I'm from a small-ish town and my everyday car is a Toyota Corolla, so the 2013 Lexus ES 300h was one of the most luxurious cars I'd ever driven. Even so, I had high expectations of the brand, and the ES did not disappoint.
I'm not really into technology for the fun of it, but I know good tech when I see it. The ES hybrid's Bluetooth connection is easy to set up and works as expected. I was able to connect my iPhone 4S within just a few minutes -- and I didn't even have to crack open the owner's manual to do it. All the buttons were labeled with self-explanatory images. The Lexus navigation system is one of the best around, and the mouse-like interface is easy to use and makes fairly deep menus seem really simple.
In terms of passenger space, there's ample room throughout the sedan. Both passengers in the front and back felt comfortable when the car was full. However, the ES is not really great for tall people. At 5 feet 7 inches, the top of my head almost grazes the ceiling when I'm behind the wheel.
Impressive but expected luxury features include a heated steering wheel, plus heated and cooled seats; both worked quickly and quietly. The car also senses when the key is inside and will not allow you to lock the doors until it's retrieved -- a real life-saver for someone like me who is always running from one place to the next. Also, if you tend to lose your car in giant parking garages, the ES 300h's interior lights turn on when you're close.
I had never driven a hybrid before. The feeling of the engine dying at stoplights was hard to get used to, but there was no lack of power on the highway. Acceleration is very good. The car pulls away from a stop with plenty of power. However, there's an unpleasant noise that occurs every time the car goes into Eco mode. The high-pitched whine is probably something hybrid drivers get used to, but I found it to be very irritating. And this isn't the Eco mode the driver selects. The car automatically goes into this drive mode when you hit just the right combination of low to moderate speeds and are pushing very lightly on the accelerator pedal.
Another feature that I'd give mixed reviews is the blind spot monitoring system. The blind spot alert seems like a great thing, except when you're in traffic. The sensor seems to scan much more than your blind spot, which is not helpful in a city like Atlanta, where you are always surrounded by cars. The large sensing area makes you think you missed something when, really, you have already accounted for the car that is far enough back in the adjacent lane. It also flashes when you put your turn signal on. The constant flashing alarmed me to the point where I would no longer change lanes. In city driving, it's better to just turn it off, but that kind of defeats the purpose of a blind spot monitoring system.
The backup camera was incredibly helpful once I got used to the angles, but it was raining a lot when I drove the ES. I'm not sure what the solution is, but after the rain stopped, drops would stay on the camera and obstruct the view. Still, the feature is worthwhile considering some cars have no camera at all.
As equipped, our Lexus test car was just over $49,000. That's a lot of money for a fuel-efficient large sedan. In fact, it's almost $3,000 more than a Lexus ES 350 with a more traditional V6 engine. Add the new Toyota Avalon Hybrid to your shopping list if this ES appeals to you but you're not into dropping $50 grand. Since I spent most of my time in the city, I was averaging about 40 mpg. In the end, the ES hybrid makes fuel sipping about as painless as it can be.