2013 Lexus ES 350 & ES 300h HD Video Review

Back in 1989, Toyota launched a new premium brand called Lexus with just two cars, the LS 400 and ES 250.  It was a small start but the impact was huge.  Mercedes and BMW sales took an immediate hit when the value priced Japanese premium vehicles hit our shores.  Lexus went on to become the largest luxury car brand in the US for years, proving it was no fad.

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The ES is the best selling sedan in the Lexus lineup (though the best selling vehicle is the RX crossover).  The new 6th generation ES will be arriving in Lexus stores in August and considering its success, you’d think they wouldn’t waver an iota from the original comfy formula.  Of course that line means you know exactly where this review is headed.

Different in a Calculated Sort of Way

To begin with, there are now two ES models- the standard ES 350 and the hybrid ES 300h (the hybrid is on the left in the above photo).  Both are on hand for the press launch outside of Portland, OR.  I’m focusing on the 350 since Lexus thinks 75% of buyers with choose it.  I hope to snag a 300h later this summer for a full review.  The Matador Red 350 in the video is an Ultra Luxury model.

ES has been a car with soft lines and an even softer ride quality.  A BMW M3 this is not and that’s okay because many buyers are looking for comfort.  Still, Lexus found even current owners wanted it to “man up” a bit.  And so it has.

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The 2013 car is an inch longer with a wheelbase upped by nearly two. Helped by ultra high-strength steel pieces, it sheds some 50 pounds.  Both 350 and 300h get the new face of Lexus- the aggressive “spindle” grill.  The front end and C-pillar are more upright this time around.  A dramatic repositioning this is not, but it keeps ES fresh.

The interior goes from a very simple soft touch plastic dashboard to one with a dramatic modular appearance.  Emphasis on horizontal lines make it appear wider.  Stitching on the instrument panel, metallic panels and a more macho steering wheel give ES more swagger.

More Confidence

That attitude continues with the driving experience. Certainly ES remains quiet and comfortable but the driving dynamic has definitely been sharpened.  The 2013 car feels more buttoned down, there’s less float over bumps and on-center feel is more confident.

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This is the result of revised strut valve setting, new opposite-wound springs up front and a revised independent suspension in the rear.  The steering ratio goes from 16.0:1 to 14.8:1 for quicker response.  There’s a “sport” setting that ups the gas pedal response and gives the steering wheel a heftier feel but does nothing to change the suspension setting.

Power Play

The 350 is powered by the familiar 3.5-liter V6 that makes 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm.  The 6-speed transmission with manual mode gets some new gear ratios.  In addition to “sport”, there’s “eco” mode that squeezes out an extra mile or two from a gallon of gas.

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Acceleration is pretty darn brisk with just a hint of growl under hard throttle.  0-60 happens in about seven seconds and there’s little to no torque steer (that tugging of the steering wheel under hard throttle).  ES remains a front-wheel drive car.

To make your driving experience more relaxing, radar assisted cruise control is available.  Lane Departure Alert lets you know when you start wandering over the road lines.  ES has gone through the trouble of sharpening up, it wants you to do the same.

The ES 350 improves to deliver an EPA rated 21 MPG city, 31 highway.  The 2012 scored 19/27.

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Additional Tech

In addition to the new masculine vibe inside the cabin (the spindle grille is mimicked in the shape of the center stack) there’s new tech.  Blind spot warning helps to keep you out of trouble.  The Enform system can run apps like Bing search and Pandora streaming audio using the data plan from your smart phone.   When backing up, cross path detection warns if traffic is coming from the side.

The optional 835-watt, 15 speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system is highly recommended if you take your music seriously.  Seats are heated and cooled in the Luxury package, they get more side bolstering too.  Go with the top-of-the-line Ultra Luxury package and there’s a heated steering wheel along with attractive ambient lighting in the dash and door panels.

Remote.  Touch.

Personally, I’m a touch screen kind of guy so I’m lukewarm to the Remote Touch interface, even with its haptic feedback.  You might be different; it’s one of those things you need to experience for yourself.

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Each smart key contains the memory setting for the seats, mirrors, wheel position, climate setting and radio presets of the user.  Nice that lock sensors are on all four doors so a simple touch opens any of them.

