By on August 21, 2017

2017 Lexus ES300h red - Image: © Timothy Cain

2017 Lexus ES300h

2.5-liter DOHC inline-four (156 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm; 156 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm)

Battery: 1.6 kWh nickel-metal hydride

Combined system horsepower: 200

Continuously variable automatic, front-wheel drive

40 city / 39 highway / 40 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

5.8 city / 6.1 highway / 5.9 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

28.7 mpg [8.2 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $42,815 (U.S) / $48,345 (Canada)

As Tested: $46,510 (U.S.) / $52,445 (Canada)

Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $2,145 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

This is not a proper review, not the kind of tome presented to TTAC’s audience after a major vehicle spends a full week with one of the site’s editors. I didn’t drive the 2017 Lexus ES300h across multiple states. I didn’t resolve to land on as many beaches as possible on EV power. I didn’t get a proper chance to take pictures. I hardly drove the Lexus ES300h at all.

Ah, but the one journey undertaken by the midsize luxury hybrid and your humble TTAC Prince Edward Island bureau chief was quite a journey indeed.

What happens when the least sporting Lexus car is suddenly tasked with arriving at a destination on the other side of the Island in order to be removed from Island duty? What happens when you rush a car that was never intended to be one of Lexus’ rushable cars?

Decidedly un-hybrid-like mileage, for one thing.

There was no lack of communication; no misunderstanding. But the gentleman who routinely drops off and picks up manufacturer-supplied test cars and I were on different wavelengths, literally. On Sunday morning, I was half an hour from home, on the south side of Prince Edward Island, when Mr. Sowerby emailed, called, and texted to say he was coming to PEI in the afternoon.

A data dead zone, an iPhone hiccup? Whatever it was, all of the notifications poured in at 12:57 PM, hours after contact was first initiated. I shovelled down lunch, grabbed a few items out of the Lexus for the kids, forgot about the birthday cake that was about to be served in honor of my brother’s 50th, and bolted for the north side of PEI.

Initial acceleration is, to be frank, unimpressive. Zero to 60 mph in 8 seconds is insufficient when you’re in need of Bugatti Chironesque country-crossing ability. By the ES300h’s final day with me, I should’ve known this. But because of scheduling quirks (incidentally brought on by a Toyota Canada media launch of the new Camry in PEI) the Lexus only arrived here Thursday and couldn’t be used when my brother’s family and mine needed a single vehicle for Island touring on the weekend. Minivans always win.2017 Lexus ES300h and 2018 VW Tiguan - Image: © Timothy CainBut yes, jumping into the ES300h for an urgent solo trip through the middle of PEI revealed a continuously variable transmission you just want to grab by the scruff of the neck and shift, a throttle pedal you’re desperate to pin even farther into the mat, and a speedometer that’s climbing all too slowly.

The ES needed fuel, a wash, and a vacuum before its pickup artist arrived in Margate. I already knew that unlatching the front-facing Diono from its rear-parcel-shelf anchor was going to be a nightmare. I wasn’t going to avoid dirty roadside puddles. I needed to be home half an hour ago.

By the time all of these thoughts had pinged around in my mind, the Lexus ES300h and I were up to speed. And by speed, I’m talking about a number-which-shall-not-be-named kind of speed. Credit taut suspensions for backroad barnstorming all you want — Inkerman Road is a rough stretch of asphalt. The ES300h’s ability to soak up brutal pavement is a boon to nine-tenths driving when the road is more likely to include high-speed sweepers rather than tight, decreasing radius switchbacks. There’s an obvious requirement in the pillowy ES300h to brake early and often — brake feel and strength are major ES300h weak points, by the by — but the Lexus copes well for a car with no sporting intentions.

I cross Kinkora Road and glance over at the Mk7 Golf GTI crossing the dangerous intersection in the other direction. I’m not craving his power, as I’m largely carrying speed that’s (slowly) created by the ES’s 200-horsepower hybrid powertrain. I’m not concerned with the ES’s lack of a fast-shifting DSG; the ECVT-i is not an obtrusive partner once we’ve settled in at speed. I’m not terribly troubled by the ES300h’s hilariously light and uncommunicative steering rack either. I know an arrow-straight, oft-patrolled span of Route 2 is approaching and I’ll be temporarily ensconced in a heavily equipped luxury cruiser with cooled seats, finger-light steering, and lane-keeping assist besides.

