By on June 14, 2012

The Lexus ES has been the best-selling Lexus sedan for decades, outselling every Lexus model except for the RX. While the ES was originally designed as the Japanese luxury brand’s entry-level vehicle in America, it is slowly becoming one of Lexus’ flagship products. To prove to us that Lexus has what it takes to reign supreme in the FWD luxury class they created in 1989, they flew us up to Oregon to sample the all-new, sixth generation ES 350 and 300h hybrid.


“Why would you pay more for a fancy Camry?” Every Lexus owner has heard that statement from someone before. For 2013, the new ES rides on a variant of the Toyota Avalon’s skeleton. You won’t find any “Avalon” in the ES’s sheetmetal however. While the ES remains a very sedate sedan, the “spindle grille” seems to suit the ES better than the more expensive GS. Despite sharing nothing with the old ES, the new model is instantly recognizable, and that’s how Lexus owners like it (or so we are told.)


Aside from the rubbery dash and the wood trim, the old interior had a very “mid-market sedan” feel to it, primarily due to its and aging style. Lexus decided to bring the ES significantly upmarket with an all-new interior themed after the 2013 GS model we sampled earlier in the year. While the style isn’t quite my cup of tea, the fit and finish is perhaps the best in the Lexus lineup, easily rivaling the current generation LS. Regardless of your model or color choice, the dashboard is always black and always sports hand-stitched pleather. Unlike Buick’s molded-then-stitched dash, the ES’s interior is actually crafted by a skilled team of 12 in Japan, on sewing machines. While nobody at Lexus would comment, I couldn’t help drawing a comparison to the Lincoln MKS and Cadillac XTS. Why? Because the ES has grown inside, dishing out a whopping 40 inches of rear legroom (4 more than before, and suspiciously identical to the XTS). The ES’s interior is easily several steps ahead of the domestics when it comes to haptic quality, except for one major faux pas: the key fob. Like the new GS, the ES’s key feels incredibly cheap. Key quibbles aside, the ES delivers all the luxury schtick you could ask for, from heated rear seats and rear window shades to 10 standard airbags and a power trunk lid.


While the 268HP V6 and 6-speed automatic transaxle are carried over from last year’s ES, Toyota has tweaked the transmission’s shift logic for greater efficiency. We tested the V6 model and it sprinted to 60MPH a hair faster (6.35 seconds) than the 2012 model we tested recently. This is thanks to revised transmission and traction control software that allow the vehicle to apply power with less wheel spin. While these refinements are interesting, the big news for 2013 is the ES hybrid. For the ES 300h, Lexus lifted the hybrid system out of the Camry Hybrid. Delivering 200 total system horsepower and about 200lb-ft of torque (Lexus has not released an official number yet), the system was able to scoot the model we tested to 60 in 7.28 seconds, or 3/10ths of a second slower than the lighter Camry Hybrid. Lexus is promising a luxury-segment besting 40MPG city, 39 city, 40 combined.


Base ES models were unavailable for testing, but we are told they are equipped with an 8-speaker audio system with Bluetooth and iPod integration and XM radio. Opting for the “display audio” buys you a 7-inch LCD coupled with the standard surround-sound system. A bump up to the navigation system gets you an 8-inch screen and opens the door to the 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. The ML system sounds as good as it does in the GS with a very natural balance and an excellent surround system. Sadly, Lexus’s awkward joystick/mouse interface came along for the ride. With Lexus’ market leaning towards older customers, I have a hard time believing my parents would be able to use the system.


Our brief 120 mile drive around the Oregon countryside, it was obvious there were no major theological shifts at work inside Lexus. The ES is still a softly sprung FWD highway cruiser. The thick rimmed steering wheel and sport button promise sporty driving, but when pushed moderately, the front heavy ES heads for the bushes. You know what? I’m OK with that. If you want something sportier, get a GS F-Sport. Out on the road the hybrid ES 300h gives up a bit more grip thanks to different tire choices and a bit more curb weight, but it countered that with an impressive 42MPG average in our brief test. Thanks to electric power steering, all models are as numb as a remote-controlled car. As the industry continues to chase MPGs, numb steering is getting so normal that the ES is no worse than a number of German vehicles I could mention. Despite what Lexus may tell you, the Sport mode doesn’t help much.


