2013 Lexus ES300h – Hybrid humbug!? Or WOW!?

Bah, humbug! I have to admit, I’m a hybrid car ‘Scrooge.’  That’s normally my first reaction to hybrid cars.

At the risk of over generalizing, hybrids tend to be over-priced (compared to their gasoline counterparts), slow, and, well, just plain dull.  But testing the all-new-for 2013 Lexus ES300h Hybrid is starting to convince me hybrid vehicles can be good vehicles for those predisposed to the technology.

For 2013, Lexus’s mid-size 4-door sedan ES premium sedan is an all-new vehicle.  Though conservatively-styled, the new body style is decidedly bolder than the outgoing model.  The nose features a new grill and large lower air intake, headlight surrounds sweep longer, flowing into the fenders, and deeply sculpted recesses for the fog lights combine to give a modern face.  In side profile, fender arches are more pronounced and ‘kick ups’ at the end of the rocker panels and behind the rear wheels add visual interest.  A subtle trunk spoiler finishes off the tail.  A combination of technological ‘tweaks’ to the gasoline/electric power plants and transmission and aerodynamics (Lexus claims a super slick drag coefficient of 0.27 making the ES300h ‘slipperier’ than a Porsche 911 Carrera!) give the new premium hybrid impressive fuel economy ratings.

Lexus can’t be faulted for the sense of quality and luxury inherent in their vehicles.  The ES300h’s interior immediately feels luxurious and every surface visible to the eye and those you touch feel ‘premium.’

The instrument cluster has a simple layout and is easy to read, thankfully avoiding the busy, ‘techno Gameboy’ gauges found in some hybrid vehicles.  The dashboard’s lines are elegantly modern, with a row of double-stitching that colour-matches the very nice Ivory NuLuxe (faux leather) upholstery.  (A full leather interior is optional.)  Keyless entry/ignition, heated seats, dual zone climate control, wood grain trim, driver seat memory, sunroof, analog clock, fog lights, 8-speaker audio system, backup camera with 7-in. display screen, and a feature I really liked – a driver’s seat that automatically slides back and steering wheel tilts up when the car is turned off that enables easier exit/entry – are all standard features one expects in a premium sedan.

The cabin is remarkably silent, comfortable space to spend time in, and the rear seat has plenty of head and leg room for adults.  Lexus claims the new ES has increased rear seat space over the previous model.

Like all hybrid cars, the ES300h has multiple ‘Drive’ modes:  Eco, Normal, and Sport.  In Normal mode, the 200 horsepower (combined gasoline and electric) motors provide sufficient power around town and the Lexus drives like a normal, gasoline car.  Switch to Eco mode and the drive-by-wire throttle is programmed to be slower, the CVT transmission shifts earlier, and (as we discovered in minus 15 degree Celsius winter conditions) the climate control system is affected.  Driving in Eco mode makes acceleration leisurely compared to Normal or Sport, plus there’s the unwelcome side effect of forcing the heater fan to run at low speed.  The result is in really cold weather, it takes the interior longer to warm up.  We found that in frigid temperatures it’s better to start off in Normal, allowing the climate control system fan to operate normally, and when it does, the ES300H warms the interior very quickly.

Once the gasoline engine is up to operating temperature and the cabin is toasty warm, I switched to Eco mode where the hybrid’s leisurely acceleration on ice-covered city streets isn’t a disadvantage, and it’s in stop-and-go bumper-to-bumper traffic where hybrids shine.  Even in very cold weather testing with lots of idling, our ES300H’s onboard computer informs us the Lexus is sipping regular fuel at a stingy 8.1 l/100 km (35 mpg) in city driving.  Though nowhere close to the official fuel economy ratings, that’s still impressive in our real world, severe weather testing.

I feel like choking when I say I like the 2013 Lexus ES300h Hybrid.  No, it’s definitely not a ‘driver’s’ car.  It’s cushy soft, luxurious and comes with that reassuring Lexus badge that delivers quality, reliability and superb after sales service.  If you’re one of the few who’s committed to the benefits of hybrid cars and you’re willing to pay the $4,400 dollar premium over its gasoline counterpart, the 2013 Lexus ES300H Hybrid is a rock solid choice.

The Specs

2013 Lexus ES300h Hybrid

Type of vehicle:  Front-wheel-drive luxury mid-size 4-door sedan

Engine: 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle DOHC 4-cylinder

Power: 200 horsepower (gas+electric); 199 (est.) pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Continuously-variable (CVT) with Eco, Normal, Sport modes

Brakes: Electronically Controlled Brake System

Tires: 215/55R17 winter, temporary spare

Price: $43,900;  As-tested:  $45,995 (includes $100 ACE and $1995 frt & pdi)

Transport Canada fuel economy (L/100 km): 4.7 city, 5.1 highway (regular unleaded)

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