Next Coffee 300 Miles: The Lexus ES300h Review

 
 
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Many car enthusiasts complain about The Beige, the boringness which supposedly defines Lexus and Toyota. They equate consistency and reliability to dullness, "it's so predictably good that it bores me." But that's a cop out. It's like saying that the Lakers are boring because they win a lot of championships.
Aside from dependability though, as enthusiasts, we all know the lineup is full of exciting products from the company that gave us the SC300, ISF and LFA (not to mention the 2000GT, Supra, and Celica GT-four All-Trac).

"The front is more imposing. It isn't prettier, but the grill looks far less timid than the previous generation's."

 

So when we received the keys to the 2014 ES300h we were excited to determine whether it was Beige, as some critics claim, or if it was a solid, compelling midsize luxury sedan. As a test, we decided to task it with a completely mundane chore--getting coffee. 

But first, a bit about the design: at ClubLexus, we're big fans of the ES' revised styling. The spindle grill, while polarizing, suits this car well. No longer will the ES get lost in the parking lot--it makes a statement. Furthermore, the curves and window graphics are accelerated, making the car look quicker. The front bumper is broken up nicely too--courtesy of the aforementioned spindle grill--so the front of the car is more imposing. It isn't prettier, but the grill looks far less timid than the previous generation's. Out back, the car looks wide, planted and properly attractive.

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For the most part, the interior is just as nice as you'd expect any Lexus to be, but I couldn't help but wonder if the center console came straight out of the Camry. It's not bad--and I liked the piano-black touches--but this component could be improved. But what does it really matter, right? After all, I was just taking my girl for coffee. 

 My fiancée and I woke up early on Saturday morning, got ready, headed to the ES300h and entered the destination into the nav system. I can hear you saying it now--for coffee?! 

Well, she's a bit particular about her coffee and the fact that Lexus gave us a hybrid allowed me to play the role of caring boyfriend on the cheap. She likes a coffee/donut chain that, although abundant on the East Coast does not exist in California--Dunkin Donuts. To Las Vegas we went.
"Cruising along the freeway the hybrid system's integration is unnoticeable, which is about the highest compliment anyone can pay a hybrid."

Now obviously, the ES isn't a canyon carver, so with the Bluetooth streaming tunes from my iPhone, we opted for the freeway. All the editors are huge fans of Lexus' infotainment suite. The user interface is very intuitive and choosing between Bluetooth and satellite is like being at a Las Vegas buffet--so much to love! 

Cruising along the freeway the hybrid system's integration is unnoticeable, which is about the highest compliment anyone can pay a hybrid. More surprising though, is even on surface streets the interaction between the conventional powerplant and hybrid system is seamless. Pulling off of the freeway, we stopped at a light in the rightmost lane. I noticed that up ahead, the lane was ending and we'd have to merge, so I shifted the transmission into 'sport' mode and got ready to launch hard (my fiancée is awesome and tolerates this).

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Green. I hit the gas. But I noticed something strange--upon mashing the pedal, the transmission remained in fourth gear. At the next light, I repeated the experiment, just to see if the transmission really remained in fourth. Sure enough, the tranny stayed put even though the throttle was buried in the carpet. It behaved like a CVT, never shifting. This led to my only big gripe. The hybrid system is integrated well, but why not let all 200hp be geared properly? Obviously this programming is a concession to fuel efficiency--and drivers can manually downshift into first--but is it reasonable? It seems to me if the throttle position is over, say 60%, the car should accommodate your whims.

"My fiancée and I drove to Las Vegas in three and a half hours, spent 15 minutes there, turned around, and tackled the three and a half hours back. We're still engaged."


Regardless, most Lexus owners will probably never encounter this problem, and acceleration is decent even from fourth gear. A few blocks later we stepped into the parking lot of the Dunkin Donuts and the Las Vegas heat--106 Fahrenheit--ready for some piping hot coffee. While my fiancée popped inside to grab coffee,  I opted to remain with the car and snap some photos. She finished, came outside and handed me a donut. We jumped back inside the Lexus' comfortable cabin, cranked the air and headed home. 

So my verdict on the Lexus ES300h? Well, my fiancée and I drove to Las Vegas in three and a half hours, spent 15 minutes there, turned around, tackled the three and a half hours back, and we're still engaged. The car was superb; we spent roughly seven hours in it and felt like we'd just gone down the street. The ES300h took us through the scalding summer desert in comfort and style at super-legal speeds all while averaging 34mpg (even with my heavy foot). 

Let detractors call it Beige. Lexus will just keep winning championships. Click on the photos below to check out the gallery of images, and make sure to check out our review of the 2014 IS 250.
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Nick Fillion (Sat, 17 Aug 2013 14:22:58 -0700): "it behaved like a CVT". well that's because it is....
Jack Rice (Tue, 20 Aug 2013 19:18:40 -0700): They can jazz up the trim all they want, but until they give us a proper V-8 sport sedan, they will remain BEIGE.
Michael Sanderson (Wed, 21 Aug 2013 06:54:07 -0700): Does a CVT even have a "fourth gear?"
James Doizaki (Wed, 21 Aug 2013 09:25:30 -0700): The real question is: Would YOU plunk down 46k to buy one?
Adam Toy (Wed, 21 Aug 2013 13:35:18 -0700): Scroll down to the specs for the ES 300h http://www.lexus.com/models/ES/specs/
Adam Toy (Wed, 21 Aug 2013 13:58:58 -0700): Just came back from driving one to be sure but the transmission does have a +/- shift mode. While the transmission doesn't have "gears", the transmission does have electronically controlled "ratios" - S1, S2, S3, S4, and S5 that are driver controllable and will hold somewhat in that ratio. But Michael is correct, when in D mode, the transmission acts like one long/tall gear.
Tracy Academia (Thu, 22 Aug 2013 09:14:26 -0700): Was it the ES 300h a 2013 or 2014?
Al Hayward (Thu, 22 Aug 2013 13:04:23 -0700): I hate the grills on the new Lexus. My 2010 LS460 looks much better.
Nick Fillion (Fri, 23 Aug 2013 17:11:43 -0700): Adam Toy" Electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission with intelligence" your point?