Lexus has not finalized pricing as of this time, but we were told to expect the ES 350 to be “substantially similar” in pricing to the 2012 model. In addition to not raising the pricing bar, Lexus claims the ES will have “the lowest hybrid premium in the luxury market.” Since the Lincoln MKZ hybrid is the same price as the gasoline version, make what you will out of that. With a pricing scheme likely to range from $37,500-$48,000, it is worth pointing out that this significantly undercuts the FWD Lincoln MKS and the FWD Cadillac XTS by a fair margin. While the new ES may not set your loins on fire, it does offer a compelling balance of luxury features and will no doubt continue to be Lexus’ best selling sedan. With competition like this, Caddy and Lincoln had better watch their back, Lexus isn’t pulling any punches.

Lexus flew me to Porland and put me up in a swanky hotel for 20 hours so we could attend the regional launch event. The food was great, the weather was terrible.

Specifications as tested

2013 ES 350

0-30 MPH: 2.55 Seconds

0-60 MPH: 6.35 Seconds

2013 ES 300h

0-30 MPH: 3.2 Seconds

0-60 MPH: 7.28 Seconds


Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

46 Comments on “Pre-Production Review: 2013 Lexus ES 350 & ES 300h...”

  • avatar

    I would say after having read this review and the reviews of the new Cadillac XTS and having seen this in person at New York and the XTS in person at Detroit, Cadillac has nothing to worry about. While I would rate both the ES and XTS about par on exterior looks, neither is really a stunner, (Although I do like Cadillac’s use of light pipes in the brake lights, headlights and door handles) the interior quality and infotainment systems aren’t even a competition. Cadillac’s CUE system is setting a new standard for infotainment systems (Whether touch screens and buttons should be in cars is another argument) and their reconfigurable dash is a sight to be seen in person. Also, reviewers have raved about interior quality on the XTS, especially the platinum version, and the Cadillac has not only Brembo brakes but the magnetic shocks as standard. So while the XTS is more expensive even in base trim, it seems to offer far more technology and performance.(as much as can be had in a FWD full size sedan)

    Does the ES come with side detection alert, auto braking, adaptive cruise etc? I haven’t done enough research to find out.

    And will TTAC have a review of the XTS? Others have posted theirs and I was anticipating one here but have yet to see it.

    • 0 avatar

      Id have to disagree the XTS’s interior looks like something out of an entry level sedan. The XTS’s interior styling looks cheap and bland as well as using a lot of cheap materials.

      The Lexus’ interior on the other hand looks very refined, stylish and built with better materials.

      • 0 avatar

        A lot of cheap materials? Have you read any of the reviews of the XTS? Have you actually seen the XTS in person? The XTS is starting to show up at dealers right now, so I highly recommend you go see one for yourself. The XTS, just like the Lexus, uses real wood, real leather and even real brushed aluminum accents. Nothing about the XTS’s interior is cheap.

        And although Motortrend is certainly not the first place I would go for car reviews, they had this to say:

        “Then you have the interior, and it’s a near knockout. I’ve long critiqued Cadillacs for not being as luxurious on the inside as the German and (some of the) Japanese competition. No longer. Nearly every surface is made from high-quality, soft-touch materials. Those that aren’t are either wood or metal. And it actually looks designed. The cabin’s width is emphasized, as the sides of the dash seem to push the A-pillars outward. In fact, the trim pieces are so long they continue past the door cut. When you drop the $60K required to get into the XTS Platinum, you get trimmings like a perforated leather dashboard with purple contrast stitching and a roof swathed in GM’s most-excellent faux-Alcantara – the same super high-quality stuff that’s wrapped around the steering wheel and shift knob in the CTS-V. It’s almost impossible to overstate how deluxe the XTS’ interior is. Case in point: I came and left the XTS drive in a Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG, and the XTS’s innards are noticeably finer overall.”