Gripes? A power-operated shade would come in handy with the optional panoramic roof, the transmission lever in this pre-production car is hardly silky smooth, check for that when you’re shopping.  A manual parking brake is less Lexus, more Toyota.

Moving Rearward

A warning- you’ll be very popular with the carpool crowd if you buy this car, the back seat is very spacious. There’s nearly 3 more inches of knee room now, legroom’s up by 4, headroom adds nearly an inch.  It would be easy for three adults to get comfortable in the sculpted seats.  Surprising there is no heated seats or climate zone in the back, even with the Ultra Luxury package.  No door storage either.

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At least there’s a power port, folding armrest and pockets on both seats.  My Ultra Luxury tester is equipped with a power rear sunshade and manual units for the side glass, even the small quarter window.

When I travel, my bath tissue supply is far away so in this case the TP is replaced by my luggage.  How strangely normal.  My standard sized suitcase, tripod bag, computer satchel and camera case fit easily so even if you over pack, luggage for a long weekend should be no problem. The motor for the optional power lid takes up very little space.  Seats don’t fold, there’s just a ski pass through on the 350 (and nothing at all on the 300h).

Safety?  The ES is built with more high strength steel this time and there are 10 airbags including knee units up front and side torso bags for the rear passengers.  Enform with Safety Connect is a much like OnStar.  A year’s worth of service is included.

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A Quick Look at the 300h Hybrid Model

Other than the badges, the only real exterior differences seem to be the blue trimmed Lexus logos and the lack of visible tailpipes.  300h gets a standard rear spoiler that’s an option on 350.

The gas engine is 156 hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder that runs on the Atkinson cycle.  Total system horsepower including the electric motor/generator is 200.  The water pump, power steering, and AC are electric, so there’s no accessory belt.

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The transmission switches from a six-speed to a continuously variable unit.  Switch into sport mode and the energy gauge turns into a tachometer.

The big news inside is the wood goes from the 350’s birds eye maple to “eco friendly” bamboo.  Looks great but it’s hard to believe it makes any kind of significant carbon footprint difference.

Like all Toyota hybrids 300h can pull away on electric power alone.  The gas engine powers up when more oomph is needed.  The battery gets charged when coasting and braking.  At just over eight seconds, 300h is about a second slower to 60 miles an hour than the 350 but that’s made up by 40 mpg in the city, 39 highway.

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As you might imagine the 245-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack takes up space in the trunk, 3 cubic feet to be exact so the trunk remains good sized.

Pricing?

Prices won’t be set until the 2013s start arriving in August.  My guestimate is that the 350 will start at around 38 grand with destination, fully loaded around 48.  The Lexus folks on hand only hinted that the 300h’s price premium will be the smallest ever for a Lexus product.

The ES is a good solid update to a good solid car.  It gets a stronger personality but still keeps it’s sensitive side intact.  It’s perfect for real estate agents who need a comfortable ride, a big back seat and a car that says “success” without saying “you’re paying me too much”.  The ES 350 is founding member of the Lexus family that’s keeping up with the times.

FULL GALLERY BELOW (POINTS IF YOU CAN TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE 350 AND 300h). ALL STILL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY LEXUS. AS ALWAYS, TOM SHOOTS THE MOVIES.

15 Comments

  1. love1932 says:

    It does. Thanks. Great job!!!!

  2. raschmidt says:

    I didnt like this model in the pictures, but seeing it move around in the video it doesn’t look so bad. Can’t say I like the new interior designs on Lexus’s, looks a little too BMW/Infiniti. I am very interested to see how the 2013 MKZ matches up against this, the hybrid is supposed to get 5mpg better than the ES300h.

    Tom, I’m assuming you’ve driven the Buick LaCrosse, how do you think it compares against this new ES?

    • TV says:

      It’s been awhile since I’ve been in the seat of a LaCrosse so I won’t compare too much. Personally, I really like the look of the Buick inside and out. Very dramatic. When I had it, I was stopped in parking lots by people who were very impressed. I would definitely cross shop the two. I’m very curious about the new Lincoln too. The pics look great, the roof is dramatic. The question is how will it look in person and how well will it drive…

      • raschmidt says:

        I think it would take alot for Ford to screw up the driving dynamics of the MKZ. The current one is decent enough, and from what I hear about the current Mondeo it’s also a great car to drive. I’m impressed with the gas mileage the new MKZ is supposed to get, the hybrid will beat the ES300h by 5-10mpg. Usually Lexus updates the engines a year or two into the model, that 3.5 V6 hasn’t been touched since 07, it’ll be interesting to see what comes next.

  3. fatbaldandhappy says:

    I’m confused by this car- especially the styling. From some angles I like it, from other angles it looks very bland. Seems to be a case where it needs to be seen in person to make a fair assessment. I’m surprised by the engine choice- relatively large displacement, normally aspirated. Seems like most manufacturers are going smaller motors with some kind of forced induction. The price brings a lot of other options into the picture. It would be hard for me to choose an ES 350 over a new 3 series. I like the interior, but in an age where touch screens are everywhere I find it strange they went with the joystick thingamajig.

    Throughout the review I found myself thinking; yeah- I guess that’s okay, I kind of like that, that’s pretty good… But nothing jumped out at me as something I had to have or really wanted. For most people (myself included)- a ransom of $40K+ in small unmarked bills had better have some significant excitement attached. Then again, Lexus has always been more about comfortably forgettable, than “I can’t wait to do that again!” excitement.

  4. Risky says:

    Noticed that this car only comes in FWD like so many others right now. In your experience TV, do we Seattleites need AWD given the added weight and complexity or can vehicles like this, Acura TL, Volvo s60 keep us on the road?

    • TV says:

      Need? FWD is enough for most drivers 99 percent of the time. That said, AWD is really nice on wet NW roads, especially when you’re trying to dart out between cars at a challenging intersection. It makes a noticable difference. The security and confidence AWD gives you in that kind of situation is very reassuring. It obviously helps in snow conditions too.

      Because of that secure feeling, I snagged a used but mint XC70 for a production vehilce. Got it just before the big snow storm, couldn’t have been happier. It’s why Subarus are so popular here.

      S60 is available in AWD BTW. Does that answer your question?

  5. motorstreet says:

    Why would somebody pay $46000 for a Camry or even $38000 for a Camry? Toyota’s own Avalon seems like a much better car and it’s cheaper. The redesigned 2013 Avalon is also much better looking than the ES.

    • brorowcarwiz says:

      If I’m not mistaken, the 2013 ES now rides on the Avalon’s platform unlike years past where it was a Camry underneath. This gives you more rear legroom.

      • motorstreet says:

        It’s still a Camry, it just has a longer wheelbase. The current Avalon is considerably larger despite sharing the same wheelbase, the 2013 will be slightly shorter than the current car.

        • brorowcarwiz says:

          Styling is subjective, I personally prefer the ES. I know this sounds dumb to say, but the Lexus dealers are fantastic. I guess you pay a little more for that? But a current 2012 Avalon starts out around $33k and goes up to around $39k. I would assume prices for the 2013 would be similar. At $39k for a fully loaded Avalon, I would want a base ES instead. Just my opinion…

  6. brorowcarwiz says:

    Love the review! You were right on the money. Many members of my family have driven Lexuses (Lexi?) since their debut. Everything from SC400s to LS400s (both sweet cars!) to my mother’s old GX470 and a few ES’s. One family member has had every single generation RX. I have started to dislike Lexus since the early 2000s; the cars were geared towards women and people that generally disliked to drive. Hey, if that sells, what do I know… Finally got mother to switch over to an Acura MDX (I actually got her in the showroom based on large part to your review of it!) and she loves it.
    I am quite impressed to where Lexus is intending to go with their brand. The LFA was cool and all but it did not do a whole lot for me… a low volume super car can’t change a brand’s bland volume sellers. But then the new GS came out…It is an absolutely stunning car! I obviously haven’t driven the new ES yet but I can’t wait to! The design is gorgeous in my opinion. I do have one quibble… I saw a 2013 RX (the updated one) and I believe they absolutely ruined the front end. My grandmother’s pre-refresh 2010 looks much better, even if it does drive like a pillow… Can’t wait for the full redesign! My beloved Acura now has a full brand competitor. Thanks for the review of the new ES. I trust your reviews… most truthful in my opinion.