By on March 25, 2013

The ES has been Lexus’ best-selling sedan for 15 years yet the front-driver started life as something of a side-show. In 1989 the ES was a thinly veiled Camry, supposedly rushed to market because Lexus dealers couldn’t envision launching a brand with one vehicle (the LS 400) and were unwilling to wait for the SC and GS. This explanation makes sense to me and explains why the ES was the only FWD car in a brand created to compete with the Germans. Of course, this odd fit within a full-range RWD luxury brand is exactly why the ES sells. Wonder why Acura’s wares never had the sales success of the ES? It’s all about the brand baby.


The first ES was a Camry with an LS 400 aping nose job. Since then the ES and the Camry were developed together on a common platform, but with every passing redesign the marriage has become more rocky with the two sharing less and less with one another. Like any couple “trying a separation,” divorce was inevitable. For 2014 the papers are served and the ES is now shacking up with the Camry’s big sister, the 2014 Toyota Avalon. Oh, the tongues will wag.

The platform swap means the ES has grown an inch in length, an inch in height and the wheelbase has stretched nearly two inches over the 2012 ES, making it two inches longer than the new GS. LS owners shouldn’t fear, as the flagship is still the biggest Japanese luxury vehicle on the market. For 2013 Lexus has ditched the former ES’s suppository side profile for a blunter nose, taller greenhouse, longer hood and shorter trunk. The new proportions make the ES look like one of the family, not an accident that happened later. It also makes the new Lexus spindle grill look particularly good in my mind, not something I was able to say about the GS or some of the other mugs wearing the new grin.


Snazzy gizmos aren’t worth anything if they aren’t delivered in style, just ask Apple. The redesign brings the ES’s interior game up a few notches in some ways and down in others. The dashboard now features the latest in automotive interiors crazes: the faux-stitch. Like Buick’s LaCrosse, the ES uses a standard injection-molded dashboard that is then run through a sewing machine (by hand, because this is still a Lexus) to put real stitching on fake seams. While I appreciate the extra effort, I must point out that the ES’ sister-ship Avalon uses real pieces of pleather mechanically quilted together on a sewing machine and fewer hard plastics within easy reach of the driver. As a result I found the Alvaon to have a more premium look and feel with the exception of the fake-wood in the Toyota. Yea, I scratched my head too.

The interior’s design mimics the two-level style introduced in the 2011 GS. Basically we have an inset infotainment/navigation LCD in the dash separated from the system controls by satin nickel and wood trim. I’m still unsure if this is a design theme I’m happy with, let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. While fit and finish in our ES tester was excellent, we found more hard plastic in this cabin than in the old model and while it didn’t bug me on the preview junket a year ago, it did raise my eyebrows after having the new Avalon for a week. On the flip side, all ES hybrid models get new light bamboo wood which has to be one of the most appealing wood veneers I have seen in a vehicle cabin.

The ES’ front seats contort in 10-ways with an optional extending thigh cushion on the driver’s side. Thanks to supple padding and improved NuLuxe (pleather) upholstery on the base hybrid and regular or semi-aniline leather on up-level trims, your backside won’t notice you racking up highway miles. The Lincoln MKZ Hybrid may have a slightly snazzier interior, but the ES’ front seats are more comfortable. The steering wheel is borrowed from the GS sedan, complete with soft leather. Should you want a more premium tiller, the same bamboo can be applied to two-thirds of the wheel and heating is optional as well.

Rear passengers are treated to the most rear legroom of any Lexus sedan – including the six-digit LS 600hL. If you look at the picture above, the driver’s seat is positioned for a 6-foot tall driver in a somewhat reclined position. The result is more combined (front/rear) legroom than a Lincoln MKS or a short wheelbase 7-Series. Since the ES has a more mature audience in mind, the rear seat bottom cushions are higher off the floor making them more comfortable for adults than a Camry. Sadly, the cushy rear seat have something of a flaw: they don’t fold. I had hoped the old Avalon’s reclining rear seats would have made it to the ES, but they were lost on the cutting room floor for both vehicles. ES 350 shoppers get a ski pass-through to help ease the pain, but hybrid lovers must not be winter-sports folks; that opening is plugged by the battery. Speaking of batteries, the nickel-hydride battery pack exacts a trunk-toll of 3.1 cubic feet, reducing your cargo hold to 12.1 cubes, a heftier price than hybrid GS buyers pay.