        Read more:

        This coming from Motortrend of all places!

      • 0 avatar

        The interior in the XTS has gotten universal plaudits, esp. for the Platinum trim.

        Otoh, the interior of the new ES has gotten criticisms for some cheap bits.


        “Luxury touches include piano-black or genuine wood trim, with real bamboo in the ES 300h, and optional ambient lighting below the door and dashboard inlays. Lexus’ NuLuxe faux-leather upholstery, offered in cars like the CT 200h, is standard. Last year’s ES had standard leather. The NuLuxe feels synthetic, but it’s softer than the often-stiff leatherette, aka vinyl, competitors serve up.

        The cabin trades last year’s chrome inlays for silver plastic, and the faux-leather dashboard trim is little more than a stitched veneer, which Lexus calls a stitched slush mold. Other entry-luxury cars, including Lexus’ own CT 200h, have more-convincing dashboard stitching, and Chrysler’s sedan can come wrapped in genuine leather. Similar stitching to the ES adds a classy vibe to the plebeian Camry, but in the pricier Lexus, it rings cheap.”

        Even the GS has gotten criticism for some cheap feeling switchgear.

  • avatar

    it looks like atleast 3 different interior designs were crammed into 1 interior.

  • avatar

    Yawn…you lamenate over Lexus sales of the past but are they not near the bottom? Maybe ahead of Saab?

    • 0 avatar

      Nearly 90,000 sales (worldwide, with around half going to the U.S.) in 2010 for a $40,000 entry level luxury car, during an economic crisis, is pretty impressive.

      I test drove a 2012 ES350 the other day. Really nice car. Comfortable. Modern enough given it’s six years old, and some pretty amazing attention to detail. I’ve never been a Toyota fan (I’ve many times chastized the Camry, if you’ll recall) but I have to say, my next car is going to be an ES350.

  • avatar

    Good review, Alex.

    Why does everything look so derivative these days? The front end of this ES looks like some sort of Ford Taurus police interceptor, while the rear end oozes Hyundai/Kia.

  • avatar

    Looks good, a reasonable, but not fabulous update. Interior a big improvement. I’m not a fan of the mouse controller. The ES has found it’s demographic. As a card carrying Medicare recipient who drives in miserable city traffic, for me the comfortable ride trumps razor sharp handling. Bulletproof reliability (carry over drivetrain), excellent dealer service, high trade in values ( leading to reasonable lease deals) will keep this ES model a favorite with the over 50 crowd, which buys the majority of all new cars sold in the US these days.

  • avatar

    I can’t believe it took this long for Lexus to hybridize this car, and I really can’t believe they had the brain-slip that was the HS250h first.

  • avatar

    That IP looks very last gen BMW 7 series.

  • avatar

    When comparing this car…well, all cars…I thin it is more fair to use models similar in release date.
    I understand the new XTS, but the MKS?
    The MKS has been around since the ned of 2008.
    I would rather you used the new MKS coming out this summer/fall. It seemes to have been in enough shows to use when comparing the interiors.

    This happens a ton. Take the new mid size cars. Often the Mazda6 is used against the newest and it has been around almost 5 years.

    Just thinking….

    • 0 avatar

      As long as the models are in the market simultaneously, it’s fair, because that’s exactly what buyers get to compare. You go to the war with the army you have, not the army you might have or the army you wish you might have.

  • avatar

    I really love this new interior styling theme Lexus has undertaken. It saddens me that cars these days “need” big flat screens alongside the dash to be competitive, but this is the best design integration I’ve seen thus far.

    Whoever said the rear looks like a Hyundai is spot on… it def bears an uncomfortable resemblance to a Genesis sedan, which itself is mindlessly derivative. But people don’t buy cars like this for their exteriors… and this interior is a win for me. Miles away from the old female anatomy center console of the last gen (once you see it you won’t be able to unsee it, I promise). Spacious as hell too? This is a slam dunk.

    Glad to see internet auto execs have stopped complaining about the ES not being a Lotus Exige or CTS-V as well. This car isn’t for us, but that doesn’t make it bad.

