Lexus – Say yes to the ES

The ES has finally arrived in Europe to upset the establishment. And it might just be able to do it.

There is something I have to confess. I drove the new Lexus ES for less than an hour. Not the ideal way to assess a car’s potential, but there you have it.

Lexus launched the car for the Portuguese press at Cascais on a very sunny, very cosy day and, man, there were lots of us there.

Lexus had brought a fleet of ES for us to drive but maybe didn’t expect so many journalists, bloggers and youtubers to show up. That meant we spent as much time learning about the new ES as we did driving it. The thing is, understanding you were not going to get that much time at the wheel made me pay closer attention to the Power Point, so I think I am capable of letting you know what this new saloon is all about.

The ES, or Executive Sedan (remember Lexus was Toyota’s way of cracking the luxury segment in the US, so Executive Saloon would be silly), dates back to 1989, meaning it is now entering its thirties. I remember entering my thirties and it was not pleasant. I still haven’t recovered and the forties are already looking dangerously close. The ES, on the other hand, seems pretty comfortable in its skin.

At first, the ES used the same mechanical solutions as the Toyota Camry, which meant a 2.5 litre V6 and the need for cheap petrol. With the American market dealt with, and the will to fight the Germans on a larger sense, the Japanese company started downsizing the size of their engines and eventually a four-cylinder arrived in 2010.

From there to the hybrid version took no time and, although the ES specifically had not been sold in Europe until now, with the rest of their line-up, Lexus has come to mean sustainable luxury. You think Lexus, you think hybrid vehicles. Yes, they have built some sports cars with big V8s and even a V10 in the landmark LFA, one of the best cars ever made, but ask anyone here at the old continent and they’ll tell you that Lexus means hybrids.

Et voilá, then, the new ES is a hybrid. With 2.3 million units sold worldwide, it arrives in Portugal with the weight of expectation over its shoulders and the unenviable task of making us forget Mercedes, Audis and BMWs. Not an easy one, I say, but it just might have what it takes. Let me tell you why.

First of all, the ES arrives at a time when Lexus’ gamble on hybrids is finally paying off big time. With all the noise around diesels and rigged emissions testing, it was only natural that customers started thinking outside the box and opening their minds to something new.

Second, the NX crossover is doing very well and helped Lexus double its brand awareness in Europe as of late (the smaller UX will undoubtedly boost it even further). The fact the cars have now found a coherent design language is also very helpful – moreover, the ES could never be a German car, which is a good thing. It looks characterful and distinctive, as long as you like the spindle grille, of course.

As an actual replacement for the GS, the new ES has a big fight ahead, against the likes of the Mercedes E Class, BMW 5 Series and Audi A6. First piece of relevant news: the ES is a front-wheel drive. Bang – what a way to differentiate yourself from the establishment. Lexus says the package of the car can be more efficiently laid out with the front wheels doing the work and there was no point in trying to make the ES a dynamic benchmark. I couldn’t agree more.

Instead, the Japanese engineers turned their focus to comfort and precision and, I have to say, they nailed it. The ES is truly, truly comfortable and relaxing.

It’s like a high-tech cloud on wheels, you just glide along with it, enjoying the superb ride and overall sense of quality.

In Portugal, the ES is only available in 300h form, comprising the most thermally efficient production engine in the world, a 2.5 litre four cylinder, mated to an electric motor fed by a 245V nickel-metal-hydride battery. Together, they produce 218 horse power or 160 Kw/h and propel the ES to 100km/h in just under 9 seconds. An almost pointless number to Lexus customers, of course, but get this: drive it in a normal manner and you will easily get 6 litres/100km. In Lexus speak, the ES is a Self Charging Hybrid, so no plugging-in at home. They say people don’t plug their cars in sockets anyway.

The cabin is beautifully built, although it takes a while to acclimatise yourself with all the buttons and functions of the car. Not a bad thing, I just didn’t have the time. Be careful with the options list though, or the initial €61.000 Lexus asks for the ES can easily become €70.000. However, spend €70.000 on an ES and you will have a superb machine that will make everyday commuting a lot more bearable.

In one hour, that was all I got. If Lexus can continue to build its brand at this rate of speed, the Germans should be worried. Because as a product, the cars are already pretty damn good.

By Guilherme Marques