With so much demand for SUVS and crossovers, sedans are becoming rarer in showrooms. But if you want a nice, roomy one that offers hybrid technology, the 2018 Lexus ES 300h is an excellent choice.
The ES goes back to the beginning of Lexus. It was a Toyota Camry-based junior model below the LS full-size flagship when the brand launched nearly 30 years ago. Its goal was to be an entry-level luxury product—and it still is. Now, of course, it’s part of an extended family that includes multiple sedans and crossovers.
Toyota, Lexus’ parent, has sold more than 1.6 million Priuses since in the U.S. since the hybrid arrived at the end of the last century. They know a lot about hybrid technology, and piloting one of these vehicles gets you halfway to the eventual EV future.
Lexus uses this successful technology in the ES 300h. Like Toyota’s other hybrids, it can drive in pure electric mode, both when the software decides to or when you lock it in by choosing EV mode. The EV setting requires sufficient charge in the battery and slow, level driving conditions. Otherwise, the software moves between the gas engine and electric motor to produce a smooth, unobtrusive drive.
Choose Your Mode
Other mode settings include Normal, Sport, and Eco, which are what you’d expect. Eco encourages more leisurely acceleration and less air conditioning while Sport energizes the accelerator and steering, heats up the instrument panel graphics with red, and replaces the Hybrid System indicator with a tachometer. Of course, using Sport all the time reduces the benefits of hybrid motoring.
You can opt for the ES 350 gasoline-only model with a 302-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 or choose the subject of this story, the 2018 Lexus ES 300h gasoline-electric hybrid. What’s the difference? Well, the hybrid uses a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder gas engine and adds a high-output permanent-magnet electric drive motor, good for 200 total system horsepower.
The hybrid beats the gas car on range–688 miles versus 413. It also wins in EPA mileage and green scores. While the ES 350 earns 21 city/30 highway/24 combined, the ES 300h pushes that up to 40/39/40 respectively! My personal average for the hybrid came to 34.1 mpg in mostly freeway stop-and-go traffic.
Green numbers jump, too. The 300h earns an EPA rating of 7 for Smog and 9 for Greenhouse Gas, versus the 350’s 5 and 3. That means the hybrid achieves EPA Smartway status, while emitting 223 grams per mile of CO2 versus the all-gas vehicle’s 366. That’s significant.
The Hybrid Choice
What about price? The base price for the ES 350 is $38,950 against the Hybrid’s $41,820. But you’ll save money on gasoline, catching up eventually.
The hybrid weighs in at 3,682 pounds to the gas car’s 3,649, which isn’t a significant difference.
Driving the ES 300h is pleasant, as you’d expect. Auto engine shutoff makes it very peaceful at stoplights and boosts fuel efficiency. The joystick style remote touch interface saves you from having to reach up and add fingerprints to the display screen; it’s an older style than the touch pads on fancier Lexuses (the ES gets an update for 2019).
The ES line is purely four-door sedans, available in three trim levels. Start with the “base” Premium or step up to the Luxury or Ultra Luxury level with add-on packages. There are additional stand-alone options as well. My Silver Lining Metallic test car came with the Ultra Luxury Package ($3,000), which enhanced the experience with fancy leather seats (including heating/cooling and memory), wood trim, remote keyless entry, power rear and manual door sunshades, a panoramic glass roof and more.
My tester added additional goodies, including a heated wood and leather steering wheel ($450).
The wheel had leather only at the 3 and 9 positions on the clock, so on curvy roads on a cold day, you’ll get alternating warm and cold grabs. Other options included a power trunk ($400) and Intuitive Parking Assist ($500). The Navigation and audio package ($2,615) features a super Mark Levinson 835-watt, 15-speaker system and the Lexus Enform App Suite. With this long list of additions, my tester, with $995 for shipping and handling, became a $50,795 car.
As equipped, this top-level ES 300h is the one you want, and the one Lexus would like you to buy. Toyota’s luxury division is hoping to lure someone who just isn’t happy with a plain Toyota Camry or Avalon, so they start with the very accessible Premium model ES. I don’t know how many ES 300h vehicles get into customers’ hands without at least some of the upgrades. Careful online and in-dealer comparisons will show if there’s a compelling reason to move upwards to the Lexus brand.
Just know that you can add significant efficiency by choosing the hybrid 300h.
Related Stories You Might Enjoy—Other Lexus Offerings/News
Road Test: 2018 Lexus LS 500h
Road Test: 2018 Lexus NX 300h
Road Test: 2018 Lexus LC 500h (Steve’s view)
Road Test: 2018 Lexus LC 500h (John’s view)
Road Test: 2018 Lexus GS 450h
Road Test: 2017 Lexus ES 300h
Road Test: 2016 Lexus RX 450h
Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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