If you’re a car maker aiming to intrude on the most firmly established fraternity in the automotive world, you had better have some substance to your product.
For the crimped metalwork of this week’s test subject, that comes in the form of a lineage stretching back six previous model generations. It was 1989 when Lexus introduced the ES 250 (for ‘Executive Sedan’), and in doing so created one of its first model ranges. Front-driven and powered by the 2.5-litre V6 from the Toyota Camry, the original ES set firm the mid-size saloon template for Lexus, with four-cylinder engines eventually introduced in 2010 and a hybrid option arriving a couple of years later.
Not that us Europeans would necessarily know as much, because this seventh-generation ES is the first of its line to be sold this side of the Atlantic. Nonetheless, as a nameplate it arrives with the weight of 2.3 million sales behind it and is fed into a stronger current of hype than Lexus has ever known outside Japan and America.
The marque’s European brand presence has doubled of late thanks to the NX crossover and, with the help of the excellent LC sports car, this refreshing and coherent design language has become more recognisable. These are good things because, if your aim is to take market share from the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class, it’s best that people know who you are.
To stand a chance of meaningful success here, the car that supersedes the slow-selling GS will not only need to uphold Lexus’s reputation for creative interior design but match it with appreciable quality. Front-wheel drive means it will never lead the field for outright dynamism, but suspension fastidiously tuned for comfort, and precise driving controls, ought still to stand out.
With hybrid power, the new ES must be conspicuously efficient and, as a relative newcomer, it must also appear good value against its better-established foe. By implementing new drivetrain technologies and with the manufacturing economies gained from platform sharing, Lexus appears to have prepared well for the challenge. Today, we find out how convincing the ES is in execution.