2013 Lexus ES 350, ES 300h

DETROIT and NEWARK, N.J. — Welcome to the big leagues, ES. Lexus introduced its ES luxury sedan in 1989 and six generations later will be offering the popular mid-size sedan as both a gasoline and a hybrid variant. The first five generations of the ES shared the Camry platform, but for 2013 the new ES is “its own man” and enters the market with all guns blazing.

Now based on the larger Toyota Avalon platform, the new ES has a 1.8-inch longer wheelbase and overall length has grown by one inch. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? WRONG! Even this seemingly insignificant increase results in a more spacious interior including 4.1 additional inches of rear-seat legroom.

The ES has always been considered “the affordable Lexus” and the 2013 model adds to that assumption. Beginning with the exterior the new ES features a lower profile and clean styling lines from front-to-rear. And it sports a new distinctive spindle grille, called “the new face of Lexus.”

2013 ES 300h

All four corners are pulled tightly inward to the wheel arches, creating distinctive proportions that more closely resembles the flagship LS sedan. A baby LS, perhaps?

The ES 350 carries on with the same drivetrain found in the 2012 model and in the current Toyota Camry — the 3.5-liter V-6 making 268 horsepower mated to a six-speed transmission. The engine and transmission have been reworked to provide slightly better gas mileage. But a Lexus official admitted there was some give and take — what was taken to gain the extra mileage was about two-tenths of a second from 0-to-60 now estimated by Lexus at 7.1 seconds.

We figure more buyers will embrace the gas mileage than will fret over the inconsequential loss in the launch time. Gas mileage went from 19/28 to 21/31.

2013 ES 350

It's the new hybrid model — the first ever the ES — that is the headliner for 2013.

The hybrid is easily identified by the unique blue badging of the “L” logo, an exclusive rear design with hidden exhaust and an integrated rear spoiler and LED daytime running lights and combination rear lamps. Fog lamps are integrated into the sculpted lower front bumper fascia.  

The ES 300h sits exclusively on 17-inch alloy wheels and has quite the handsome stance. During our test drive we were given the eye by owners of previous-model ES owners — guess you might call this “ES Envy.”

The 2013 hybrid is powered by the Lexus Hybrid Drive — a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine that runs on regular unleaded (87 octane) fuel. EPA fuel economy is expected to be in the 40 mpg city/39 mpg highway and 39 mpg combined range. It generates a total of 200 system horsepower.

It's mated to an electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT). Some manufacturers’ CVT offerings are questionable; Lexus’s is an “in your face” example of what a good CVT should be. It doesn’t sound like it’s whining/winding itself to death and will blow itself up at any second. A good CVT doesn’t make you realize you’re driving a CVT.

The 2013 ES has a noticeably better ride than its predecessors thanks to a stiffer body and quicker steering gear ratio. The front suspension uses opposite-wound coil springs to help enhance straight-line stability and revised rear suspension and improved shock absorber damping enhances ride comfort.

There’s a real misconception that a hybrid by definition doesn’t have a chance of being thought of as a performance vehicle that’s fun-to-drive. The operative word in that description is “misconception.” We've driven a number of Lexus hybrids and we're here to tell you that NASA should benchmark some of them to develop new rockets.

But what good is it to own a Lexus if the interior doesn’t live up to its reputation — and the 2013 ES more than delivers. The new ES features enhanced NuLuxe seating surfaces that reduce environmental impact. Genuine leather is available as is semi-aniline leather for a more refined look. It features enhanced sightlines and visibility, user-friendly controls and new cabin materials. The new interior has been designed to provide a feeling of openness.

It features greater rear seat legroom and knee room, rear headroom and additional foot room below the front seats. A new 10-way adjustable power seat is standard on all ES models and an available 12-way power seat allows the seat cushion to extend by 1.4-inches for better leg support. The steering wheel angle has been reduced by two degrees for a more natural control position. This is important to the larger members of our audience who can sometimes turn the steering wheel with their ample bellies.

The second-generation Remote Touch Interface allows users to operate the climate, audio, phone controls, optional navigation system and more. Screen menus are selected with a controller located on the center console. The interface reduces eye and hand movement that helps decrease effort and distraction.

Speaking of the audio system, standard in the ES 300h is the Lexus Premium Sound System that features eight speakers with automatic sound levelizer, in-dash CD player, USB/iPod connectivity and an integrated SiriusXM Satellite Radio receiver. Too civilized for you? Then consider the available 15-speaker 835-watt Mark Levinson system that features an 8-inch display screen, HD Radio with iTunes tagging, DVD audio/video and a SiriusXM Satellite Radio receiver. Exclusive GreenEdge technology from Mark Levinson doubles the output of the amplifier while reducing energy consumption by 50 percent.

To say the new Lexus has an “array” of standard and available safety features is like saying Hollywood has some celebrities. We recommend that buyers of the 2013 ES 350 or 300h include the optional Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert that helps detect vehicles in side blind spots in their order.

ES features 10 airbags standard, whiplash injury lessening front seats, an available pre-collision system and much, much more. Furthermore, all new Lexus vehicles come with a 48-month/50,000-mile basic limited warranty with roadside assistance for 48 months/unlimited miles. Powertrain and restraint systems coverage is 72 months/70,000 miles. Corrosion perforation protection is covered for 72 months regardless of mileage.

Hybrid-related components, including the HV battery, battery-control module, hybrid control module and inverter with converter are covered for eight years/100,000 miles.

There are a slew of optional packages and price being no object we'd include them all. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet because the vehicle won’t be on sale until about mid-August so if you’re in the demographics for the 2013 Lexus ES 300h then start working on getting ready for one.

There’s a reason that the word “Lexus” has come to be the standard of excellence (with all due respect to the previous holder of that title) and the new ES puts more distance between it and whomever thinks they’re in the running for the title.

— Al Vinikour and Jim Meachen