Lexus introduced its first luxury hybrid more than 10 years ago, and now offers six hybrid models – more than any other luxury brand.
The most popular model is the ES 300h sedan. With its coupe-like profile, the ES 300h offers amazing fuel economy at 40 mpg city/30 highway, accommodating the hybrid technology without sacrificing anything.
This vehicle has as much headroom in the rear as in the front, at 37.5 inches, despite the sweeping roofline, and almost as much legroom in the rear with 40 inches, compared to 41.9 inches in the front. The trunk, often compromised in hybrid vehicles, holds 12.1 cubic feet of cargo.
Based on the Toyota Camry, the ES 300h has a non-hybrid design language, with the Lexus spindle grille, L-themed LED daytime running lights, exclusive split-five-spoke ("V") 17-inch alloy wheels with all-season low-rolling-resistance tires, hidden exhaust pipe, rear lip spoiler, and blue hybrid badges. The sweeping roofline contributes to low wind resistance to help reduce fuel consumption and minimize wind noise.
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The 2015 ES hybrid has a new standard multimedia system, display audio with backup camera, perforated NuLuxe upholstery, Slacker and iHeartRadio 4.0 added to Lexus Enform App Suite, revised Remote Touch Interface knob, and new available Enform Remote with smartphone control.
With subscription-based Enform Remote, new to the Enform group of connected services, the driver is able to view and control certain vehicle features such as door lock/unlock, remote start and climate control, vehicle finder, and more via smartphone, using a downloadable app.
With six models to choose from, prices for Lexus hybrids range from $32,200 for a basic CT (small crossover) to $120,440 for a top-of-the-line LS (sedan).
For this report, I drove the an ES 300h, priced at $40,430 before options. The Lexus Hybrid Drive system's standard engine/motor combination included a 2.5-liter dual cam in-line four-cylinder with a high-output permanent-magnet electric motor, producing a total of 200 horsepower. The engine and drive motor are connected to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The hybrid drive system operates seamlessly, and together with the CVT can achieve zero-60 mph in 8.1 seconds. There are four driving modes to tailor the driving experience: Normal for an ideal blend of performance and efficiency; Sport for a more-engaging experience; Eco for fuel economy; and EV for driving short distances at lower speeds, using power from the battery pack.
During my test, I drove the ES 300h over 1,000 miles and used Eco mode and cruise control for most of the trip, resulting in 37.7 average mpg.
As a bonus, the gasoline engine has an electric water pump, electric power steering and an integrated hybrid electric motor/generator and uses no accessory belts. Beltless operation helps improve reliability and fuel economy.
My tester was Deep Sea Mica, one of nine available exterior colors including the new Atomic Silver. The Light Gray interior was trimmed with bamboo and pewter-color metallic. The top-stitched leather on the seats and armrests, the bamboo and pewter-color metallic on the doors, dash, and steering wheel, and the piano black on the console and center stack projected luxury.
My 300h had a Luxury Package ($1,370), which included the Premium Package with the bamboo trim, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, leather-trimmed shifter, memory for driver’s seat, outside mirrors and steering wheel, and remote keyless entry-linked memory, and added heated and cooled perforated-leather front seats.
The keyless entry-linked memory detects which of two keys is being used and sets the seat, mirror and steering-wheel positions to the preprogrammed preferences of the driver who has whichever key.
Both packages required the addition of a navigation system, with two to choose from. My tester had the Hard Disc Drive Navigation, which added $1,795 and included a backup camera, eight-inch screen, voice command, DVD/CD player, remote touch controller, Lexus Enform Remote, Lexus Enform Destination Assist and App Suite.
Subscription-free App Suite uses voice commands to search the Internet through Bing, listen to Internet radio, check out business reviews on Yelp, make dinner reservations through OpenTable, get movie tickets with MovieTickets.com, and check in on Facebook Places.
While most of App Suite is entertainment-based, subscription-required Enform Safety Connect and Enform Destination Services are utilitarian. Enform Safety connect is standard on all vehicles. Enform Destination comes with optional navigation systems. Similar to GM's OnStar, response centers are available 24/7 to provide assistance in any situation.
Second-generation Remote Touch Interface, included in my tester’s navigation package, controlled climate, audio system, phone, navigation and more using a joystick-style controller on the center console, allowing for selection of functions with a cursor on a screen on the center dashboard. The controller is conveniently located at fingertip distance, but is super-sensitive and jumpy – distracting while driving, especially with the beeping cursor.
The ES 300h cabin is really quiet, ideal for enjoying the standard eight-speaker Lexus Premium Sound System with single CD player, USB/Ipod, satellite radio, and Automatic Sound Levelizer to adjust the volume according to noise in the cabin.
A Navigation/Premium Audio Package for $3,745 offers twice the amenities, including 5.1 Surround Sound, wide-view backup camera, SMS Text-to-Speech with Reply, Gracenotes Media Management, NavTraffic, NavWeather, fuel prices, sports, and stocks from Sirius XM, and much more. Both navigation systems feature a bird’s eye map with 3-D building views.
HID headlights were required for the Luxury Package, and included LED daytime running lights; the package cost $565. A power rear sunshade was also required, for $210, along with Intuitive Park Assist, which added $500. A bamboo-and-leather steering-wheel package tacked on an additional $300.
The Display Audio had a seven-inch touch-screen, HD Radio, Bluetooth audio, complimentary traffic and weather data, vehicle information display, automatic phonebook transfer, and cache radio. Cache radio allows live radio to be paused for up to 15 minutes and enjoyed later if you happen to be preoccupied at the time.
The screen can display up to three functions at the same time on separate sections. I used the navigation/map with audio information combination, but HVAC, traffic and MID can also be displayed. Up-to-date and predictive traffic information using Clear Channel Total Traffic Network (15 minute updates) with detour preview, available fuel stations and improved arrival-time calculations can be helpful with on-the-go trip planning.
In 2014, the ES 300h aquired Siri Eyes Free Mode, which puts Siri at your service to call contacts, get turn-by-turn navigation, select and play music from iTunes, and much more using iPhones from the 4S model forward.
Standard safety equipment includes 10 air bags, with driver and front passenger knee bags, front and seat-mounted bags, rear seat-mounted side air bags, and front and rear side-curtain bags.
There also are whiplash-lessening front seats; vehicle stability control with traction control; antilock braking with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist; Smart Stop Technology (to reduce engine power when the brake is pressed fully, even if the accelerator is also depressed); energy managing crumple zones; side door beams; theft deterrent system with engine immobilizer; and Safety Connect with automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, SOS button, and enhanced roadside assistance.
The ES 300h comes with a hybrid system warranty for eight years or 100,000 miles, covering the hybrid control module, battery control module, hybrid battery and inverter with converter.
My tester had a total of $5,640 in options, including a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, a $500 option, and a Power Trunk Closer, for $400.
With all the options and $925 freight, the total sticker price was $46,995.
The automotive columns of Emma Jayne William have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 2007. Contact her at email@example.com.