Infotainment & Gadgets

For $39,250, base ES 300h models get an 8-speaker audio system with Bluetooth and iPod integration and XM radio. Opting for the $740 “display audio” option, buys a 7-inch LCD coupled with a Lexus-branded surround-sound system and backup cam. You will be hard pressed to find either of these on dealer lots as an inventory search by my local dealer turned up zero ES 300h base models in California and exactly two of nearly 300 ES hybrids on dealer lots. That’s fine by me since I demand more toys on my ride.

Most ES options are sold bundled in packages ranging from the $5,250 “premium” to the $10,650 “ultra luxury.” All packages bump you up to the 8-inch LCD navigation/infotainment system, include an electric power tilt/telescoping tiller, in-dash DVD player, and a steering wheel with wood inlays. In addition to iPod/USB media voice control, smartphone text messaging and app integration, the system has ditched the intuitive touchscreen interface for my least favorite input method: Lexus Remote Touch, aka the Lexus joystick. The joystick is intuitive to use because it’s just like a mouse on your computer. You wiggle the controller and the cursor on the screen wiggles. Simple enough, right? I have two problems with it. First, it occupies a great deal of room on the center console, an area the Avalon uses for more conveniently located latté-holders. Secondly, the basic software driving the system hasn’t changed since the touchscreen days. See the problem? With the old system you could glance at the screen, look back up at the road and let your right hand stab the option, even my 91-year-old grandmother has the hand-eye co-ordination to do that. With Remote Touch you have to spend far more time watching the screen to see if the cursor is on the option you want, a potentially dangerous situation if you like playing with your gadgets while you drive. Want to enter an address using the on-screen QWERTY keyboard? It’s obvious why Lexus won’t let you do that in motion. The Avalon uses a version of the same software but retains the touchscreen interface and oddly enough the ES’ base audio system (one notch above the LCD-free ES) uses a knob-style controller like Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

The ES wouldn’t be a Lexus without a few gadgets and expensive options. Top on my list are the $3,745 (yes, you read that right) Mark Levinson sound system which sounds fantastic (as it should for the price), $500 parking sensors, $400 power opening/closing trunk, and the $1,500 radar-based active cruise control with pre-collision warning. Of course all these gizmos are included with the ultra-luxury package bringing the top-end ES 300h to a cool $50,795.


The Avalon Hybrid, Camry Hybrid and ES 300h share the same hybrid drivetrain. Driving the system is a new-for-2012 2.5L 2AR-FXE four-cylinder engine. Running on the Atkinson cycle, the four-pot puts out 156 HP and 153 lb-ft of twist. That engine is coupled to a revised Lexus Hybrid Drive transaxle (labelled as Toyota Synergy Drive in Toyota products), in essence a beefier Prius hybrid system. The planetary gearset and two motor/generator combination allow the system to drive electric only for short distances at limited speeds, motivate the vehicle solely on engine power or combine the 156HP with extra juice from the battery pack in the trunk to deliver 200 ponies until the battery has been depleted. Lexus doesn’t specify a combined torque rating for the ES Hybrid, but based on the 7.24 scoot to 60 we clocked, I estimate the combined number is around 200-220 lb-ft. That run to 60 is a hair faster than the MKZ and about 1/2 a second better than the LaCrosse eAssist.

Performance is better than these numbers might indicate thanks to 199 lb-ft from 0-1500RPM courtesy of the hybrid motor. Lexus is sticking to nickel based batteries and not the trendier Lithium batteries found in the Lincoln. Despite this, the ES averaged an impressive 42 MPG over 780 miles of mixed driving. While that may sound worse than the MKZ’s 47/47/47MPG trifecta, nobody seems to be getting more than 39 in the Detroit hybrid. Meanwhile the ES bested it’s 2008 EPA numbers of 40/39/40 (City/Highway/Combined.)


