2013 Lexus ES 300h: Affordable luxury and hybrid technology in one package (Test Drive)

2013 Lexus ES 300h
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The ES 300h is the entry level sedan in Lexus's luxury hybrid collection. Starting at a relatively reasonable $39,350, it comes in at more than $20,000 less than their next level hybrid, the GS 450h, and almost $81,000 less than the ridiculously lux LS 600h L. But nothing about the 300h feels "entry level." Not the looks, the comfort, the technology, or the drive.

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Given that Toyota basically invented modern hybrid technology, and have been doing it longer than anyone else—and (fun fact), 92% of all Lexus cars sold in Europe are hybrids—I expected a lot out of the car. It's also the first-ever ES 300h with Lexus Hybrid Drive, so I wanted a lot more than a "Prius" feel to the engine and the drive. And the ES 300h delivered.

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Under the Hood and On the Road

The ES 300h is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine + electric motor that, together, generate 200 total system horsepower—with the gas powered engine accounting for 156 of those horses. In a vehicle that is fairly long and fairly heavy at just under 4,000 lbs., you'd think that the engine would feel anemic or overtaxed, like a 4 year-old pulling mom and dad in a wagon. Not so.

When I drove the ES on surface roads, I found the ride to be exceptionally comfortable, there's no hesitation or feeling like you've got to dig your spurs in to get it to go. And the shifting from electric to gas is seamless.

I also had the chance to unwind the ES on track in Michigan, and the performance was admirable—especially for a hybrid that's more lux than performance. You've got ample acceleration, but not blistering. It takes the ES a little over 8 seconds to go from 0-60, but even so, you wont have to worry about merging on the highway or passing trucks. If you really want higher end performance, step up to the GS 450h.

The 300h has an estimated EPA fuel economy ratings of 40 mpg city, 39 mpg highway and 40 mpg combined. For the week that had the vehicle, I averaged 36 mpg, and I wasn't always gentle on the throttle. In fact the 300h features a Drive Mode select feature, with Normal, Eco, Sport, and EV modes. I had it in Sport much of the time, dialing it down to Eco for highway driving. And even in Eco the 300h performed well, you could leave it in that mode 24/7 and be perfectly happy.

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Behind the Wheel

Lexus is known for richness and comfort, and even at this "entry level" you'll get plenty—along with a nice selection of high tech toys to make the ride more enjoyable and safer.

My tester came with the available 12-way power seat with a seat cushion that extends by 1.4 inches. A great touch to give us longer legged people better leg support. The ES also has the Remote Touch Interface, a small video game-like controller in the center console that controls a curser on the screen to operate the climate, audio, phone controls, optional navigation system and more. It takes a bit to get used to—and I prefer touchscreens—but after a little while you get used to it, and it does seem easier than reaching over to tap the screen.

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I was also able to enjoy the available 15-speaker, 835 watt Mark Levinson® audio system with the eight-inch display screen, HD Radio with iTunes tagging, DVD audio/video and a Sirius XM Satellite Radio receiver. It's a ridiculously pricy option at $3,745 for the package, and I'm not sure I'd spring for it if I had to dig into my own wallet. But having that rich, clear sound to drown out the noise of the traffic around me, was pretty priceless.

As a bonus, it also features Mark Levinson's exclusive GreenEdge technology that doubles the output of the amplifier, while reducing energy consumption by fifty percent. So I told myself that blaring that music was somehow helping the environment...

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The highlight of the interior for me is the accent wood that surrounds the cockpit and steering wheel. The regular choices of exotic woodgrains or aluminum are replaced by bamboo, grown on Lexus's own sustainable farms, reminding you every time you slide behind the wheel, that you're in an eco-friendly vehicle.

Overall

The Lexus ES 300h makes a statement made on both sides of the ride, striking a great balance between a car that treads lightly on the planet, while chauffeuring you to your destination in comfort and style.

Starting at $39,350

See also: BMW unveils production i8 plug-in hybrid (94 MPG, coming to US in 2014)

Tags: Hybrid Cars

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