2015 Lexus ES 300h: First Impression

2015 Lexus ES 300h hybrid
2015 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid

The Lexus ES has traditionally been the fancy Camry. As the entry point to Toyota’s luxury division, the ES shared the ubiquitous family car’s chassis and mechanical components, but draped in a prettier wrapper.

For the current generation, that changed, somewhat. The 2015 Lexus ES 300h that just arrived is now based on the Toyota Avalon. While still a Camry derivative, the Avalon has a stretched wheelbase for more interior room, especially in the back seat. The new ES now has that same extra space.

2015 Lexus ES 300h

Engine Power Torque Transmission MSRP
2.5L inline-4 w/electric motor 200 hp @ 5,700 rpm 156 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm Continuously Variable $48,605

It also shares the Avalon’s (and Camry’s) powertrains. In this case, it’s a hybrid powerplant mated to a CVT. Each of those terms by themselves are enough to put off driving enthusiasts, so the combination of both could make the car devoid of almost all sporting pretensions.

Which, of course, it does. The hybrid powerplant – consisting of an Atkinson-cycle 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor – makes 200 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque, which is down from the V-6-equipped ES. The lack of power shows, as the car is relatively quick but not especially so and not as quick as a V-6 ES.

The transmission drones like any CVT, but it feels like it drones more than other CVTs in cars like the Nissan Juke and Honda HR-V. It also has a manual shift mode, but really why bother? First off, the shift gate is the wrong way – as are all Toyotas – and even though the transmission can be “shifted” between six simulated gears, it never really stays in one gear. It still works its variable magic even when shifted manually. It’s a wonder why the option is there at all.

2015 Lexus ES 300h hybrid

The powertrain may not be fun, but it sure is slick. Toyota’s been doing this hybrid thing for a while now and they’re pretty good at it. It really is a system; the engine, transmission and electric motor perform an expertly choreographed dance, moving from battery power to engine power to regenerative braking almost seamlessly. A slight hesitation as the engine is started during acceleration is the only thing to tip the driver off that it’s not a typical engine powering the car.

The hybrid powertrain gives the large sedan an EPA rating of 40 mpg city, 39 mpg highway and 40 mpg combined.

The ES is subjectively a prettier car than the Avalon, although the sibling resemblance is clear. Inside, however, the ES takes a step back from the Avalon. The Toyota has a much better laid out dash and center console with more utility. The ES trades utility for style and for useless tech, like the rectangular joystick that changes its tactile layout based on what’s on the screen. It’s nifty, but ergonomically inferior to the Avalon’s touch screen.

2015 Lexus ES 300h interior

The as-tested price of the ES 300h is $48,605, with a base price of $40,430. A similar Avalon is a cheaper alternative.

So that begs the question – is the ES worth the money over the Avalon? Read the full review of the ES for the answer that question.

For now, take a look at this TFLcar first drive review of the current-generation Lexus ES 300h.