Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: April 9, 2023
Toyota and Lexus are pioneers of the hybrid powertrain and have been refining and perfecting the formula for a decade. It started with the Prius and has trickled down to its premium offerings such as the Lexus ES 300h Sedan.
The ES 300h ($52,600) has been a staple of the brand’s hybrid lineup and new for 2023 is an F Sport Design trim, which for $1,850 adds 19-inch wheels, wireless charging, a heated steering wheel, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel column, wood door trims, and wood-accented wheels, amongst other features. It sits under the more premium grades such as F Sport 2 ($6,500), Luxury ($6,650), and Ultra Luxury ($10,600). But optioned in Ultrasonic Blue Mica with blacked-out wheels, it’s easily one of the sportiest, eye-catching, and youthful Lexus products on the market.
The interior is visually attractive and is as comfortable as it is upscale and ergonomic. The biggest change for 2023 is the restructuring of the center console. Gone is that infuriating trackpad and in its place are two sizeable cupholders and a cubby shelf to store small items. There’s even a seamless cover to hide the USB plug outlets.
How do you control the infotainment then? Well, it’s all now touchscreen input, which we believe the Lexus interface was built for all along. The result is a much more intuitive and friendly experience, though our biggest complaint now is that the screen is situated a little too far from the seats, so we always have to get off the seatback for our fingers to reach it. We’ll take that over the puzzling trackpad any day of the week. The screen is massive too, and high definition with no discernable lag.
The steering wheel has been slightly redesigned, now with wood accents, but the rest of the cabin remains the same as the 2022 model, with the Frankenstein bolts embedded in the instrument binnacle that controls the driving modes, LC-borrowed swoopy door handles, insanely supportive seats, roomy rear accommodations, and beautiful switchgear. This isn’t just a dressed-up Camry - the ES truly feels like its own standalone entity.
The ES 300h is equipped with a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor and battery. It produces 215 combined horsepower with the help of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drive - a similar spec to the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Of note, there are no turbochargers or all-wheel drive here but in the name of efficiency, we don’t think this hybrid needs it.
The ES 300h is one of the few cars that make us want to take it slow and be rewarded for doing so. We don’t think we’ve ever driven at a slower pace this entire year. Though it lacks the urgency and eagerness of the ES 350 and its V6 engine, the hybrid is an exceptional way to minimize your carbon footprint, and our 6.8 L/100km yield over city driving is proof in the pudding. It also meant we could achieve roughly 700 kilometres on a full tank. It doesn’t require 91-octane premium fuel either unlike some other luxury hybrids. Of course, it takes a meticulously feathery right foot to get there, like driving with an eggshell under the pedal, but doing so consistently keeps the ES 300h in EV mode where nothing but fairy dust is coming out of the tailpipes.
The transitions between electric and combustion are smooth and polished, but it’s an engine that does not enjoy being woken up from its slumber. It whines and squeals under heavy throttle, and it’s not a pleasant noise to listen to especially when the cabin is so well insulated from tire and wind noise, that the engine stands out even more - perhaps why we were so insistent on keeping it in EV mode. It’s an inherent weakness of all Toyota hybrids and while the resulting acceleration is nothing to write home about, it never left us feeling vulnerable when overtaking or merging onto highways.
While the attractive proposition of four doors, an efficient powertrain, and a sizable trunk, won’t be enough to attract most buyers away from the even more popular Lexus RX SUV, the ES 300h is a mighty statement in the hybrid segment. Not only is its green footprint tried and true, but it doesn’t sacrifice luxury or comfort to prove that it can achieve its mission. The ride quality is excellent - worthy of the Lexus badge - and the cabin plays the essential supporting role, both literally and figuratively.
And with new car prices shooting up through the moon, mid-50k for a generously-equipped luxury sedan seems like a bargain. The Lexus ES may not have the prestige of its more expensive rivals, but we wouldn’t hesitate for a second to recommend it as an alternative to the E-Class or 5 Series.
Model: 2023 Lexus ES 300h F SPORT Design
Paint Type: Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0
Base Price: $52,600
Price as Tested: $55,100
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,975 / 1,865 / 1,445
Curb weight (kg): 1,680
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder, electric motor, lithium-ion battery
Horsepower: 201 net horsepower
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 6.8