Nah, I just want the GTI’s superior performance tires. The 215/55R17 Michelin Primacy MXV4s on the 2017 Lexus ES300h are undoubtedly suited to the ES’s mission. They’re just not suited to my mission, not today. I’m longing for the kind of grip that would engender a level of mid-corner security, without which I find myself saying time and time again, “Whoa now, steady ol’ girl.”

In no time, I’m traversing the brutally pockmarked County Line Road in Norboro and doing so at a speed that would loosen teeth in 95 percent of 2017’s performance cars. The ES300h dips into an EV cruise as we veer downhill on Kerrytown Road into Clinton. Then an uphill struggle on Route 6 once again clarifies how ill-suited this car was to my Sunday afternoon drive.

Too many minutes later I’m struggling to unhook the Diono’s tether from its anchor, chuckling at the 27-mpg result in a 40-mpg car, vacuuming the sand left behind by two child seats, and dusting the center stack. An exterior wipedown has the Matador Red ES300h glimmering in the slowly-appearing sun we hadn’t seen since Friday. I took a seat on the doorstep for a few seconds, ready to take a picture of the incoming 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan and the outgoing 2017 Lexus ES300h. Sowerby appears not a moment too soon.

In what is likely the final full year for the sixth-generation Lexus ES, I bonded yesterday more with the wonders of the modern automobile industry than the Lexus itself. This is an eco-focused, visually awkward, comfort-oriented midsize luxury sedan in the driveway of an enthusiast who normally traverses these same roads in a Miata.

Yet the ES300h, as if representing the leaps forward by an industry that not long ago built comfort-oriented sedans that could only handle straight lines, acquitted itself with aplomb, deftly performing a balancing act between total comfort and a modicum of handling prowess.

Would the 2018 Lexus IS350 AWD that’s supposed to visit PEI later this month have been the preferable candidate for Sunday’s unanticipated cross-island drive? Presumably, though the quantity of fuel consumed would have surely increased and the fitment of the other child seat, a rear-facing Diono, would have been impossible behind the driver.

Perhaps large traditional sedans aren’t all that bad, after all.

[Images: © Timothy Cain]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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44 Comments on “2017 Lexus ES300h Review – Driving It Like I Stole It, Once...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Combined system horsepower: 200

    Eff that noise – give me the 3.5 V6 and a transmission with actual gears. This is the modern equivalent of when you could get an 80s Cadillac with a Buick V6 as a credit option.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Not appealing. It’s a comfort-oriented Toyota Motor Corp product so of course a hybrid is offered, and the target buyer will probably care not a whit at the bland acceleration, brakes, and steering. But at the $40K+ price point, even a cushy FWD sedan deserves the 3.5. I’d like NVH control and effortless acceleration over the reduced fuel use.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Now I don’t feel so bad about my $20k Optima Hybrid with 199 HP, which probably wouldn’t fare any worse under the same conditions.

    Yep, hybrids achieve their gains by regeneration, which can’t happen if you’re burning energy even during the downhill parts.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I’m envious of the 27 MPG. Even though it’s the highway rating for my MKS, I’ve *never* managed to get it that high. It could be because the MKS is elephantine, as sedans go…

  • avatar

    “an enthusiast who normally traverses these same roads in a Miata.”

    You mean Odyssey!

  • avatar

    200 horsepower is not enough for this sort of vehicle mass. My assumption was that the hybrid model had at least 280 or thereabouts. Quite poor.

  • avatar

    “The ES needed fuel, a wash, and a vacuum ”

    When I’m done with a press car it always has enough fuel in it to make it to the nearest gas station, but I try to leave enough so they can get it back to their shop.

    I’m not doing anyone any favors at The Drive Shop by cleaning out a press car. Considering that press cars are detailed to a fare-thee-well in between drivers, it’s a waste of time and effort to wash and vacuum them out.

    • 0 avatar

      I too hate it when people are considerate and remove the filth they put there.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      Ronnie, the east coast Canadian press fleet works entirely different from numerous other corners of the continent. The car isn’t going back to Toyota, it’s going to another car writer — typically a friend of mine such as Matthew Guy — and being driven to him by another friend of mine. It’s the policy of our little co-op to wash and clean the car and to return it full of fuel, as it was when it arrived. Failure to abide by the policy would, in your case, mean no more cars for you.

