For years hybrid cars have been marketed as efficient rather than sexy or sporty - but times have changed with the arrival of new models like the 2013 Lincoln MKZ hybrid and Lexus ES 300h. Lexus gave me the keys to a 2013 Lexus ES 300h, the ES model's first ever hybrid, for a week in San Francisco, CA - read on for our hands-on test drive!
For the 2013 model year Lexus has completely revamped its ES, which is now in its sixth generation. The big news for the popular Lexus sedan is the addition of the new hybrid version and the fact that for the first time ever, the ES does not share its platform with the Toyota Camry. The Lexus ES now shares its platform with the larger Toyota Avalon.
For years the Lexus ES has existed as the entry level model in the Lexus lineup. It’s always been the more luxurious Camry and with that label came an extra amount of luxury features, but it’s never been as sporty as Lexus’ rear-wheel-drive models. Well, again times have changed and I was in for a surprise. The Lexus ES 300h was actually fun to drive through the hills of San Francisco. So much fun in fact that it was probably one of the most enjoyable hybrid models I’ve ever driven.
Why? Well the ES 300h has three different modes: Eco, Normal and Sport. Through the Drive Mode Select knob drivers can toggle between the three modes, which alter the car’s throttle response and power steering assist. In Sport mode the ES 300h was an absolute surprise. The ES 300h will sprint away from a stop light thanks to the instant torque from the electric motors. In all three modes you will be hard pressed to tell the differences between the three and you can still operate in full EV mode below 25-30 mph in each. There’s also an EV button that forces the ES 300h to only use its electric motors during slow speeds, like in traffic.
Lexus also offers the ES with a 3.5L V6 in the ES 350, which packs more grunt than the hybrid version, but with a rating of 40/39 mpg compared to 21/31, the hybrid version will definitely keep you away from the gas station longer.
After a week with the ES 300h I was constantly surprised by how enjoyable it was to drive (for a hybrid). More than one valet guy also said “hey I like your car” and one friend even loved how spacious and comfortable the back seat was. It looks like the days of the “ugly, slow hybrid” will soon be far, far behind us.