What are you driving?
A very well-timed new addition to the executive saloon market. This is the Lexus ES. It replaces the GS and unlike that car, the ES sends its power to the front wheels. That isn't as radical a change as it sounds, as the ES model has actually been on sale elsewhere in the world since 1989; now it's being sold in Europe for the first time. Key competitors are the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class. The ES, though, will be offered solely with petrol-electric hybrid power, initially in the guise of the ES 300h. This uses a new four-cylinder 2.5-litre petrol engine, claimed by Lexus to be the world's most thermally efficient unit of its type, an electric motor and a nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery mounted under the rear seats.
Starting at €49,450, the ES 300h is available in Executive and Luxury specifications, along with the Premium variant we reviewed at the international launch of the ES. The fourth grade is F Sport, as tested here.
Setting the ES F Sport apart are 19-inch alloy wheels and an exterior makeover, 'triple LED' headlights, unique upholstery and other interior details, plus Adaptive Variable Suspension that is linked in with the four drive modes. It costs €55,850 before options.
Name its best bits
Further down the line-up, the Lexus ES is remarkably good value for money, undercutting its mainstream diesel rivals by several thousand Euros yet including just as much desirable equipment for the price. The F Sport variant is more expensive, admittedly. Nonetheless, it comes with a few tasty extras that might convince keener buyers. No matter which ES you go for, the quality and civility stand out. The fact that there will be far fewer examples of the Lexus on the road than its competitors will appeal to many buyers too, helping the ES cut a dash on the road and in the carpark.
Anything that bugs you?
Even with the added chassis gizmos of the F Sport model, the ES doesn't hold a candle, in driving engagement terms, to its best rear-driven rivals. Sure, it's competent, and fast enough, and perfectly composed and stable at all times, but keen drivers won't find a reason here to take the ES out for a dawn drive for the sake of it. Given how few buyers of cars at this level are likely to do that, we suspect it won't be a hurdle to sales.
And why have you given it this rating?
The Lexus ES is a fine car. Where many in the executive saloon class focus on sportiness and dynamism, the ES is unashamedly a luxury model first and foremost. That's the case even in F Sport guise, which may be a bit of a surprise, but it marries an eye-catching specification with serious refinement and comfort, not to mention supreme quality. Sure, it'll never thrill in the way a rear-drive sports saloon can, but for the majority of buyers in this sector that prioritise image, comfort and civility above engaging handling, the ES certainly warrants a close look.
What do the rest of the team think?
The Lexus ES is one of the more surprising cars in this segment. Blending a hybrid powertrain with what is a very supple suspension setup and high levels of refinement makes this a very enticing car. However, for many company car drivers it won't appeal due to it being a petrol hybrid that you can't reclaim fuel duty on. If you're not hampered by that, give it a look.
Dave Humphreys - Road Test Editor