      Moreover, cars in this corner of the world receive a healthy dose of sand in one season and salt in another, and I’d be embarrassed for Mr. Sowerby or any one of his cohorts to pick up the car and see it filthy inside, having been to the beach at the end of dirt roads or slathered with salty boots. If it wasn’t the policy, it’s a simply courtesy to clean the car before Sowerby drives it to Matthew Guy, and I am 100 percent certain Matthew Guy would say the same thing if the order was reversed.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    Public Service Announcement: the rectangular device that you people use for emailing and texting each other, as well as for maps, music, web browsing and other similar activities, also has a “telephone” feature, whereby the user of said rectangular device can “dial” a telephone call to another user of another rectangular device via a unique code, commonly referred to as a “telephone number.” The difference between the “telephone” feature and the “text” feature is that when you telephone you can “speak” to that person instantly, rather than wondering if that super-urgent text or email have been received.

    On behalf of deer, rabbits, skunks, racoons and humans of PEI, we urge you to use said “telephone” feature in order to avoid endangering others with your foolish driving.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      “On Sunday morning, I was half an hour from home, on the south side of Prince Edward Island, when Mr. Sowerby emailed, called, and texted to say he was coming to PEI in the afternoon.”

      If you have no service because you’re a little to the west of nowhere, it doesn’t matter what form of communication the communication initiator attempts.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I did a Denver – St. Louis roadtrip a few weeks back. I-70 through rural Colorado and Kansas is basically one big “dead zone” for data, but basic voice cellular access worked properly.

        Don’t know how this works in your neck of the woods, though…

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I do believe Tim said that he was in a dead zone, and got the call, e-mail, and text much later than they were sent.

      Those handheld things are not 100% reliable, especially on rural islands in the North Atlantic.

  • avatar
    Dingleberrypiez_Returns

    So many words to tell me so little about the car.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      What’s to say? It’s a stretched Camry with an extra few inches of legroom in the back seat with cheap leather and nasty fake plastic aluminum trim. And the world’s absolute worst touchscreen plus horrid touch sensitive buttons ala Ford and Cadillac.

      The radar cruise was amusing in the one I had for a couple days. The V6 just makes it a faster boat with a lot of “one wheel peel”.

      Combined with Tim’s analysis of the performance and handling you now know everything there is to know about a Toyota Avalon.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      I learned that “when you’re in need of Bugatti Chironesque country-crossing ability”, the “unimpressive 0-60 mph in 8 seconds” is actually sufficient, which means that no hyperbole was harmed in the making of this review.

  • avatar
    AK

    So it’s slow, weird looking and comfortable, yet on the off chance you drive it hard, the wheels don’t all simultaneously fall off as smoke pours out from under the hood?

    Ok then.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    In more sedate circumstances such as driving to pick someone up at the airport, my own experiences driving my father in law’s ’13 ES300h that he bought as a 30k mile used car for about $31k-ish have been largely positive. Acceleration within the envelope of “measured/politely brisk” is just fine and really smooth with that hybrid drive. Push harder though and it does indeed bring out some NVH from the gas motor that is unbecoming of the class, the gas V6 version I’d imagine excels here. Aside from that, as a $31k used vehicle it makes quite a bit of sense. Measured depreciation from here on out, high reliability, high quality interior with all the niceties of a good luxury cruiser: heated wooden steering wheel, heated and cooled seats, that blasted Lexus mouse/knob infotainment. In fact my biggest criticism is that compared to the Camry upon which it is based (in lengthened Avalon form), there is a decrease in rear passenger headroom. I brush my head slightly in the ES, not so in a Camry. Also less glass area in general as I understand it.

    • 0 avatar
      AK

      A similarly used GS350 is a much nicer way to spend $31k

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Wow, didn’t realize how close GSs are! I personally would definitely go that route, but I know my father in law is way to into the hybrid thing (although a tree hugger he is not, more so technophile and wanted a combined 30mpg+). I’d also look long and hard at a Hyundai Genesis/G80.

  • avatar
    TCragg

    Tim, just wondering if your communication issues were on Aug. 3 when Bell and Telus were out for most of the day? We were vacationing with friends in (on?) your Fair Isle a couple of weeks ago when we all decided to head to Charlottetown for some sight-seeing. We are Rogers customers, they Bell. Needless to say, we lost contact until we ran into each other in front of Cows. How appropriate!

