► Hybrid ES saloon driven in the UK
► Ours had optional digital mirrors
► A real alternative to the Germans
Yes, we know – you've heard it all before. Lexus does things differently, blah, blah, blah. But the Lexus ES is a case where it really does make sense.
This is the first time the ES badge has made its way to the UK after it replaced the rear-wheel-drive GS in 2019, but it's already a big car for Lexus. It's the best-selling saloon in the company's range, and the second best-selling car for the brand overall after the RX SUV. The ES is now technically the smallest non-SUV vehicle Lexus sells in the UK, after it killed the IS saloon and RC coupe.
What the ES does offer in (technically) its seventh generation is a sharp look (would you expect anything else from Lexus?), a vast interior and a front-wheel-drive hybrid-only line-up. Oh, and it has a digital camera mirror option.
Of course – we'd expect nothing less from Lexus.
The fourth generation of the brand's 2.5-litre petrol-electric hybrid powertrain lurks beneath the contoured bonnet, offering up 215bhp and 163lb ft of torque. Not figures to set the world alight, but punchy enough for most drivers, with a reasonable 0-62mph time of 8.9 seconds.
It's a nicely refined unit, though. Thanks to a CVT transmission, hurling the ES up a hill will send the revs soaring and create some engine moan, but if you're driving a Lexus in this way, you're not really getting the point of it.
Drive it more appropriately and it's a hushed and very relaxed experience, with silky smooth power delivery and plenty of opportunities for the hybrid system to use battery power alone.
Is it a bit dull to drive?
No, not really. It's all very civilised with a refined and relaxed drive most of the time – whether it's on a smooth A-road or clogged motorway. It could surprise you on a quick dash on a Sunday afternoon if you feel so inclined, but that's if you go for the F Sport with its sharper set-up and adaptive dampers.
It's all very soothing to drive around town and at a cruise whichever spec you go for – with only a murmur of tyre noise finding its way into the plush interior. Lexus is very proud of the sound insulation it's packed the ES with, and it's paid off. It's so relaxing in here on the move we were convinced it had dropped our resting heart beat when reaching our destination. The only downside is that because there's so little wind and engine noise most of the time, the tyre noise can seem a little intrusive on rougher surfaces.
It still won't trouble a BMW 5-series of Jaguar XF on a twisty road, but the ES demonstrates admirable body control with minimal roll and the kind of steering responses that you expect from a sports saloon. There's not a huge amount of feel, but it's more agile than you'd expect from a wafty hybrid, meaning you don't feel like you're treating it badly.
It's a very capable machine, and its front-wheel-drive set-up receives no complaints from us. If you really do push on too much, the car's safety systems will gather everything up for you anyway.
There are driving modes available – selected via the rotary switch protruding from the top of the instrument cluster. We'd suggest leaving it in Normal most of the time, or switch to Sport if you're feeling a little more excitable (don't bother with Sport S+) – but the ES is best left just getting on with the journey.
What's it like inside?
Very pleasing, and very Lexus. It would be easy to feel intimidated by the ES's cabin on first inspection. Swooping lines all over the place and a few small buttons dotted about, but it's actually very easy to get comfortable, and surprisingly simple to operate everything.
The driving position is very good, the seats excellent on all models, and the solidity throughout is very reassuring. It feels bombproof and the materials used throughout are plush and expensive-looking.
There are still a couple of black marks, with the usual Lexus trope being one of them: its infotainment controls. We get that we sound like a broken record here, but the odd touchpad with vibrating feedback remains a fiddly affair and slightly distracting on the move. There's also not a great deal of storage in the front.
And if you do choose to carry passengers, there's acres of room to spread out in the back with an abundance of legroom, but that low roofline may trouble taller humans. Takumi models offer a reclining backrest for extra comfort, but even normal models are comfortable.
Do I get a lot for my money?
Absolutely. Not only is the ES cheaper than the GS it replaced, it's also packed with more kit for the price, and it undercuts its rivals with a starting price under £35k.
All the kit you could possibly want is found on the entry-level ES, but higher-spec models have electric everything, larger media screens and a fantastic Mark Levinson sound system.
The good news is that Lexus's latest suite of safety systems is standard across the range, which is how it should be on any car.
What about those camera mirrors you mentioned?
Let's start with how they look. The 'mirrors' themselves look very much like the ones seen on Audi's e-Tron models; slim and blocky in design with a chrome effect on them. Lovely. The displays inside, though? They look like afterthoughts – as if someone has glued on two plasticky portable navigation screens to the door inlays. Hmm.
Use them, though, and they soon start to make sense. The resolution itself is good, if not stellar, and the frame rate is smooth – no lag or glitchiness from the view. And, while we complain about the screens themselves looking like wonky appendixes to the interior, the way they are angled from the driving position is excellent– much better than the inset screens on an Audi e-Tron. The cameras also zoom out, with guide markers on the edges of the car when you engage reverse or open the door – handy for tight car parking manoeuvres.
There are still downsides, though. The porthole in the mirror for the camera lens is, understandably, small. So, when it rains, it takes a while for water that blurs the image to clear. The screen also incorporates the blind-spot monitor warning, too – what would usually be a bright orange flashing light when something is in your blind spot, the warning icon is incorporated into the screen, making it more difficult to see at first glance.
They're also a £1600 option.
In isolation, they're definitely one of the better camera systems we've tried. But it's still hard to argue these are a worthwhile option when, y'know... mirrors exist.
Lexus ES: verdict
The majority of ES customers are likely to be private retail buyers, with a much higher percentage than its German rivals. However, it does make great sense as a company car with lower BiK than the lot. But if you're up and down the motorway all day long, a torquey diesel saloon with far higher cruising range will probably be more appealing.
If ignoring the Germans is your plan and you're considering something else like the Volvo S90 or Jaguar XF, the Lexus ES should also be one of your alternative options – especially as the new hybrid drivetrain is a good one.
Overall, it's luxurious, comfortable and relaxed while also surprisingly good to drive with an extensive standard kit list. It helps that it asks for less of your dosh while managing all that.
Check out our Lexus reviews