By on November 11, 2019

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

Far be it for us to foist accolades on a modern production car, but the current-generation Lexus ES is a taut, well-behaved sedan that feels like a quality item. It’s also front-wheel drive, which might be a no-go proposition in your books.

If those rear wheels aided in propelling the ES forward, would it change the equation? Because that’s what Lexus might have in mind. It’s a big might.

This tidbit of news, garnered from Lexus Enthusiast via Motor Authority, comes after the test drive of an ES300h prototype test drive offered to Japanese media. The vehicle in question came equipped with all-wheel drive.

Before you get too excited, it’s worth knowing that the rear axle of the ES300h driven in Japan has no mechanical connection to the engine. This is an E-axle affair, where a battery supplies power to an electric motor that motivates the rear wheels independent of the front wheels. It’s become an increasingly common presence in Toyota products of late, found on the RAV4 Hybrid, the Lexus UX, and even the Prius, which recently sought to boost its flagging popularity with a feature coveted in Snow Belt regions.

This is not a feature that offers drift opportunities and a 50:50 torque split; rather, it works up to a set speed to simply get a vehicle moving in low-grip conditions. Power supplied to the rear axle pales in comparison to even a hybrid’s downsized powerplant.

That said, there’s precious few details about the ES300h prototype’s AWD setup. The brand could choose to pack on the power in the aims of fielding a green sports sedan, or not. You won’t find a hybrid ES with the F Sport package, not that that addition brings AWD into the picture.

Nor is the ES or its Toyota Avalon sibling a very sporting vehicle in hybrid guise. Competent, smooth, and efficient, yes, but hardly a powerhouse. Adding ponies to the rear axle could help the model kick up its heels a bit, but given Toyota’s product direction, it would seem that any E-axle inclusion would lean more towards all-weather capability and general appeal, not thrills.

Lexus itself poured icy water on speculation of an AWD ES, claiming in an email to Motor Authority that the Lexus sedan was being employed as a test mule for electric drive technology. That’s still no guarantee that a future E-axle setup won’t appear in the large-ish midsizer.

Through the end of October, ES sales are up 7.4 percent in the U.S.

[Image: Steph Willems/TTAC]

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10 Comments on “Livelier Rear Axle Coming to Lexus ES?...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Yeah I don’t see that hokey system working for much more than traction control type situations. Audi A6 this is not.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      To be fair, that distinction won’t matter to the elderly target customers for this car, whose only concern is getting away from a snowy stoplight without spinning tires, and who are willing to pay thousands for the perceived security of an AWD badge.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I think it will provide those perceived expectations and that the system was probably designed for the use case you describe. However the article is implying more, something more akin to a RWD focused AWD system, which is where I am casting doubt.

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    What was the ES taught, and who taught such things to it, is what I really want to know today.

  • avatar

    Expect the ES will add things like AWD/EV/trims/LWB(?) as it pushes upmarket and replaces the soon extinct GS.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    This also strikes me as a preview of a GS-free world.

    I’m sure equipping the ES with AWD will keep a few more older ES customers in northern states from defecting to the RX, but I don’t think it will sway many of the few remaining GS buyers. They’ll head straight for whichever of the E-class, 5-series, or A6 has better reliablity ratings at the moment.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Oh, and Toyota hybrid AWD using a rear motor is actually better for non-performance passsenger car AWD applications than your typical on-demand AWD system in a FWD platform, because it can respond faster.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Toyota/Lexus, Honda, Hyundai, Volkswagen, KIA, and. Others continues to thank Guangzhou-Guadalajara Motors (GM) and Hackett-led Ford for nearly completely ceding this space to them, now, and in future years (when sedan sales march back up).

  • avatar
    nrd515

    If it isn’t RWD based, it’s dead to me. Never.

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