2013 Lexus ES 300h
2013 Lexus ES 300h. Click image to enlarge
First Drive: 2013 Lexus ESManufacturer’s web site
Lexus Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2013 Lexus ES Hybrid

Beyond big horsepower and hot handling, not much makes a car more interesting, at the moment, than adding electricity to its drivetrain.

Enter the Lexus ES, a car that needed a serious dose of something – anything – interesting, and since it wasn’t a candidate for high-performance treatment, a gas-electric hybrid variant is what it gets for 2013, along with new styling inside and out.

Prior to this, the ES 350 was just another entry-level luxury car with family car roots. It’s still based on the Camry, but the new-for-2013 ES 300h benefits this year from (slightly) more distinctive styling, and a hybrid powertrain (also borrowed from the Camry) that ditches the ES 350’s V6 engine for a four-cylinder matched with an electric motor and battery pack. (For the record, the ES 350 is still available.)

2013 Lexus ES 300h
2013 Lexus ES 300h
2013 Lexus ES 300h. Click image to enlarge

The 300h becomes the largest Lexus to use four-cylinder power. Its combined (four-cylinder engine plus electric motor) 200-horsepower output doesn’t seem like much, but aided by the torque-rich electric motor, the car accelerates smartly, albeit with less of the straight-line excitement of the ES 350’s 268-hp, 3.5L V6. If the replacement of the smooth-sounding Toyota/Lexus V6 with a less-refined four-cylinder sounds like a deal-breaker, in reality, there’s not much to worry about.

Normal acceleration happens near-silently, with the electric motor providing much of the torque needed to keep up with traffic flow. It’s only at wider throttle openings that you’ll hear much of anything from under the hood. What gives away this powertrain’s unconventional nature is the way it delivers its power. Nail the throttle at cruising speed, and you’ll have to wait a beat for full power, like an automatic transmission that’s slow to downshift. The engine idles less smoothly than the V6, but the hybrid’s ability to shut the engine down while the car is stopped mitigates that.

With electric assist and fuel-free “idling” at play, Lexus claims fuel consumption estimates of 4.7 L/100 km in city driving, and 5.1 L/100 km on the highway. Those figures are identical to the top-trim Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE’s, but real-world testing revealed quite a contrast. The Camry Hybrid XLE I tested in warm early autumn weather averaged 5.9 L/100 km in a mix of city and highway, but this Lexus averaged 8.1 L/100 km in a week of city driving, with sub-zero mornings and single-digit daytime highs. Both cars performed the same otherwise, so let this be a lesson in how cold weather affects fuel economy.

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