There is no other front-wheel-drive hybrid with a luxury logo on the grille to compare to the ES 300h. Sure we have the eAssist Buick LaCrosse and the Lincoln MKZ, but aside from the MKZ being a size-class down and the LaCrosse not being a “true” hybrid (its not even sold as such), neither brand has the same cachet as Lexus. Remember what I said at the beginning? The ES’s strongest selling point is its brand. If BMW made a large, soft front driver, you can be sure its sales would exceed the ES. What does that have to do with the way the ES hybrid drives? Everything. You see, the way the ES handles, brakes and accelerates isn’t as important to the stereotypical driver as the way the car looks, the logo on the grille, how quiet it is, how reliable it is and hoe well the dealers treat you. When it comes to these qualities the ES 300h is the prefect driving appliance.

The ES’s cabin is still peaceful at highway speeds but Buick’s dedication to sound deadening is extreme and the LaCrosse is quieter under most circumstances especially in terms of engine noise. Since the three FWD luxury hybrids all use four-cylinder engines, sound deadening is important. Despite growing in this generation, the ES’ ride isn’t as thoroughly damped as the outgoing model, that’s thanks to Lexus’ efforts to make the ES handle less like a marshmallow. The suspension engineer’s efforts paid off with the ES feeling neither too floaty nor too harsh. The 215/55R17s our tester wore had more grip than I had expected and the ES hybrid didn’t head for the bushes when driven hard. When the road started winding the ES never felt sloppy or out-of-place maintaining its Lexus trademark poise over broken pavement and uneven turns. When it comes to absolute horizontal grip the ES comes in behind the competition, mostly due to the wide 245/40R17s worn by the LaCrosse and the 225/50R17s on the MKZ Hybrid.

Still, the overall experience is what the ES is about, it’s about dealership satisfaction, a polished purchasing experience and a long warranty. The competition has caught up here as well with the MKZ Hybrid and LaCrosse aAssist delivering the same bumper-to-bumper and powertrain warranty terms and Lincoln is now tossing in 4 years and 50,000 miles of scheduled maintenance. The ES 300h’s trump cards remain the same as before: Lexus’s brand image and their reliability reputation. There’s just one further problem: the 2013 Avalon Hybrid. The Avalon Hybrid Limited starts higher than the ES 300h at $41,295 but ends far lower at $44,145 despite having an incredibly similar feature set. Our friends over at tell us the price difference ends up at $4,476 for comparably equipped models. Is the Lexus brand, a longer warranty and a snazzy dealership worth the difference?

Hit it

  • Excellent fuel economy.
  • “Short” four-year payback vs the non-hybrid ES.
  • Lexus warranty, reliability reputation and that all-important brand image.

Quit it

  • Lexus Remote Touch is harder to use than the old touchscreen system.
  • Plenty of hard plastics within easy reach.
  • The Avalon hybrid is a better value.


Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.95 Seconds

0-60: 7.24 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.67 Seconds @ 91.1 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 41.2 MPG over 785 Miles

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43 Comments on “Review: 2013 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid (Video)...”

  • avatar

    In my opinion, the 13 Avalon is the first Toyota whose looks are a turn-off. I hope the new Highlander that will be revealed later this week does not share the same designers. Personally, I like the looks of this ES … much more than the last version.

    As far as comment that the ES is just a hair faster than the ES, are you sure? If the Lincoln uses the same hybrid system as the Fusion, then the 0-60 gap would be on the order of seconds, which is more than a hair. According to car and driver, the Fusion Hybrid ran a 0-60 in the low 9 second range.

    Finally, it would be great to see some skidpad numbers before labeling the all Toyota products as non-handlers. To me, it seems this Toyota = poor handling is more of a marketing smear from Detroit than reality.

    • 0 avatar

      Ironic, as the 2013 Avalon is the first one I ever thought looked pretty decent. The back end looks almost exactly like an LS to me. Somebody at work has one and I keep thinking it finally looks like a premium car instead a boat for old people.

