2020 Lexus ES300h Review - The Relentless Pursuit of Fuel Economy

Rob Eckaus
by Rob Eckaus
Fast Facts

2020 Lexus ES 300h Fast Facts

2.5-liter four-cylinder with hybrid battery (215 hp system (176+39 via battery); 176 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 163 lb-ft @ 3,600-5,200 rpm)
Continously-variable automatic, front-wheel drive
43 city / 44 highway / 44 combined (EPA Estimated Rating, MPG)
5.5 city, 5.2 highway, 5.3 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$41,810 (U.S) / $47,798 (Canada)
As Tested
$47,100 (U.S.) / $61,900 (Canada)
Prices include $1,025 destination charge in the United States and $2,195 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.

Sedans continue to take up a significant chunk of the marketplace, but with the ever-evolving and more functional crossover SUV becoming less compromised in terms of efficiency and safety, the crossover sales takeover continues. That said, lighter-weight sedans, especially hybrids, can still net you some fuel savings.

To wit – the 2020 Lexus ES300h.

Taking the front-wheel-drive ES platform, which shares with the Toyota Avalon an identical wheelbase of 113 inches, the two also share the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder gas engine that produces 176 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers may not sound like much, but add two electric motors to the mix and the combined 215 horsepower is adequate for most drivers. Lexus claims an 8.2 second 0-60 mph dash.

Perhaps more relevant to hybrid buyers are the 43 mpg city and 44 mpg highway EPA estimates. I was able to confirm these numbers on a 240-mile round trip that mixed highway and suburban/urban driving, showing 43 to 44 mpg at 65 to 70 mph. This was with the climate controls kept in the low 70s and the ventilated driver’s seat set on max. Interestingly, during hot weather commuting, I noticed the air conditioner stayed in recirculate mode at 65 mph while on a two-lane back road.

Efficiency is one thing, but this powertrain is also quiet and smooth, with the only non-premium-level feedback being a faint grumble from the gas four-cylinder. Torque is immediate, thanks to the electric motors, and the response exceeds typical commuting acceleration. It will get you ahead in traffic, but do not expect to blaze a trail and put bus lengths between you and your fellow commuters. The automatic start-stop system is so unobtrusive that it’s a “non-starter” for generating complaints of shudder, noise, or delays.

Highway cruising using the adaptive cruise control is a pleasant experience, and the system handles manual lane changes well while also speeding up when slower traffic moves out of the way. That said, it sometimes fails to anticipate certain maneuvers. For example, it struggles to recognize lane-change signals and it also has issues recognizing a slower vehicle moving into the other lane until said vehicle is fully moved over. It will bring the car to a stop by itself, but not without some abruptness and rocking back on the springs. It does come to a stop a perfect distance from the vehicle in front – you can see where their tires are touching the pavement, which is the general rule of thumb. If you inch forward it fights you a little, with a little jerkiness before coming to a stop again. If you’re not stopped for too long, the ES will resume forward travel with gentle acceleration.

[Get Lexus ES pricing here!]

The exterior has some classic lines, with a long hood and a well-designed front suggesting sportiness when viewed from the side. The polarizing Lexus grill will certainly generate comments, although kudos to them for having the guts to stick with a unique styling element. The Atomic Silver paint is luxury-car gorgeous, with a great hue and tiny flakes.

The rear has a clever and subtle two-level rear deck that’s also notable when viewed from the side; utilizing the body crease and taillights. A hybrid badge on the lower rear doors is unnecessary but not obtrusive. Lexus placed subtle and classy badging on the rear bumper and in the headlight housings. Driving at night “revealed” the excellence of the headlights, and the bright mode was borderline fantastic. I did not get to see how it looked for oncoming traffic, that would have been interesting.

The 235/45/18-sized Bridgestone tires do not look large by today’s standards, but they do have rather outstanding curb rash protection. They could stand to have more grip, and perhaps predictably, this car understeers when pushed. The ride is near perfect for luxury travel, not floaty nor stiff enough to raise an eyebrow. When faced with a dropoff, it has a perfect amount of soft landing and rebound, as opposed to a clunk and body creak.

Entering or exiting is easy, thanks to doors with very wide openings. Inside, the black leather interior featured comfortable seats and the aforementioned ventilation worked well, with very minor fan noise on the highest setting. Of course, the moonroof shade is a shade of ever-present gray but boy oh boy the window sunshade just feels like it’s precision made, based on the way it slides.

The much-maligned touchpad for the infotainment system still manages to get the job done. The 12.3-inch display screen (seems like many manufacturers use this size, what a score for that supplier) is perfectly positioned and angled. Figuring out how to program the radio/Sirius XM presets is easy

If you like to keep an eye on your fuel-economy numbers, the trip computer and hybrid-system displays are helpful. Not as helpful, however, was the poor, distorted view from the back-up camera. At least, the Mark Levinson PurePlay 17-speaker, 1800-watt sound system, which is part of a $2,900 navigation package, is top tier. The wide-ranging suite of Lexus connectivity is available and the feature that really stands out in terms of daily use is the remote start available by phone. It is not enabled by the key fob.