  • avatar

    “To prove to us that Lexus has what it takes to reign supreme in the FWD luxury class they created in 1989…”

    — Methinks Acura created this particular FWD luxury class with the Legend in 1986 and Audi had the similar sized FWD 100/200 much earlier (arguable whether in the same class or not as the Japanese FWD).

    • 0 avatar

      What about the 1985 Cadillac DeVilles? Saab 9000s? In the US, the Audis were sold as 5000s, and I think they started deliveries in the late ’70s. The earlier 100LS made it here too, but it was so awful that it would be hard to say it inspired competitors or customers.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    The design is dull and not a fan of the hour glass grill and LED lights in the headlights. Why does everyone have to copy Audi? I would have liked this to be the new Camry and have Lexus aim a tad higher.

  • avatar

    I can see this car’s appeal. I expect it will sell very well.

    It’s not for me at this point in life, though. But if I find I need a nice, comfortable, hwy cruiser, it will be on the list.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    All new? how so? it is still built on the same chassis as before, in reality there have been only 3 different Camry/ES models since their inception back in 1983.

    • 0 avatar

      ““Why would you pay more for a fancy Camry?” Every Lexus owner has heard that statement from someone before. For 2013, the new ES rides on a variant of the Toyota Avalon’s skeleton. You won’t find any “Avalon” in the ES’s sheetmetal however”

      Amazing what one can learn when they read!

  • avatar

    The exterior styling makes the current car’s blandness look even more dull and the interior is also not my cup of tea. Much prefer the looks of the new XTS to this and that is not saying much.

  • avatar

    As usual, Lexus makes the worlds best Buick.

  • avatar

    Really not feeling that interior. The latest Lexus interiors may be high-quality, but to me the overall look is cheap. That middle section with the Hazard button reminds me of an Aiwa stereo from 1999.

    Also, what’s up with all the switch blanks to the left of the steering wheel (viewable in pic 13)? Reminds me of a base Civic dash.

    • 0 avatar

      The switch blanks were the first thing I noticed too. It’s a glaring example of a very un-Lexus-like inattention to detail. Both Lincoln and Cadillac manage to make dash panels that are customized to the button and functions actually on that particular car.

  • avatar

    Back of that thing looks like a Hyundai Genesis.

    I’d rather have the Genesis R-Spec than this.

  • avatar

    I really don’t believe someone is cross shopping an XTS or an MKS with a Lexus. People who are still buying big Cadillacs or Lincolns would NEVER buy Japanese. These people tend to be older Americans with family histories that are tied to the auto company they buy from. I’m not saying this is 100% the case, but, I can’t really believe someone cross shops these cars.

    • 0 avatar

      After Caddy the most number of Lincoln cross-shoppers seem to be comparing to Lexus in my experience.

      It’s mainly ES vs MKZ/MKS and RX vs MKX. I’ve had a few people looking at the MKT vs the Infiniti JX or FX, but those aren’t as common.

  • avatar

    In about five years that L on the front grill will be about as big around as a basketball.
    Lexus has become another ‘one of the usual suspects’.

  • avatar

    Very good review.

    I like being able to view the video to supplement the written review.

  • avatar

    Usually, I would browse the site quickly to see what’s new and then decide what to read first, at first glance, and second glance, I could not get over the fact that the first image looks like a 2012 Focus.
    Am I alone?

  • avatar

    I’m really glad cars like the ES and XTS exist. While a lot of people may lament that they’re FWD and ‘boring’, I personally see them as a modern interpretation of the “classic luxury” of old: cushy, rolling sofas. Only now there’s a lot of tech being put to use, and much greater attention to detail.

  • avatar

    Alex – the video review was fantastic! You did a great job of hitting on all the things that matter for a full size sedan and the trunk test was particularly amusing. Keep up the great work!

    I would have never been an ES customer with the last gen, but the ES300h is a pretty compelling package. 40 mpg, 40″ of rear legroom, great bamboo interior. Going from DINK to Dad, I could see my family’s primary vehicle being something like this.

