Efficient luxury

SINGAPORE - It may be smooth, it may be quiet, and it may have great mileage. But perhaps the part about the new Lexus ES Hybrid that its owner will enjoy the most is its size. The new ES is a mid-sized sedan that is particularly large and spacious. This pleasingly styled saloon is 4.90 metres long and 1.82 metres wide and originally intended solely for the American market, hence its generous proportions.

Thanks to the car's girth, the driver and front seat passenger will immediately notice the good elbow room, with a wide lower centre console to separate the two front occupants.

For rear passengers, they enjoy a wide door opening and a limo-like back seat. The long 2,820 mm wheelbase offers a class-leading 1,015 mm of leg room with a bonus - the flat floor. Because the ES is front-wheel-driven, there is no transmission tunnel in the centre. To leverage on this roomy attribute, Lexus has equipped the ES with a rear centre armrest that contains audio, climate and seat ventilation controls, making it the ideal chauffeur-driven car. In this respect, it is wholly appropriate that the suspension is softly-sprung.

There are two engine options for the ES - the ES250 with a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine, and the ES300h petrol-electric hybrid.

The ES300h also has a 2.5-litre petrol engine but it runs on the Atkinson cycle, which is more efficient than the traditional Otto cycle. Working with a high-powered electric motor to drive the front axle through an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (instead of the ES250's conventional six-speed auto), it is extremely frugal.

Lexus claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 5.4 litres per 100 km for the ES300h, or 18.5 km per litre. The real world figure may be closer to 15 km/l for Singapore's urbanised context. But what is impressive is that even with a fair amount of city driving and hard acceleration, the ES300h is still able to produce amazing mileage. It should not be a problem travelling close to 900 km on local roads on a full tank of 65 litres. At the same time, the ES300h provides pretty punchy performance. There is a helpful boost from the electric motor for a strong start from stationary that results in better acceleration than the ES250.

With its healthy torque, the powertrain is unlikely to be stretched, on Singapore roads at least. Racing up and down Genting Highlands could be a slightly different matter, although the sophisticated chassis will reveal the ES300h's safe and predictable handling. The front MacPherson struts get counter-wound coil springs, with the left coil wound the opposite direction from the right coil to enhance straight-line stability, while the rear has dual-link struts with coil springs and a stabiliser bar.

For a slightly more dynamic drive, the Drive Mode Select knob can be used to select the Sport setting to give the electric power steering a substantially beefier feel.

But ultimately, the Lexus ES300h is still about ride comfort in a hushed cabin that is suitably upscale. Some like it precisely for this understated luxury but for others, its strongest virtue has to be its efficient luxury.


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