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Lexus ES300h Premium (2018) review

Lexus’ renewed effort in the executive saloon segment sees the new ES taking the charge. And it’s quite a decent choice.

The Lexus ES has always been a much-overlooked choice in the Thai executive car segment, currently dominated by the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

Despite it being a highly comfortable car, past generations of the ES weren’t really a match for the Germans in terms of driving dynamics.

One reason could be the drive format. While the ES was always a front-driver, those two rivals drove the rear ones in main-selling models.

Of course, Lexus has the rear-drive (and higher priced) GS.

However, Toyota’s upscale nameplate has now decided to make the latest generation of the ES a more credible alternative once and for all explaining the news why the GS may be discontinued.

After driving the seventh-gen ES in the US earlier this year, we found it to be just what it has always been: spacious and comfy.

And for the first time ever, the ES looks great on the eyes and is now a more focused saloon to drive.

Those impressions remain intact with this Thai-spec ES driven here this week.

The exterior design, for one, is expressive and helps make it distinctive in its class.

Most Lexuses in Thailand usually don’t draw attention from the kerbside but not this new ES.

The interior of the ES now has a more driver-oriented feel to play along with the sporty concept Lexus wishes to inject in it.

Everything is within easy reach from the driver’s seat, although the touchpad for the infotainment screen has overly sensitive fingertip operation.

Despite sitting on a wheelbase shorter than in all of its intended rivals, the ES actually has the best rear legroom in-class. The same also applies to the extra-comfy and supportive seats.

Settle for Premium, as tested here, and you get rear backrests than can recline. It would have been great if the chairs had cool-air ventilation in this particular grade which it hasn’t; cooled front seats are standard on all three trims made available in Thailand.

Even so, the ES probably is the best car in its class to spend time and relax. The cabin isn’t short on perceived quality, as well, not to mention the many features it has. The number of driving aids in the top two grades outnumber those in all of its competitors bar the kit-rich Volvo S90.

Driving on Thai roads have far more revealing facts than when doing so under restrained conditions in the US. The first thing worthy of praise in the new ES is how it irons out road surface imperfections at low speeds.

And, unlike before, this hasn’t backfired with a floaty feel outside town. Although the ride doesn’t feel as serene as in a 5 Series, it still suffices sufficiently in the ES.

This bodes quite well for the new Toyota Camry, due for Thai launch next week, because it shares the same platform called TNGA in Toyota and GA-K in Lexus speak as the ES.

Lexus’ aim of making the ES a more satisfying car to steer also seems to be spot on.

The car feels easy to place in tight conditions and continues to offer a direct steering feel in corners.

You’ll hardly notice that the ES is front-drive even when you provoke the front end when exiting curves or driving away hard from standstill.

Yes, it has a balanced handling, is quite a good car to drive and feels more agile than in several of its competitors.

As Lexus doesn’t have assembly lines in Thailand, the ES comes exclusively with hybrid power for low excise tax to counter the high import duty it needs to face.

The powertrain is no other than the 2.5-litre petrol-electric which, however, has been reengineered here and there with many improved bits for better economy and response.

The result is quite positive because this so-badged ES300h now has a more lively performance that can be stretched to its top speed quite easily but not with the same kind of rush in its competition, be it the diesel-powered 520d or the rapid S90 T8 plug-in.

The manual mode of the CVT automatic, too, doesn’t shift instantly and may only prove to be useful when you need to hold onto any specific gear (like when driving up and down mountain roads).

But the better stuff from this hybrid is fuel economy. Achieving at least 15kpl in town-driving is easy and quite impressive by class-standards (even against the diesel-powered opponents). And because there’s no plug-in facility, the ES is economical in a hassle-free manner.

When it comes to real-world usage, there are many things to like in the ES. It’s comfy, reasonably good to drive, frugal on fuel and specified quite well for the money.

While Premium may sound a little excessive at 4.19 million baht, Luxury and Grand Luxury are more comparable with rivals at 3.59 and 3.76 million baht respectively.

The ES shouldn’t be overlooked nor underrated anymore. It has managed to retain its core values while injecting newfound levels of dynamic ability for the driver. More importantly, it scores well in real-world relevance.

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