- Efficient hybrid powertrain
- Comfortable ride and composed handling
- Luxurious and well-built interior
- Generous rear legroom
- Strong crash scores
- Mouselike electronics interface can be complicated and distracting to use
Not too long ago, hybrids were rare enough to be somewhat of a novelty, but these days the segment is large enough to spawn subcategories. One such subcategory is the luxury hybrid class. So far, only a few automakers have produced such cars, but among these the 2015 Lexus ES 300h certainly represents a luxury sedan paradigm.
This Lexus melds the sumptuous luxury of the gas-only ES with a hybrid's frugal fuel economy. Its cabin is spacious, especially for passengers seated in the back. And there's more than just roominess to enjoy, since the sedan's interior features premium-level appointments with the impressive build quality you'd expect from a Lexus. Thanks to a suspension that banishes road coarseness, ride quality is smooth and tranquil. But what makes the ES 300h truly desirable is its outstanding fuel economy. Its four-cylinder hybrid powertrain helps this sedan achieve an EPA combined rating of 40 mpg, and it pulls this off while offering acceptably quick acceleration and handling that's on par with that of the ES 350.
Shoppers who like their luxury sedans spiked with hybrid efficiency have a couple of choices to consider. The 2015 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid isn't quite as refined or roomy as the ES 300h, but it is less expensive and posts similar fuel economy. Even lower on the price scale, loaded versions of the related Toyota Avalon Hybrid and the Ford Fusion Hybrid deliver similar amenities and fuel economy. However, none of these models can match the ES 300h when it comes to all-out luxury. As such, it's a compelling choice for shoppers seeking a truly premium hybrid in this price range.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2015
The 2015 Lexus ES 300h gets upgraded upholstery and a standard touchscreen "Display Audio" tech interface. The optional Mark Levinson sound system now features a technology that enhances the sound quality of digital music files. Furthermore, Lexus Enform Remote (which allows owners to remotely view and control certain features via an app) is now available, and the optional Lexus Enform App Suite adds Slacker and upgrades to iHeartRadio 4.0.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2015 Lexus ES 300h is the hybrid version of the Lexus ES 350 luxury sedan, which is reviewed separately.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, a sunroof, heated mirrors with memory function, keyless ignition and entry, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats (with two-way lumbar adjustment), perforated "NuLuxe" premium vinyl upholstery, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera, Lexus Enform Remote (allows for smartphone control of certain vehicle functions) and Lexus Safety Connect emergency communications. Also standard is the Display Audio interface (includes a touchscreen and multipurpose control knob), Bluetooth phone and audio, Siri Eyes Free (iPhone voice control integration), and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
There are many options and packages available, but keep in mind that their availability varies by the region in which you live.
The Navigation package includes a larger 8-inch display screen, the Remote Touch mouselike electronics interface, a navigation system, voice controls, traffic reporting, enhanced Bluetooth connectivity and the Enform suite of smartphone-connected apps and concierge services. A 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system with DVD-audio capability can be added to the Navigation package.
There are several packages available that require the Navigation package. The Premium package adds a power-adjustable steering wheel, driver memory functions and bamboo wood trim. The Luxury package includes all the Premium items plus HID headlamps (includes LED running lights and foglamps), parking sensors, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, and a power rear sunshade. Finally, the Ultra Luxury package includes items from both the Premium and Luxury packages, plus automatic wipers, a power-operated trunk, a heated steering wheel, a driver seat cushion extender, passenger seat memory functions, manual rear side sunshades and ambient lighting.
Many package options are also available as stand-alone options. Other optional items include a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alerts, a lane departure warning system bundled with automatic high-beam control, and adaptive cruise control paired with a pre-collision system.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The 2015 Lexus ES 300h's cabin presents a modern, stylish environment. The optional (and sustainable) bamboo wood interior trim is an especially attractive touch. The quality of the materials depends on whether you opt for one of the luxury packages, but in typical Lexus fashion, everything is put together with care regardless of how the ES is equipped.
The climate controls are simple to use, but the audio system is a little more complicated due to the sheer number of available media types. This is true whether you get the standard Display Audio touchscreen/multipurpose knob controller, or the upgrade Lexus Remote Touch system included with the Navigation package. The latter is essentially a mouselike device that controls a cursor on a large centrally located screen. Although interacting with this interface is very similar to using a computer mouse, the ultra-sensitive nature of the controller can make it clumsy and distracting to use while driving. If tech features are important to you, we recommend playing around with Remote Touch before you take an ES 300h home.
Six-footers will be quite content in the ES 300h's front seats. Rear-seat legroom is very impressive as well, although taller occupants may find the seat to be positioned a little low. Due to the rear-mounted battery pack, trunk capacity drops to 12.1 cubic feet (versus 15.2 cubic feet in the ES 350), and the rear seats do not fold.
The 2015 Lexus ES 300h comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front and rear side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and front knee airbags. The list of standard safety features also includes a rearview camera and Lexus Safety Connect with automatic crash notification, stolen vehicle location and an emergency assist button.
Optional equipment includes front and rear parking sensors, a lane-departure warning system (bundled with automatic high-beam headlights that turn off when they detect other vehicles) and a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alerts. The optional adaptive cruise control includes the pre-collision system, which primes the seatbelts and brakes when it senses an impending collision.
In Edmunds brake testing, the ES 300h stopped from 60 mph in 129 feet, which is longer than average for an entry-level luxury sedan.
In government crash testing, the Lexus ES 300h received five out of five stars for overall safety, and for its protection in frontal- and side-impact crashes. The Lexus ES 350, on which the ES 300h is based, received the highest possible rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal offset, side-impact and roof strength tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Its seat/head restraint design was also rated Good for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The 2015 Lexus ES 300h features a hybrid powertrain consisting of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor (powered by a battery pack) that together send 200 horsepower to the front wheels.
In Edmunds testing, the ES 300h went from zero to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, and though this isn't quick for a conventional entry-level luxury sedan, it's pretty good for a hybrid. EPA-estimated fuel economy is an excellent 40 mpg combined (40 city/39 highway). We got 40 mpg during Edmunds testing.
The 2015 Lexus ES 300h delivers a refined and serene driving experience that is bolstered by its hybrid powertrain's quiet, all-electric operation at lower speeds. Although the hybrid ES is noticeably less quick than the V6-equipped ES 350, most buyers will find its acceleration fully acceptable in normal driving situations.
Brake pedal feel is also impressively normal for a hybrid, and you'll be hard-pressed to detect the transitions between the hybrid system's regenerative braking (which helps recharge the battery pack) and application of the conventional brakes. At highway speeds, the cabin remains remarkably silent and is largely devoid of wind or road noise. Bumps and ruts in the road are well absorbed by the suspension, but don't expect complete isolation from road imperfections: Even in hybrid form, the ES is tuned to deliver a balance between out-and-out comfort and handling precision.
With its 2015 ES 300h, Lexus adds fuel-sipping hybrid technology to its plush entry-level luxury sedan. Great fuel economy and Lexus pampering? It's a win-win situation.