Road Tests

Drive Review: Lexus ES (2019) is luxury not turbocharged

Isn’t everyone buying SUVs?

Sedan sales are nosediving causing the demise of the sportier Lexus GS model and while Lexus has armed itself against this with its own SUVs offensive like the RX, UX and NX, they are defiant with this new 2019 Lexus ES, claiming, with some veracity, that its size and price positions it in a segment with no direct competitors. Yep, we’ve heard that line before…

Let’s try. 5 Series and E-Class?

Both are physically smaller than the Lexus ES. While German sedans engineer luxury through adjustable dampers or air suspension to mask aesthetically pleasing low profile rubber, the Lexus ES has refreshing humility. So besides the extra point-to-point space, the ES ghosts along an open road like a Japanese wallflower, deleting all imperfections and treading impossibly light for its gargantuan size.

Is it that bland to drive?

Lexus has imparted a few lessons from its sportier models while the new platform redistributes the weight in a way that plies enough accuracy into the front end. It handles fine once you’ve teased every metre of wheelbase from a narrow parking, and while there aren’t many rewards to be had for being exuberant at the limits, you can do so safely.  The prosaic 2.0-litre engine in the Lexus ES 250 is another vexing decision in today’s obsession with turbo charging but the 8-speed gearbox and remap of the engine liberates improved drivability.

Better go for the hybrid then?

With motorists still recoiling from the recent fuel increase, the 300’s hybridisation achieved better range than the ES250 but realistically you will be considering the 300h for the greater specification rather than the slim advantages in economy and power.

Wood meets digital.

While the rest of the package is intentionally sedate for a mature buyer, you need to be around 14 years of age to claim vague control over the ping-pong infotainment touchpad. Intuitive graphics are absent and there’s no real attempt to offer broadly configurable displays.

Lexus is seemingly oblivious, or stoic in not benchmarking itself against Audi, BMW or Mercedes. A shame since it probably has many of them beaten on the traditional tenets of luxury but then quickly muddles that with an old paradigm of small, fiddly buttons which quite frankly has gone a step too far when the steering wheel is a horrible tactile experience of wood and leather.

Choose a model.

The hybrid mitigates some of that R300 000 chasm in pricing by adding extra specification – some of it like heated steering wheel being superfluous. But the 300h does include active cruise control and lane keeping assist as well as brighter LED lights. Yet it has to be the cheaper 250; nearly as quick on the road, almost as economical while not diminishing any of the ES’s enduring hallmarks: notably luxury, space, placidness.

Final thought.

A curious one. Easy for one to be clouded by handling or power in today’s warped perspective of comfort when the Lexus ES seems to be returning to that original recipe. Reservedly straightforward but all the while juxtaposed by baffling switchgear or a mishmash of materials. By not fitting into any box, the Lexus ES ends up alienating itself from an already small segment. ANDREW LEOPOLD

SPECIFICATION

  • 2487cc, 4cyl petrol hybrid, FWD, 160kW, 221Nm
  • 4.6l/100km, 104g/km CO2
  • 0-100km/h in 8.9secs, 180km/h
  • 1740kg
  •  Verdict: Full of idiosyncrasies. While good, you wish it took a page out of the Germans’ handbook
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