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First Drive

First Drive: Lexus ES

The story:
Lexus has replaced the executive saloon GS with a new model that it hopes will be more competitive against the premium German trio of Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Category:Executive
Key rival:BMW 5 Series
Lexus ES F Sport
Price:£37,960
MPG:61.4mpg
Emissions:106g/km
On sale:Now

The executive saloon sector is dominated by a trio of excellent German machines with the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class accounting for around 80% of the volume. However, Lexus is seeking to make a larger inroad than it has previously managed with the outgoing GS model.

The new ES replaces that car, but is priced to be significantly more appealing, and the whole-life-cost equation is where things get really interesting for companies and their drivers thanks to the petrol-electric powertrain propelling the new car from Toyota’s luxury brand.

Described by Lexus as a “self-charging hybrid”, the ES is like all Lexus models in that it has a small battery that can run the car for something in the region of a mile at a time without needing the engine, and recharges using energy created under braking. That means it compares well with rival models from a CO2 perspective – the ES starts at 100g/km, while the best the German trio can hit is 117g/km.

Those numbers lead to a huge benefit-in-kind saving with the ES, especially since its hybrid powertrain isn’t subject to the same four-band Benefit-in-Kind penalty as its diesel rivals.

First Drive - February 19 - Lexus ES - Image 5The ES looks smart from the front, though the rear has an odd lip to the boot, as if the designer has half-heartedly tried to integrate a spoiler.

Behind the wheel, the ES is clearly set up with comfort as a key priority. The front-wheel-drive car won’t have its rivals worried from a dynamic point of view, even though its steering is well-weighted and direct, and comfort and refinement are both very impressive.

The powertrain, combining 2.5-litre petrol engine with an electric motor for a combined 215hp, is all new. As with such powerplants, it’s vocal under acceleration, albeit much better than previous versions.

The ES feels like a big car through the bends, and the body roll proves that it is aimed more at comfort than driver engagement. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the occupants.

Entry ES spec costs £35,195 and is well equipped, with powered heated leather seats, sat-nav, parking assist including reversing camera, sunroof and privacy glass. The step up to F Sport is largely cosmetic, but includes 19-inch alloys and adaptive suspension, while the top-spec Takumi, which will only be taken by 5% of buyers, gets a full suite of safety systems, and a larger 12.3-inch screen. More than half of ES buyers are expected to go for the entry model.

First Drive - February 19 - Lexus ES - Image 1On the inside, the cabin is chock full of high-quality materials, although it’s disappointing to find Lexus’ poor infotainment control system is still alive and well. Rather than touchscreen or rotary dial, it uses a trackpad, which means the driver has to take their eyes off the road for way too long to locate the cursor and make sure they have moved it to where they want. At least the screen is clear and huge, at 12.3 inches, but it’s a deeply flawed system compared with the better efforts in every rival.

Still, legroom is good front and rear, although the low roofline means headroom is at something of a surprising premium.

Paul Barker

The verdict

Makes huge sense on paper, with excellent running costs for driver and fleet operator, but despite improvements to the powertrain the refined driving experience can’t quite match premium rivals.