Obsidian, Cerulean Blue Metallic, Matador Red, Satin Cashmere and Deep Sea Mica, with Parchment, Light Gray or Black vinyl or leather interiors.With freight and options, the total sticker price of my 2014 ES 300h was $48,542.
The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams appear weekly in the Star-Telegram. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.