Toyota was one of the early adopters of hybrid technology with its Prius, a model that became popular with Hollywood eco-warriors such as Leonardo diCaprio. Globally, Toyota sells a large number of hybrid electric vehicles but in South Africa they haven’t caught on as much as the manufacturer would like.
The same is true for Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus. It is renowned for offering good value for money, compared to its European counterparts, due the long list of standard kit its models come with. It also offers a number of hybrid derivatives. The latest is the 2019 Lexus executive sedan, the ES 300h.
The Lexus brand, despite producing some outstanding cars, has lagged behind its German competitors when it comes to sales and appeal here but the company hopes to change all that with the introduction of the ES 300h.
First, the exterior is visually arresting, especially the spindle grille, with a design that is both beautiful and unique. The car is full of creases and curves which, in some areas like the spoiler around the boot lid, look a bit weird - but wonderful.
As I approach the car, the door handles illuminate, along with the inner lighting, revealing the cream-and-brown leather interior. It might seem like a small thing but it is this attention to detail and sense of luxury that sums up the ES 300h.
Then there is the list of standard features that would make its German rivals green with envy. It includes 17-inch alloy wheels; LED lighting for headlights, rear lights, daytime running lights and fog lights; sunroof; heated mirrors as well as keyless entry and ignition. There are standard creature comforts such as the dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way electrically adjustable front seats and rear-view camera.
For techies, the Lexus Enform Remote app allows for smartphone control of functions like starting the car remotely to warm up the engine. This is especially handy during the cold winter months.
On the infotainment front, the ES 300h comes with a driver information display, an 8-inch central display screen, Siri Eyes Free (iPhone voice-control integration) and a very impressive and high-end 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. I am not enamoured with the Lexus Remote Touch interface, though. Maybe it’s just me but it is not as intuitive as the computer touchpad, on which it is modelled. It is still a bit too jumpy and complicated for my liking.
This Lexus is arguably one of the safest cars on the road, with a myriad safety features, including adaptive cruise control; a forward collision-warning system with automatic braking and lane departure warning and mitigation.
The 2019 model that I got to drive comes with a 2.5l, four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 160kW and which is mated to an electric motor. Power is transferred to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission.
When you start the car, it automatically engages the electric mode and pulls off quietly. At first, I thought the car hadn’t started but then I remembered one of the electric cars I drove earlier this year, which also caught me off guard with its near absolute silence. As the speed picks up to around 80km/h the petrol engine seamlessly kicks in.
The ride is predominantly soft and comfortable, in the typical Lexus way, but also due to the company’s new Swing Valve Shock Absorber, with its world-first ultra-low velocity valve. This innovation is claimed to provide an appropriate damping force when even the slightest movement is experienced in the car’s wheels and suspension, securing a comfortable, unruffled ride and a stable feel, whether you are pulling away slowly or driving at speed on the highway. However, despite all this refinement, the ride got a little bouncy while travelling on dirt roads and some mid-corner bumps sent the occasional shudder through the cabin.
Overall, this is a very impressive executive saloon from Lexus and is the only hybrid in its category. The unique look gives it some head-turning credibility. At R843,800 it is not cheap but, for what it offers, it is value for money.