All of this effort may be ignored by some, who will disregard the ES on account of its humble relation and ‘wrong’ driven wheels. They shouldn’t. While still a way short of the lofty standards set by the BMW 5 Series, the ES features a surprisingly well-rounded and composed chassis.
The comfort focus is immediate from the get go. Isolation from external noise is excellent, with the new hybrid powertrain (more on that in a sec) keeping things hushed and smooth around town. It feels softly sprung, but with greater damping control than the larger LS, although some of the larger surface scarring around our Spanish test route caused the odd disturbance.
The damping sophistication means high-speed cruising is assured and stable, helped by reassuringly weighty steering. None of this is a particular shock when it comes to a Lexus, but what is a surprise is how assured it feels in the bends.
The whole front-wheel drive thing is largely a non-issue, as the ES handles with decent composure and agility when driven at eight-tenths. A kerbweight at least 100kg less than the GS helps here. Body control is good, and while the steering isn’t particularly communicative, its weight and directness is confidence inspiring. When the front-end does begin to surrender grip, a lift of the throttle will bring it back into line before the electronics reign you in.
Nevertheless, this is car at its best when the pace is taken down a few notches, allowing the ride compliance and general serenity to shine through. We also tried an ES F-Sport with adaptive damping that seemed to be of little benefit - the ride seems about the same in Normal mode, and becomes too fidgety in Sport.
There is one dynamic black mark, though, and it’s an important one. Lexus’ familiar 2.5-litre four-cylinder hybrid powertrain actually enters its fourth generation here, with almost no shared components and too many technical developments to list here. Power output is similar, but Lexus claims further improvements in thermal efficiency (an impressive 41%), fuel economy and drivability.
Unfortunately, any improvements in the latter respect weren’t really registered by this tester, with frustration again caused by the motor's relationship with the CVT gearbox. Driven at a relaxed pace on flat ground, keeping things smooth and quiet isn’t difficult thanks to a progressive throttle, but up the pace or introduce any sort of incline and the peace is disturbed by an discordant ’mooing’ from the engine bay.
With an 8.9 second 0-62mph time, performance is best described as modest, but an attempt to exploit what power there is is met by the usual cacophony as the torque-light motor soars to its redline and stays there until you back off. The steering wheel paddles seemingly have next to no effect on the unpleasant din, unlike Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT ‘box which has a fair stab at mimicking stepped changes.
It’s not an overriding issue in something like a Toyota Prius, but in an otherwise capable luxury car the expected level of effortless performance and refinement is lacking. It’s a shame, too, because in other respects it’s an impressive powertrain - around town the lack of physical changes make it plenty smooth enough, while 50mpg is achievable with some sensible driving.