    • 0 avatar

      “According to car and driver, the Fusion Hybrid ran a 0-60 in the low 9 second range.”

      Link please. If you are correct then I apologize in advance, as I dont keep up with every article on every car. However at this moment I am calling BS.

    • 0 avatar


      I think the new Avalon is better looking (sleeker, more cohesive) than the outgoing model. I would say the same for the last gen Camry vs the current one, the last gen looking better.

      Alas, it’s not Detroit that labels Toyota products (with exceptions) as no handlers, its enthusiast who test and review the cars. I had an RX that we loved. Handling was merely adequate but it was great at being a CUV. I have a BMW for fun. Even when Toyota’s have the same skid pad grip as the Germans, they lack the feel and finesse that lets you feel comfortable using that grip. ( The Camry SE comes to mind) again with exceptions, (IS, LFA).

      • 0 avatar

        My father’s mid 2000’s Avalon begins to get loose and sloppy in advance of a curve. It handles rather poorly. But to it’s credit when you swerve as if in accident avoidance maneuver, it is pretty predictable. But the poor handling is ok as my father, and the vast majority of Avalon owners, don’t care about dynamics. They care about the quiet, soft, isolated ride. And by that metric, the Avalon excels.

    • 0 avatar

      The transmission is not a CVT transmission and has 6 speeds which can be manually be selected all the other hybrids have a CVT transmission.
      That is why it performs a little better.

  • avatar

    Nice review, though I did skip the infotainment part of the video. When you reached up and touched the engine cover, the perceived quality wobbled with it. Granted it has 1.5″ more rear leg room than a new Accord, but if I were in the market for a larger fwd in a more conservative shape, I think I’d choose the Honda– especially considering the $17,000 difference.
    From the rear 3/4 I haven’t seen enough of both to distinguish one from the other, along with some offerings from Hyundai. While I’m sure it is quiet, and 39 mpg it terrific, this vehicle is so stylistically boring, it gives me hope for the new MKZ sales.

    • 0 avatar

      “Granted it has 1.5″ more rear leg room than a new Accord”

      Seems to me rear HEAD room is even more of a concern nowadays.
      Most people shopping in that boundary area between Toyonda/Lexura probably are no longer concerned about stashing kiddies back there so much as the rare & awkward trip with 1 or 2 adults in the back.

  • avatar

    With the exception of the FWD overhang – I like the entire exterior profile. I noticed that the instrument panel allows for a more traditional look than other hybrids.

    I’ll presume that the CVT on the ES 300h was well tuned to keep the revs low, since you did mention its smoothness as part of your test drive.

  • avatar

    I spent a good amount of time looking over the Lexus at the Chicago Auto Show as I thought it might be a good choice for the next ride. Alex’s statement that “plenty of hard plastics within reach . . .” is a fairly strong understatement. More like “acres and acres of cheap black plastic . . . ” I’d like to give the Toyota engineers credit for some sort of well thought out plan that justifies the plastic. Unfortunately, it comes off as a de-contenting exercise that attempts to keep you focused on the shiny brand while missing the fact that you’re getting less. A big disappointment. Overall impression: the Honda Accord and Avalon were better.

  • avatar

    No tachometer?

    Even the Lacrosse has fold down rear seat and is quieter to drive. I’d bet the $25,000 Buick Verano is quieter than any Lexus, sones too!

    • 0 avatar

      what do you need with a tach on a toyo hybrid? Computers do all the watching of that stuff on these.

      Anyway, if there is a “sport” button on there somewhere, a tach magically appears on the dash. A gimmick.

      This car simply too expensive for my blood. Sure look nice though.

      Thanks for the review.

      • 0 avatar

        Not at highway speeds. The V6 ES gets a tach.

  • avatar

    My first impression of Japanese “luxury” brands came in ’95 when my boss wanted to show me his new LS400. We drove to a restaurant for a staff dinner party about 30 miles from work. I was a newly minted Toyonda acolyte so I expected to be mightily impressed.