    • 0 avatar


      ” Going from DINK to Dad, I could see my family’s primary vehicle being something like this.”

      I doubt it. If you have 40k to spend, you wont want to deal with the constant stooping to get kids in and out regular sedan. Also, you’ll want the ability to haul bulky strollers, porta potties, etc.Finally, the kids will wreak havoc on that sweet interior

      Crossover or minivan is where its at.

      Signed – one who spent the first 9 months of parent hood with mid/large sized sedan as primary vehicle, then went mini van and wondered why we waited so long.

      • 0 avatar

        We’re upgrading from a MINI as my wife’s primary car, haha. We actually ordered a Prius v (station wagon/van version). A true van seems overkill for one kid. If, and that is a big if, we have a 2nd, we’ll go for a van.

  • avatar

    It’s interesting that you mentioned the Avalon because that car actually makes this car look BAD (except in the actual exterior look of course, since the Avalon has always been ugly as sin). For instance, the Avalon comes with cooled front seats (not just ventilated) and as far as I understand, the ES does NOT come with rear climate control OR rear heated seats (both of which the Avalon has). It’s also worth mentioning that while last year’s ES had real leather, buyers will now have to make do with synthetic NuLuxe just like their kids/or Gen Y neighbors in the much-cheaper CT200h.

    All this being said, I expect the 50-65 crowd to continue to choose this over competitors such as the LaCrosse and the Azera because of the brand cachet…after all, we now have the upper middle class Lexus ES300/RX350 woman/man solidly cemented in our society (they’re only VPs, not the president/CEOs mind you), kinda like the “Mondeo man” of the UK a decade ago. And don’t even mention Cadillac. Anyone who detests rap stars or chrome (pretty much 80% of the upper middle class in this country) will continue to avoid Cadillac like the plague (certainly California does).

  • avatar

    Competent, soulless, anonymous. A car for the creative and imaginative to avoid like the plague.

  • avatar

    As (a somewhat younger than normal) Lexus owner, let me give my opinion:
    I don’t give a shit if its ‘recognizable’ as a Lexus, and neither do other Lexus owners I know. I want it to look pretty, drive well, have a decent amount of power, and be as reliable as a Camry. I’d prefer if it didn’t put on bloat as well, and I like a good MPG car- even if I should ever get to the point that the price of gas does not matter to me, frequent fill ups are a pain in the ass.

  • avatar

    Cars are getting uglier and cheaper looking by the year.

    Let’s face it…the pinnacle of the internal combustion vehicle was sometime in the early to mid 90s.

    Now all we have is this hybrid crap.

    I think I’m going to hang on to my 2007 Accord like grim death.

  • avatar

    Terrible looking car. Just bad.

  • avatar

    Why do all the reviews focus on the 300h, when the 350 will probably out sell it 10 to 1?

  • avatar
    Mr Nosy

    Well, Maybe this is some kind of a plot to quell aspirations,as I simply don’t feel any aspirational urges towards this vehicle. See, right there,I chose to say “vehicle”,as opposed to “car”. It’s parts are all first rate,but without any flow. A Josh Groban & American Idol finalist duet,as produced by ELO’s Jeff Lynne.

  • avatar

    As another younger than average Lexus owner I’m really feeling the exterior styling. But I was hoping it would have a bit of a more engaging driving experience. The interior does look like a bit awkward. I was thinking about upgrading from my current ES, but I might have to give the XTS a looks and go back to my Cadillac roots (and yes, my family worked for GM for years thus my affinity for Cadillacs)

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • DenverMike: Do you know what a pacifier is? Ford can’t call it what it really is (in a statement). Mama Drama,...
  • kcflyer: our local taco joint has had a big sign out front for over a month begging people to interview for and...
  • NormSV650: Which Cadillac made today looks like Chevy? When was the last time your eyes were checked?
  • mcs: Another automotive feature that can kill if it’s abused by idiots. Not nearly as high as the Fiesta or the...
  • EBFlex: You are the type of person to buy a brand new house and have corrosion on all of the water faucets and...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber