The new Lexus ES is the firm’s the most convincing assault on the usual German-saloon suspects yet. So it’s a shame it’s infotainment and gearbox continue to frustrate.
Sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and start afresh, which is exactly what’s happening with this new Lexus ES. You see, Lexus never managed to trouble the likes of the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-Class with its old GS model, so that model name has been shuffled out the door. In its place is the ES, but while this name is new for the UK, it’s been kicking around in the US since 1991 and six model generations.
When the ES arrives in the UK in January 2019 it’ll start from around £36,000 (about the same as its closest competition) and will be available with just one engine option: a petrol-electric hybrid called the 300h. Trim levels are yet to be announced, but it’s likely that there’ll be a standard ES, a more sumptuous Luxury model and a rakishly-designed F Sport version with darker exterior accents, larger alloys wheels and figure-hugging sports seats. In any guise, the ES has a far more striking exterior design than any saloon from Germany.
And whichever ES you go for you’ll be treated to a brilliantly solid interior. The construction is granite-like yet the materials covering the dashboard and doors are pleasingly squidgy. Even if lower down there are some cheaper, scratchier plastics on show, the overall impression is of impressive quality. The same goes for the interior design, which is far more visually engaging than in any German alternative.
However, one thing the old GS struggled with was its infotainment system, and while the ES’s system is slightly better, it still doesn’t show up BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMI. The Lexus system is made up of a 12.3in screen mounted high up on the dash, controlled via shortcut buttons and a touchpad on the central console. You get features such as Bluetooth, sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto included, but the on screen graphics look dated and the menus are difficult to move through confidently while driving.
Push it hard and the engine will be whining almost as much as you trying to operate its infotainment, but overall the ES is a credible alternative to the German elite
Thankfully the space on offer in the ES is much better. For starters the driver gets a superb driving position with loads of electric seat and wheel adjustment, as well as good visibility forwards and back. Head and leg room around the front seats is great, too, so even the tallest passengers won’t have an issue staying comfortable.
The news is even better in the back seats, where head room is generous but leg room outclasses all of the German competition. Three adults sat side-by-side won’t be complaining too much on a long journey, either. It’s a shame, then, that although the ES’s boot is wide with fairly good access and its compact batteries don’t intrude beneath the rear seats, it’s ultimately smaller than that in a 5 Series, A6 or E-Class.
When it comes to deciding on an engine, you can have whatever you like as long as it’s a 300h hybrid. Yep, Lexus is really only bringing one ES variant to the UK – a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to an electric motor and battery pack that results in 215hp. Of course, the benefit of such an engine is the ability to run on electricity alone for silent operation and impressive claimed combined fuel economy: in the ES’s case that stands at 60.1mpg.
Indeed, cruising along using electricity alone is relaxing, but prod the accelerator and the engine’s revs flare thanks to Lexus’s standard-fit CVT automatic gearbox. Performance is good, sure, but this isn’t a particularly pleasant engine to listen to. Still, the ES’s steering feels well connected, there’s good grip and it props itself up nicely through tight bends which all instills confidence. With its new more advanced suspension, it manages to smooth out all but the worst roads, too, particularly models we’ve tried with 18-inch alloys, rather than the F-Sport’s large 19-inch set.
Safety hasn’t been forgotten, because Lexus is including its Safety System+ pack on every ES. This includes an automatic emergency braking system which can detect not only cars but pedestrians and cyclists too, as well as a radar cruise control that’s able to lock into a lane and steer the car for you, or follow a car in front when the road’s lines stop.
Even without confirmed pricing and trim levels, then, it’s clear that the ES is better than the car that went before it and a more rounded alternative to the aforementioned premium German saloons. Its infotainment and gearbox still frustrate, but if you’re determined to stand out from the Germanic crowd, then the ES is worth investigating.
If you can’t wait for the ES, have a look at what Lexus GS deals you can get.