► Fresh Lexus ES saloon tested
► Lower price, more kit and new hybrid
► What's not to like about GS replacement?
If you’ve always been keen to do the opposite of what everyone else does, that is to buy a German saloon, this new Lexus ES could be right up your street.
This is the first time the ES badge has made its way to the UK – replacing the GS – but it’s already a big car for Lexus. It’s the bestselling saloon in the company’s range, and the second bestselling car for the brand overall after the RX SUV.
We’ll get the bit about it basically being a Toyota Camry (also bound for the UK after Toyota killed off the Avensis) out of the way, because that’s old news. What the ES does offer in its seventh generation is a sharp look (would you expect anything else from Lexus?), a vast interior and a hybrid-only line-up. Oh, and it’s front-wheel drive.
What’s under the bonnet?
The fourth-generation of the firm’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 for all to hear, but if you’re driving a Lexus like this, you’re not really getting the point of it.
If you drive it properly, it’s a hushed and very relaxed experience – one that’s very relaxing and refined, with enough get-up-and-go for most drivers.
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 (which you should) with its sharper setup and adaptive dampers.
As you’d expect 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 seems to have paid off. 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 noisy 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 feels 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. While there’s a mildly updated infotainment system with sharper graphics and a large screen, the weird touchpad with vibrating feedback remains a fiddly affair and slightly distracting on the move, while useful storage up front isn’t as good as in its rivals.
If you want pure luxury, top-spec Takumi has a more traditional feel, while F Sport has the sharper look.
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 replaces, it’s also packed with more kit for the price, and it undercuts its rivals with a starting price of just over £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.
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 compared to rivals.
Check out our Lexus reviews