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Lexus ES300h review: Does this Japanese sedan stand up to the Germans?

The ES300 is the sole Lexus sedan on sale in India for now. Does it deliver?

autos Updated: May 13, 2017 10:48 IST
Nikhil Bhatia
Lexus ES300h is the first offering by the automaker in India. It’s plush and premium, but imported and so not cheap.
Lexus ES300h is the first offering by the automaker in India. It’s plush and premium, but imported and so not cheap.(Autocar India photo)

The ES 300h sedan is Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus’ range starter in India. But at Rs 55.27 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), it’s anything but cheap. That’s because it’s imported into India from Japan, which means it’s subject to the full bevy of Indian customs duties and taxes. What makes the price pinch more is that the ES has a lot in common with the Toyota Camry, its hybrid powertrain for one.

But before you rule out the ES 300h as Camry with a Lexus badge, know that the similarities between the two are deep under the skin. On the outside, there’s nothing to link the two cars. The ES 300h looks like a proper Lexus with a design that is elegant and sporty in parts too. Its oversized ‘spindle’ grille – a styling element common to all modern Lexus’ – gives the front end an imposing and distinctive look. The sharp headlights, with arrowhead LED daytime running lights, and the angular fog lamps add their own drama to the front end.

The rest of the car isn’t quite as dramatic but the ES does manage to carry off its 4.9m length with grace. Around the back, the tail-lights with the L-shaped LEDs also add a degree of distinction to the rear and you’ll also like the boot for the amount of luggage it can hold; plus it also holds a full-size spare tyre as standard.

The Lexus experience starts in earnest the moment you shut the doors. Little of the outside noise creeps in, and drivers will like the easy access to their seats – the steering rises and seat rolls backwards to ease ingress/egress and get back into pre-set position once the ignition is switched on.

The dashboard is split horizontally into display areas (instruments cluster and centre screen) and control areas (centre console and steering buttons), and the layered design looks quite attractive. The classic analogue clock adds in a bit of class too. Quality is really impressive in places, but somehow you don’t get quite the same sense of luxury as you would in European luxury sedans of similar asking price like say the BMW 5-series and Volvo S90. The power window switches and mirror adjust controls are a straight lift from the Camry and that’s a bit of a downer too.

The general look of the cabin is rather nice too. (Autocar India photo)

The ES 300h uses Lexus’ screen-based infotainment system. It’s not a touchscreen but you operate it via a central controller near the gear lever. The system takes some time getting used to, but it is intuitive to use on the go. The infotainment system offers the essentials but does miss out on Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and satnav. What does more than make amends is the superb 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.

In terms of other features, the Lexus ES 300h gets quite a lot. The sole, fully loaded variant that it comes in, gets 10 airbags, LED headlights, a sunroof, electrically adjustable and cooled front seats with memory, electric rear sunblind, three-zone climate control and a reverse camera. Curiously, the rear seats don’t recline as in the Camry.

The general look of the cabin is rather nice too. Seat comfort is largely good, and the large front leather seats are very accommodating. There’s loads of legroom in the back but a longer seat squab would have made the rear seat experience nicer still. Still, it’s a seat you will happily slouch down on after a tough day at office while sinking your feet on the thick floor carpets.

The Lexus ES 300h uses a hybrid powertrain that comprises a 160hp, 2.5-litre petrol engine and a 105kw (140hp) electric motor, both of which put out a combined output of 205hp. The electric motor draws power from a 245V nickel hydride battery pack positioned behind the rear seats.

The ES 300h can run in pure electric mode, provided there is adequate charge in the battery. This EV mode allows near-silent progress but the all-electric range is limited to a few kilometres and also requires feather-light throttle inputs. It’s when the engine kicks in that you can tell where Lexus has spent its money. Noise levels remain admirably low at all times and, even when you drive in an enthusiastic manner, the engine note is never loud.

The machines under the skin -- a 160hp, 2.5-litre petrol engine and a 105kw (140hp) electric motor, both of which put out a combined output of 205hp. (Autocar India photo)

Lexus claims a 0-100kph time of 8.5sec for the ES 300h, which is respectable. Acceleration is brisk and the ES picks up pace from all speeds with ease. You can also fine-tune the driving experience with the three driving modes on offer – Eco, Normal and Sport, all of which offer decent amount of performance. However, more than driving it hard, you’ll find yourself naturally adopting a more relaxed driving style. It’s a calming car to drive and its easy-going nature makes it likeable in its own way. Still, if and when you do drive it hard, you’ll find that the CVT gearbox makes the engine sound strained; thankfully, the system is responsive to manual shifts at the gear lever.

What will be of interest to all and sundry is the ES 300h’s ride quality. The suspension is really absorbent and works really quietly too. There’s an underlying firmness to the ride, but the overall experience is rather plush.

The ES 300h is expensive and will remain so until Lexus starts locally assembling it some time down the line. Its strengths lie in its relaxing persona, efficient powertrain (the official ARAI figure is 17.8kpl) and the fact that it’s got a degree of novelty that many luxury buyers want from their Rs 50 lakh plus cars. But then again, in certain areas, the ES isn’t quite up there with rivalling European luxury sedans.

The Lexus’ “Spindle” grille adds a lot of drama at the front. (Autocar India photo)

But the Lexus experience, the carmaker promises, is not going to be about only what you can see and feel. Lexus cars are renowned the world over for reliability and a relatively low cost of ownership and these are aspects that count for a lot in India.

As things stand, Lexus already has a ready market, comprising satisfied Toyota Fortuner and Innova owners looking for an upgrade. If the brand lives up to the promised experience, positive word of mouth publicity could help steal buyers away from German luxury sedans too.