    Holy crap, by the time we got there I was convinced that with a good pair of work gloves I could rip apart most of that car. I have never been so surprised out of a preconception as with that Lexus. Loud, hollow and tinny sounding, cheap & thin seeming interior materials, NVH on par with my Civic wagon… WTF?

    While I remain convinced that Accord/Camry are the best blend of reliability, safety and “just enough” performance for a frugal and informed middle-class buyer, any possible future desire for “Japanese Luxury” was aborted that day.

    • 0 avatar

      Haha. Thanks for the good laugh this morning. I guess all magazines and reviewers who rave about the excellent build quality, quietness, and refinement of the LS got it completely wrong then. Thanks for clearing that up! I’m sure Lexus got to where they are today by building cars that are worse than Civic Wagons at many times the price.

    • 0 avatar

      That 1995 LS400 is probably still on the road, with minimal repairs and still looking timeless. I have little doubt that the owner of an XJ8, 740i, S500, or A8 of that era would have turned over their rides numerous times by 2013. Sort of like buying a Leica lens in 1995, expensive to buy but you’d still be using it today. Because you can.

    • 0 avatar

      This is the first time I have heard anybody call the first generation LS loud, hollow, tinny, or cheap. The LS broke new ground for premium quality at a more reasonable price than MB or BMW.

      It is really amazing how many of the first generation LS cars are still on the road today, and how good many of them look. Unless they got donked out ($$$$ on wheels & stereo, 0$ on maintenance) most of them look great, even the interiors.

      • 0 avatar

        “This is the first time I have heard anybody call the first generation LS loud, hollow, tinny, or cheap.”

        Okay, okay… maybe it’s not really my memory…
        Maybe someone was thinking that about a ’95 Taurus and brushed against me in line at the airport while I was looking at a magazine ad for Lexus….

        Induction happens!

    • 0 avatar

      While not a Lexus fan boy, I think you were in a bad apple. That era LS was routinely touted as the quietest car in the world and one of the smoothest riding. I owned a 2002 Accord EX V-6 and it was not in the same league as the 2002 ES, much less an LS. That gen LS had NO hard plastic touch surfaces in the interior. The Honda’s of the era were ALL hard plastic interiors. (Commensurate with their price point). You were in a bad example.

  • avatar

    I think that somewhere in the past twenty years, Toyota began succumbing to the dreaded “complacency of success”. Hard to avoid when your product has double digit gains year-over-year, plus an equally improving market share. But I cannot help but feel they’ve lost some of their mojo in the process. The vault-like “feel” I got from the LS and SC cars seems to have been diluted. Don’t get me wrong, however. Their product today is still head and shoulders above Cadillac. The GM luxe are also beautifully done automobiles, but lack the driving dynamics I would expect in this price range. To me, the rear-drive STS was an excellent car, and the decision to axe it with no immediate replacement was another head-scratching GM decision. But that was a GS competitor, not ES. Plus, my demographic is not an ATS buyer (read:older). As a die-hard domestic cheerleader, you would think I’d get used to their questionable group-think. I haven’t. But, hope springs eternal, and I’m hoping for a Cadillac version of the Aussie RWD SS. Probably too much to ask for if I wanted five doors, yes?

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Someone I know has a Cadillac STS-V (roughly 2,500 examples were made over four years), which I have driven around town and on the interstate. One word: awesome!

  • avatar

    I like Lexus, but if you’re spending 50K – assuming you’re alot more well off than I am, then WTF are you worrimg about gas milage for? Maybe it’s the warm fuzzy of hybrid drive, me – if I had that kind of money to toss on a nice 4 door sedan, this wouldn’t be it.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The $50K area for mid-sized/full-sized sedans is kind of awkward. On one hand, you could buy something like this loaded ES 300h, which is nice, but will leave you with the feeling that you could have gotten something more fun. But $50K won’t get you too far in the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, Jaguar XF, Lexus GS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, or probably even the upcoming Cadillac CTS. Even the not-quite-flagship full-sizers like the Acura RLX, Cadillac XTS, and Lincoln MKS don’t get interesting until you’re nearer to $60K (although you could probably get steep discounts on the Lincoln).

