Lexus ES 300h — Luxury and fuel efficiency

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Most luxury hybrid sedans and crossovers are of the high-performance variety — combining a potent gas engine with a couple of electric motors to create scads of horsepower, instant torque and enviable acceleration while at the same time slightly elevating miles per gallon. Lexus has taken a different tack with its all-new 2019 ES 300h hybrid sedan opting for optimal gas mileage (43 mpg city, 45 highway and 44 combined using regular gas) at the expense of neck-snapping performance.

But this is not to say the spacious ES sedan, now in its seventh generation, totally lacks muscle — its gas engine, electric motor combination has the wherewithal to climb to 60 mph from zero in around 8 seconds and it can hit 90 mph in a quarter mile run. And, actually, it feels better behind the wheel than on paper. We think very few who value fuel efficiency will find the ES 300h wanting for adequate merging and passing performance.

Here's what you get with the Lexus rendition of a luxury hybrid — a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine paired to an electric motor and mated to a continuously variable transmission driving the front wheels for a total system output of 215 horsepower. That amounts to slightly more power than the outgoing ES hybrid while getting improved fuel economy and lower noise levels in a stylish package. The ES hybrid drivetrain is nearly identical to the one found on the 2019 Toyota Avalon.

If you want more luxury-like performance opt for the carryover 3.5-liter V-6 engine, which has been tweaked to deliver 34 more horsepower and 19 additional pound-feet of torque over the previous ES. There’s also a new smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. It has 6-second 0-to-60 performance and gas mileage numbers are acceptable at 22 city, 33 highway and 26 overall.

Some might argue that the new ES is just a gussied up version of the all-new Avalon. Lexus officials protest the suggestion. The new design, with a ground-up redo, mimics the styling of its flagship sibling enough to be labeled a “baby LS.” What Lexus didn’t change was its commitment to a roomy, luxurious interior.

The new ES features an array of high-tech enhancements, including the most recent version of the brand’s Safety Sense+ 2.0 assistance. It includes Trace Control, intended to help keep the ES in its driving lane, and the existing pre-collision technology has been updated to detect bicyclists during daylight driving hours.

Apple CarPlay is now standard with the ability to connect with both Siri and Amazon’s Alexa voice command assistants. Alexa is intended to work from both home and office-enabled devices, but we found Alexa’s response to be excruciatingly slow, to the point where we aborted using it. The ES does not support Android Auto.

While in the past we've been highly critical of the Remote Touch controller — a mouse-like operation — and the frustrations using it, the new touch pad they replaced it with is even worse. We won’t go into excruciating detail here, but a couple of examples are the extended and unsafe amount of time the driver must take eyes off the road to fix on the display screen, and the letter-by-letter destination input to program the navigation system. And switching phones in the system is frustrating and near impossible. If nothing else, given the average age of the ES buyer, the vehicle operational technology should err on the side of simple and easy to use, with a minimal amount of time needed for watching a touchscreen instead of the road.

The ES 300h comes in just three trim levels — base, Luxury and Ultra Luxury starting at $42,335 including a $1,025 destination charge. The 300h comes well equipped for the base price, but there are numerous and very desirable options that can be checked off. Navigation bundled with a 1,800-watt, 17-speaker Mark Levinson system and the desirable 12.3-inch color multimedia display comes in at $3,000.

Standard equipment across the lineup includes LED headlights, a sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, leather-wrapped steering wheel, digital instrument panel, dual-zone climate control, selectable driving modes, simulated-leather upholstery, three USB ports and a 10-speaker audio system with Apple CarPlay and satellite radio. Standard safety features include a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and mitigation, and a pre-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking.

Our Ultra Luxury trim level test car with several options including the aforementioned navigation/audio package, blindspot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, triple beam LED headlights, and 18-inch noise reduction wheels carried a bottom line of $54,405.

Base price: $42,355; as driven, $54,405
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, 2 electric motors
Horsepower: 215 combined
Torque: gas engine156 lb.-feet; electric motors, 199 lb-ft
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 113.0 inches
Length: 195.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,704 pounds
Turning circle: 38.0 feet
Luggage capacity: 16.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 43 city, 45 highway, 44 combined
0-60: 8.3 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Lincoln MKZ hybrid, Toyota Avalon Hybrid

The Good
• Quiet, stylish interior
• Outstanding fuel economy  
• Considerable standard safety features

The Bad
• Distracting infotainment interface

The Ugly
• Slow acceleration for a luxury car

Jim Prueter contributed to this review