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      I’m actually with Eastlink, so I survived that outage. No, I was just in a dead spot Sunday. Sometimes you lose voice and can still get weak data. Other times you lose good data access but could make a call. This was a metres difference, and I should know better to check that I am locatable and gone into another part of the lot. In my own house, it’s great in the front but poor in the back, and off and on in the basement. I’ve certainly had more problems with Eastlink than with Bell, but the dropped call problems I was having with Eastlink in N.S. aren’t happening in PEI.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    With the V-6, this sedan appeals to me.

    With the hybrid, it has zero appeal.

  • avatar
    raffi14

    I can’t believe Toyota still uses Ni–MH batteries like the late 90s Prius in these things. They’ve gone from being a leader to having the most dated hybrid setups, while Honda has gone from building the most mild hybrids to the most aggressive setups with high-power electric motors, AWD, and CVTs that somehow don’t feel like crap.

  • avatar
    jberger

    The new models will be running Li-on batteries as they move over to Toyota Next Generation Architecture (TNGA). That’s a 2018 model change, the batteries move under the seats for more trunkspace, adds back the trunk passthru, etc.

    I understand the comments saying it’s a stretch Camry, but in reality it’s really not. The ES has a very large backseat area and is just much nicer all around than the Camry. We’ve had a couple of Hybrid Camry’s in the family and they are just not the same as the ES. Same drivetrain, but the Camry is not nearly as comfortable for long trips.

    I own one of these (2014) and usually drive it at least 500-1000 miles week. I’m usually in the mid 30s with Hwy speeds of 78-84 for the last 10K miles. You must have been really cooking it to get it below 30.

    Turning the knob to “sport” seems to give a about 70% more power from the battery to the motors. It’s not a tire shredder, but it makes a difference, especially in the city where you are fighting for space. It also really adds heft to the steering so it’s not nearly as light.

    None of these things make it a sports car, that is not what it’s supposed to be. It’s designed to comfortable for extended trips, nicely appointed, cheap to operate and very reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      ” I’m usually in the mid 30s with Hwy speeds of 78-84 for the last 10K miles.”

      This sounds like just about the same mpg I saw in my in laws’ ’13 Camry Hybrid XLE. My wife’s 2.5 gas Camry will do 32mpg all day long doing close to 80mph, I’ve rented a Passat 1.8TSI that got 38 (hand calculated, 40mpg indicated) holding 77mph for hours on end on adaptive cruise. Perhaps in more heavy city-centric driving the hybrid is worth the upcharge, but even there my wife’s 2.5 SE has averaged about 30mpg lifetime average, with currently an all-urban commute and a 50/50 mix before that.

      “I understand the comments saying it’s a stretch Camry, but in reality it’s really not. The ES has a very large backseat area ”

      In reality, it literally is. The Camry’s legroom is already ample, adding more while sacrificing headroom and glass area are a poor trade IMO. I don’t disagree that the Lexus is more comfortable for long trips, the better seats and lower NVH definitely pay dividends.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    “Zero to 60 mph in 8 seconds is insufficient”

    No, it’s not.

    Ever.

    For reference:

    http://www.zeroto60times.com/vehicle-make/honda-0-60-mph-times/

    and find the 2014 Odyssey.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Dude, have you ever tried to launch an Odyssey?

      An unskilled driver will likely spin the tires all the way down the drag strip, but in competent hands it will amaze and delight.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      Ah, the old pull half a quote out of context trick. I see what you did there.

      • 0 avatar
        jalop1991

        “Ah, the old pull half a quote out of context trick. I see what you did there.”

        The point is, if you were driving an Odyssey (or any Honda) you specifically would NOT have said that its acceleration was insufficient, regardless of circumstances.

        Or that it would have ANY flaw, no matter the circumstances.

        Just pointing out the hypocrisy.

        And that ES300h? WAY better car than anything Honda has produced in years.

  • avatar
    ajla

    It is about $1000 to get a natural wood interior in the ES and it is the best $1000 you will ever spend.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    The Michelin Primacy is a pretty good tire, Mr. Cain. Not just for straight-line comfort, but for handling as well. It’s one of the better all-seasons you can buy, though it is a bit old now. Tire Rack tested it in 2010 (probably on a BMW 3-series, as they often use those), and it pulled 0.93G on the skidpad. (Of course, exact test conditions make a difference.)

    All I am saying is, I don’t think a tire swap will fix the handling ills of this heavy, FWD, comfort-tuned machine.


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