Although the ES is one of Lexus' best selling models, critics have roundly pegged the car as a rather nondescript midsize luxury sedan long on value but short on style. For 2013, Lexus has neutralized this complaint by creating a seductive player with a new look, a new attitude, and a new mission. Changes to the 2013 model are evident all around, but nowhere is the ES' attitude adjustment more noticeable than at its front end. A new hourglass shaped "spindle" grille is flanked by elongated headlamps giving the ES a rather menacing appearance. The rest of the car isn't as dynamic, with tall doors and fairly smooth sheet metal all around, but it's definitely a step up from the previous design. New for 2013 is the ES 300h hybrid, the first ever hybrid to join the ES family.
Performance Meets Luxury
Lexus has brought its A-game to the ES 350, firming up the suspension and steering feel in hopes of capturing a more driver-oriented clientele. While it's no 3 Series, the new ES is more athletic in the corners and its steering can no longer be described as numb, offering a decent amount of feedback and on-center feel. The seats are some of the best Lexus has put in a sedan, wide and comfortable yet supportive in all the right places. To ensure a more comfortable driving position, the design team lowered the angle of the ES' steering wheel making it more natural to hold at 10 and 2.
The ES 350's standard engine is a revised 3.5-liter V6 good for 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque. Teamed with a six-speed automatic with sequential sport shift mode, the ES delivers brisk acceleration worthy of a sports luxury sedan, but we wish the V6 made a bit more noise. Lexus is just so darn good at exercising audible sound waves from the passenger compartment, it kind of takes the fun out of enthusiast-style driving. But if, as the saying goes, "silence is golden," then the ES 350's is like a little Fort Knox on wheels. Speaking of wheels, the ES' new 17-inchers are really quite fetching, and for the first time an optional 18-inch wheel is now available, but only on the ES 350 as part of the Ultra Luxury Package.
Luxury Hobnobs with Economy
For those less concerned about cornering and a bit more in tune with the world around them, the all-new ES 300h hybrid substitutes flat-out performance with miserly fuel economy and scant emission. The hybrid does surrender a few features-such as the panoramic sunroof and 18-inch wheels-in the name of weight savings, but otherwise it's nearly identical to its gasoline-only brother. Power for the ES 300h comes from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine coupled to an electric motor and teamed with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Lexus reports an estimated 40 mpg highway and 39 mpg city, not bad when you consider the performance variance between the hybrid and gasoline powered ES 350 isn't as egregious as one might expect.
As with Lexus' other hybrid models, the ES 300h includes an EV mode that allows the vehicle to run solely on electric power up to 25 mph for distances up to half a mile.
Talk to Me, Baby
The 2013 ES is among the first Lexus sedans to get the new Enform infotainment system that allows for apps from the driver's iPhone to be downloaded to the car. Enform can be controlled by voice, or via the joystick controller mounted on the center console. Popular apps such as Pandora, Movietickets.com and OpenTable can all be accessed from the car. You can also plan a trip from your smartphone and download everything into the car's navigation system. Enform will even update your friends as to your plans via Facebook. Enform's Safety Connect feature can get roadside assistance, locate a stolen vehicle, or call for emergency service in the event the airbags deploy. Of course, there are iPod and USB hook ups so you can bring your favorite tunes along for the ride.
Of course, a Lexus wouldn't be a Lexus without the plethora of available electronic goodies that make long drives home so much more relaxing. Your ears will delight at the sounds from the Mark Levinson audio system, while your brain can take a siesta as the voice-activated navigation system takes you from point A to point B. A blind spot monitoring system helps avoid accidental changing lanes when its not safe to do so, while radar-guided cruise control not only keeps a safe distance between the ES and the traffic ahead, it can actually tighten the seat belts and prep the brakes event of an eminent collision. Other options of note include Automatic High-Beams, Lane Departure Warning, Intuitive Park Assist and a heated leather and wood steering wheel.