Review: 2015 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid

by Paul Strauss
Review: 2015 Lexus ES 300h Hybridzoom in

    2015 Lexus ES 300h

  • Powertrain: 2.5L 4-cylinder gas engine + electric motor hybrid
  • City/Hwy/Combined MPG: 40/39 (40 combined)
  • Curb Weight (lb): 3,660
  • Wheelbase (in): 111.0
  • Total Length (in): 192.7
  • Width (in): 71.1 (w/o mirrors)
  • Base Price (USD): $40,430
  • Price as Tested (USD): $46,995

It’s not often that I drive a car that’s as well-rounded as the Lexus ES 300h. This mid-size car is spacious, comfortable, luxurious, and gets astonishingly good gas mileage.

Outside, the ES 300h and it’s traditionally-engined ES 350 brother are stylish and sophisticated, though pretty conservative in their looks. My review car looked particularly good in the dark blue color Lexus calls “Deep Sea Mica.” Up front it sports Lexus’ trademark “spindle” grille, but in a far less dramatic variant than found in the more sporty RC series. Signature LED daytime running lights sit underneath the available HID headlamps, and the front bumper integrates a pair of fog lamps. A small trunk spoiler improves aerodynamics, and overall the car achieve an impressive drag coefficient of just 0.27. The car rides on handsome looking 17-inch alloy wheels, wrapped in all-season tires.

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But it’s what’s under the hood that really makes the ES 300h special. Lexus has really worked some magic with its hybrid drivetrain, which manages to provide a nearly perfect melding of gas and electric power – as good as I’ve ever experienced. The power curve seems perfect, and its off-the-line torque belies its specified 8.1 second 0-to-60 time. At no point, did I feel like the ES 300h was underpowered. I had plentiful passing power, and moving from city to highway to country traffic patterns, I felt great confidence behind the wheel.

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Powered by a 2.5-liter dual-cam inline 4-cylinder all-aluminum engine and a magnetic-electric drive system, the front-wheel drivetrain produces a total of 200 horsepower. Numbers aside, the car always felt just perfectly powered for its size. I’ve never been a fan of continuously-variable transmissions, but again, Lexus has worked wonders with their CVT in this car. Power is smooth and available without any dips or hiccups, and I didn’t notice any of the whining noise that many CVTs produce. Of course, the main reason you buy a hybrid is fuel efficiency, and the ES is truly impressive in this department. I consistently got 38 to 39mpg in real-world driving conditions. In some conditions, I got upwards of 50mpg, and at no time getting any less than 32mpg. With a 17.2 gallon fuel tank, you can comfortably drive over 650 miles between fill-ups.

Road feel in the ES 300h is also good, erring on the side of comfort over sportiness. Sound deadening and vibration management is excellent – isolating the passenger compartment from unwanted jolts on bumpy roads. Inside, it’s also very quiet, even at high speeds. In fact, it’s dead quiet at stops, since the gas engine shuts off when not needed.

A console switch lets you select between Eco, Normal and Sport driving modes. Eco mode is only recommended for serious hypermilers – the trade-off in power is just not worth it in a car that already gets nearly 40mpg. I found that Normal mode was great for most driving situations, though Sport mode does increase throttle response, and tighten ups the steering just a wee bit. It also switches the display from a driving economy gauge to a tachometer, and the color scheme turns red for fun.

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Road feel in the ES 300h is also good, erring on the side of comfort over sportiness. Sound deadening and vibration management is excellent – isolating the passenger compartment from unwanted jolts on bumpy roads. Inside, it’s also very quiet, even at high speeds. In fact, it’s dead quiet at stops, since the gas engine shuts off when not needed. Its electric power steering system works well, offering confident handling, though it’s certainly far from sporty. The car is also better balanced than most front-wheel drive cars, thanks to the weight balance afforded by placing the hybrid’s battery pack at the rear of the car. The trade-off that results in is that trunk space is a little below average, with 12.1 cubic feet of capacity, and the rear seats don’t fold down like they do on many other cars.

Lexus also did a great job with the interior of the ES. It exudes sophistication with touches like stitching along the dashboard, seats and armrests, and real bamboo trim on the dashboard, doors, and even the steering wheel. My car was fitted with perforated leather seats with both heating and ventilation, as well as a memory system for the driver’s seat, steering wheel and mirror positions.

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Perhaps the biggest surprise on the inside of the ES is its impressive legroom. I’m six-feet-tall, and with the driver’s seat in a comfortable driving position, I was able to sit behind it with at least six inches between my knees and the back of the seat. Impressive. This is partially achieved thanks to smartly-designed knee indentations on the backs of the front seats, but even without those, rear legroom was plentiful. I honestly don’t remember a mid-size car I’ve driven with this much interior legroom.

In my recent experience, Toyota and Lexus have some of the best sounding stock stereos in their cars. Lexus offers an optional 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, but I don’t think you need to buy it. The standard 8-speaker sound system in the ES is one of the best I’ve heard this year. It’s extraordinarily clean, with a great dynamics, an enveloping surround capability, and the ability to take it all the way to 11 without distortion.

Other bells and whistles include a power moonroof, and an available navigation system with an 8″ screen, though it isn’t a touchscreen. It uses Lexus’ puck-like “remote touch” controller, which is a bit of an acquired taste. Having driven a number Lexus cars, I’ve finally got the hang of it, and I’m guessing that if you owned one, you’d get used to it pretty quickly too.

Lexus offers a wide variety of high-tech safety features, including blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a backup camera with guideline markers, radar-based front parking alerts, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and braking assistance. Lexus’ Safety Connect service can also automatically provide collision notifications, as well as provide stolen vehicle location, and emergency assistance.

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Overall, I was very impressed with the Lexus ES 300h. If you’re in the market for a solid and stylish daily driver with luxurious appointments, comfort, space, sophisticated technology, and great mileage, the ES 300h should be at the top of your consideration list.

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