Lexus ES saloon
“With its hybrid engine and focus on comfort, the Lexus ES saloon is likely to attract cost-savvy drivers looking for a relaxed drive in classy surroundings”
- Smooth and refined
- Low running costs
- Attractive and solid interior
- Inflexible cargo space
- Lacking performance
- Large wheels upset ride
The Lexus ES is an executive saloon that’s designed to steal sales from the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Jaguar XF and Mercedes E-Class. Despite this being the seventh ES in a row, it’s the first time the model has been sold in the UK, replacing the Lexus GS that’s now slipped into retirement. Globally, the ES is only second to the RX SUV in Lexus’ sales charts.
Read on and you’ll realise the ES takes quite a different approach to this most traditional of classes. For a start, Lexus has shunned the diesel engines that fuel most executive saloons, and only offers a hybrid model, badged 350h. But that’s not all; the ES is also front-wheel drive and has an automatic gearbox more concerned with reducing emissions than lap times at the Nordschleife.
If you choose a saloon based on its performance credentials, the ES is unlikely to be for you. But, if you're a company-car driver or spend most of your time in traffic or on the motorway, it could be worth a harder look. Driven gently, its 215bhp, 2.5-litre petrol and electric motor are smooth and impressively refined. Handling is decent, too, but the cosseting ride comfort is more likely to leave a lasting impression, particularly if you avoid the stiffer suspension and bigger wheels of the F Sport version.
Fuel efficiency of around 50mpg and CO2 emissions of just 100g/km in the standard trim will appeal to business drivers, netting a 24% Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) band that should make the ES more affordable than many diesel rivals on a monthly basis.
As you’d expect from a Lexus, ES interior build quality is very good, even if it looks a little bland in places. Still, trims wrought from bamboo and metallic elements inspired by Japanese sword-making are attractive talking points. A more significant issue could be the 12.3-inch infotainment system, which is large and good looking, but fiddly to control. You're better off using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is now available. We were also unimpressed with the optional digital door mirrors because the live image is laggy and unclear.
Practicality could also be a concern, because while the ES can seat four adults, the coupe-like roofline means taller folks may find their heads tilted in the back seats. It’s also a true saloon in the sense that the ES’ boot has a pronounced loading lip to lift luggage over, a fairly small boot opening and rear seats that don’t fold down. You get a decent 454-litre boot, but that’s your lot, so you’ll need to borrow a van for any furniture-shopping trips, or get everything delivered to your door.
There are no such concerns around reliability or safety – Lexus came top in our 2019 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey and the ES comes loaded with active and passive safety features, backed up with a five-star rating from Euro NCAP.
It’s unlikely the Lexus ES will send BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class sales into freefall overnight, but it does provide an intriguing alternative that’s likely to appeal to more customers than the niche GS. A shift of buyers’ focus to hybrid technology should work in its favour, while Lexus’ renowned ownership experience will make the decision to jump ship easier.