      I probably wouldn’t spend $50K on a sedan. I’d either buy the less-expensive ES 350 for around $43-$45K, or just pony up the $58K or so to get a nicely-equipped sports sedan or luxury barge.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re not worrying about gas mileage. But rather about the image of following the herd who wants to be seen as caring about the environment. After all, none of the exact same people, particularly cared in practice about their H2’s ability to go offroad back when those were the fashion accessory dujour either.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you, even if this was my “it” car, forget the Hybrid. I have nothing against hybrids, I love the LS600h, but for economy, give me a diesel.

  • avatar

    “but if you’re spending 50K”

    I will never spend more than 30K on a car. After the cars of my youth, a 26K car nowadays is already wildly luxurious, safe and dependable. The rest of my money goes into things that don’t depreciate 15% yearly.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    This is a nice car and all, but I just wouldn’t buy it over the 2013 Toyota Avalon, which is much more my style. The only feature I care about that is bundled with the ES and not the Avalon is the standard power tilt-telescopic steering column. As for the Enform system, 90’s interface graphics, and Transformers-inspired front-fascia: Lexus can keep it all; I don’t need it…

  • avatar

    Alex, the Avalon might cost less upfront, but I can pretty much guarantee that very, very few Lexus buyers will be tempted to trade down to a Toyota to save $5k. Add in the fact that the ES will maintain most (if not all) that premium at resale, and you’ve made the Avalon a hard sell, no matter how competent.

    The maddening thing about Lexus is their restrictive ordering packages. You want an adjustable thigh bolster? Hope you like the panoramic roof, power trunk closer, and a price that tickles $50k. Leather instead of NuLuxe? You’re getting the bigger wheels, spoiler, and blind-spot monitor too. For the ES350, our local dealers only offered three combinations, with a good $5k separating each.

    • 0 avatar

      And don’t forget, you get to buy it and have it serviced at the Lexus store, not rubbing elbows with the Corolla driving proles. That might be worth $5k alone.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        The Lexus ownership experience can get pretty nice…especially at the locations that have spas and salons and massages and golf-courses. All the same, I’ve never understood people that were turned off to vehicles like the, say, Hyundai Genesis or Toyota Avalon solely because they might end up in the service bay next to an Accent or Yaris. I couldn’t care less what other cars are being serviced at the shop; chances are I’ll be someplace other than the dealership’s garage anyway.

  • avatar

    Despite the luxury badge, the ES hasn’t fared that well in comparison to the MKZ, much less the sans luxury badged Azera and Avalon.

    Considering the criticisms of the ride and plasticky interior of the ES, the refreshed Lacrosse should also fare better.

    The ES sells b/c it is a midsize (now closer to a full-size) priced like a compact luxury sedan (also the reason why the RX sells so well).

    The “prestige” for Lexus hasn’t exactly helped sales of the RWD GS or IS and the LS sells well for its segment b/c it is still thousands less than the Germans ($20k cheaper than the S Class).

    Growth for Lexus sales will come with the RAV-4 based CUV (Lexus is basically half FWD Acura/Lincoln and half RWD German with the FWD half driving most of the sales).

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    “I know I’m a broken record on this, but don’t you think these ever-lowering rooflines are intolerable?”

    Agreed. I’m fully encapsulated in the crossover world. It’s beyond my comprehension as to why anyone would purposely contort themselves to an uncomfortable position….

  • avatar

    This car was made for people who don’t want to think about cars and have the money to make it so. Now with an extra helping of extreme fugly so that other drivers can spot them as they heave into view and avoid the ADD real estate agents piloting the helms.

    Beyond sad. Another carbuncle on the automotive landscape.

  • avatar

    More hard plastic than even previous generation? That’s very disappointing considering the previous generation had more hard plastic than 02-06 ES. The ES from two generation ago really was the pinnacle in interior quality. Rich and thickly lacquered wood trim, almost no hard plastic, even areas where you never touch. Very soft leather.

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