Interior storage is very good. The center console is deep with a dual-hinged lid for driver or passenger access. There’s also a wireless phone-charging pad inside. There is an adjustable-level drink/storage cubbyhole behind the shifter and another in front of the touchpad. I found the door pockets to be quite useful. The map pockets behind the seats are leather but should probably be renamed personal device pockets to better reflect the times. Trunk storage is excellent, and there’s no indication of the hybrid system’s batteries taking up valuable trunk space. The cargo net with attached storage bag is a thoughtful addition.

Despite 19 possible button presses on the steering wheel, not including the horn, it was easy to figure out. Display menus, volume, and phone controls on the left; vehicle driver-assist systems and cruise control on the right. It shames the two multifunction switches on the Tesla steering wheel that require multiple inputs or a voice command. It does have paddle shifters despite the continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT) that displays numeric representations of ranges gear ratios. But really, why? I suppose if someone enjoys “manually” shifting this luxury commuter, then, by all means, go for it. The engine’s and exhaust’s aural feedback are neither sport nor performance caliber.

Loaded with luxury and technology options that raise the MSRP from $41,810 on the Lexus website (as of this typing, pricing is always subject to change) to $53,530 including $1,025 for delivery, process, and handling.

My test car was a Luxury model with upgraded 14-way power driver’s seat with cushion extender, which I’d recommend. A further upgrade is the Ultra Luxury package, the price of entry starts at $45,660, and the package adds lateral performance dampers (long lateral shock absorbers that attach on either side of the car and absorb the micro-movements and vibrations, contributing to a quieter, more stable and comfortable ride). The package also includes a power trunk with a foot-activation sensor.

If you’re seeking luxury yet fuel efficiency, this is probably the premier choice. But if you have the itch for more oomph, would a drop in mpg be worth the gain in performance? If you answer that question in the negative, this is the happy medium.

[Images © 2020 Rob Eckaus/TTAC]

Rob Eckaus
Rob Eckaus

A lifetime enthusiast and member of WAJ and MPG automotive journalist organizations. I've attended AMG, Audi, BMW, Bondurant, Exotics Racing, KTM X-Bow and SRT schools and hot lapped dozens of cars and drag raced at multiple tracks in 5 states. I also hate HOV lanes. Motto: Fast cars, slow bikes

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5 of 26 comments
  • Ttacgreg Ttacgreg on Sep 03, 2020

    "The automatic start-stop system is so unobtrusive that it’s a “non-starter” for generating complaints of shudder, noise, or delays." Seriously??? Got news for the author here. The Toyota hybrid system does "stop/start" at speeds as high as 70+mph these days.

    • See 1 previous
    • Rob Eckaus Rob Eckaus on Sep 15, 2020

      It was a reference to the engine shut-off function when at a stop light, not the hybrid system when driving. The engine shut-off in our 2018 SQ5 is very intrusive and the first thing we do is shut it off after pulling out of the garage.

  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Sep 03, 2020

    This car exists because of the Japanese market. Back when one could travel, last year, I went to Tokyo and Kyoto. There was nothing we consider JDM, those cars are long gone. What you do see are Kei cars...a lot of them, and a lot of minivans with luxury trimming and very scary looking grilles. The majority of non economy class cars are Hybrids, from Prius to full sized luxo yachts...and those minivans with the scary grilles. I didn't see any electrics other than Tesla. Hybrids literally everywhere... in every size and design. This car wasn't built "for" the USDM, they make them so they are trying to sell them here too....like Japan, we are a wealthy market on a world scale. Oh and CVT ? Fail.

    • Tonycd Tonycd on Jul 11, 2023

      Worth noting about the CVT is that it's the usual fail in terms of subjective driving pleasure and sounds, but it's not the usual grenading mess of belts when it comes to reliability. These are an e-CVT and have proven utterly bulletproof.

  • Daniel J Until we get a significant charging infrastructure and change times get under 10 minutes, yes
  • Mike I own 2 gm 6.2 vehicles. They are great. I do buy alot of gas. However, I would not want the same vehicles if they were v6's. Jusy my opinion. I believe that manufacturers need to offer engine options for the customer. The market will speak on what the consumer wants.For example, I dont see the issue with offering a silverado with 4cyl , 6 cyl, 5.3 v8, 6.2 v8, diesel options. The manufacturer will charge accordingly.
  • Mike What percentage of people who buy plug in hybrids stop charging them daily after a few months? Also, what portion of the phev sales are due to the fact that the incentives made them a cheaper lease than the gas only model? (Im thinking of the wrangler 4xe). I wish there was a way to dig into the numbers deeper.
  • CEastwood If it wasn't for the senior property tax freeze in NJ I might complain about this raising my property taxes since most of that tax goes to the schools . I'm not totally against EVs , but since I don't drive huge miles and like to maintain my own vehicles they are not practical especially since I keep a new vehicle long term and nobody has of yet run into the cost of replacing the battery on an EV .
  • Aquaticko Problem with PHEV is that, like EVs, they still require a behavioral change over ICE/HEV cars to be worth their expense and abate emissions (whichever is your goal). Studies in the past have shown that a lot of PHEV drivers don't regularly plug-in, meaning they're just less-efficient HEVs.I'm left to wonder how big a battery a regular HEV could have without needing to be a PHEV.