Opt for the ES in F Sport and you’ll get adaptively damped suspension, too. None of which sounds like the technical makeup of an executive saloon with very much to be sheepish about, does it?
Lexus has high standards to maintain on perceived cabin quality and luxury feel with its bigger saloons. For the most part, the ES measures up to them — although there were some places where our test car could have been made to look and feel more expensive.
You’ll find soft, smooth leathers on the ES’s seats and in places around its fascia, but its dashboard and doorcards more widely feature slush-moulded plastic masquerading as hide and in a few places they feature harder, shinier plastics.
The decorative centre console trim doesn’t quite match that of the steering wheel for grain and, as a whole, the car doesn’t have the imposing aura of richness, solidity and technological sophistication you’ll find in an A6 or E-Class.
Cabin space and overall practicality are good, with a couple of caveats. Stretches in both outright length and wheelbase compared with the previous-generation ES allow for good leg room in both rows, with larger adults able to sit line astern in comfort, but second-row head room doesn’t quite hit the same standard.
Meanwhile, Lexus’s decision to fit two kinds of structural braces around the car’s rear bulkhead sees off any possibility of folding rear seatbacks. So, while the ES’s boot itself is both wide and long, you won’t be able to load longer items through into the cabin.
Lexus will only offer the ES to UK buyers in petrol-electric ‘self-charging’ hybrid form, as the ES 300h. Powered by a new 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson Cycle petrol engine that drives the front wheels through an equally new hybrid transaxle transmission (made up of a 118bhp electric drive motor, a smaller motor/generator and an ‘e-CVT’ gearbox), the ES hybrid variant produces 215bhp, emits 106g/km of CO2 and comes with a combined fuel economy claim of just over 60mpg.
Those figures ought to look attractive when compared with four-cylinder petrol and diesel versions of its key rivals. The claimed 0-62mph sprint, at just under nine seconds, will look less attractive in relative terms but should hardly come as a disappointment to anyone familiar with the operating economy bias of Lexus’s bigger-selling petrol-electric powertrains.
The ES has a more mature, refined and relaxing motive character than the GS. Its handling is composed, precise and fairly responsive, the medium-weighted steering is well-judged and has consistent pace, and the car has levels of outright grip and body control that will allow it to deal more easily with the full panoply of UK roads, I dare say, than some saloons of its size.
The car is at its most gratifying, however, when driven at laid-back pace — when its absorptive, quiet ride soothes away bumps and sharp edges very well indeed, and all is calm inside.
Lexus’s latest-generation four-cylinder hybrid powertrain is likewise at its best when you’re in no mind to hurry. Drive in Eco mode and you’ll find you can keep the combustion engine quiet for longer periods and have a fairly long, nicely progressive accelerator pedal calibration with which you can easily record around 50mpg.
Select Sport mode in order to adopt a faster stride, however, and you’ll find that, while the car’s outright performance level at full power is decent, the old Toyota/Lexus hybrid frustrations of too much hesitation and too little flexibility on part-throttle make the ES 300h feel less driveable and assured in its acceleration than you’d like.