Review: Lexus ES300h Limited wows with improved efficiency, creative design and luxurious craftsmanship

The 2021 Lexus ES300h Limited.
The 2021 Lexus ES300h Limited. Photo credit: Tarmac Life

By Dave McLeod of Tarmac Life

It's hard to look at a new Lexus and not be wowed by its creative design and utter craftsmanship. Throughout their rather extensive range, the Lexus 'Takumi' artisans run amok, creating vehicles and cabins that are eye-catching and uplifting - and that's exactly how I felt in the new ES300h that Lexus New Zealand let me experience.

Now Sedans may be out of favour in the current motoring landscape but as the new Lexus ES300h proves, quality is always en vogue. The ES (which some believe stands for Elegant Sedan) first hit the production line over 30 years ago and even back then, its smooth, refined drive and luxurious feel really broke the mass-produced plastic mould of the time. Well, now the seventh-generation has arrived - and it's better than ever.

My Limited review model came in 'Sonic Iridium' (part of its new palette), which really helped highlight the executive sedan's contours. This latest iteration is more of an evolution than being vastly different from the 2018 model. The new front grille has a reduced number of vertical bars making it less busy, but retains its fluidity and look of forward movement even when it's parked.

Review: Lexus ES300h Limited wows with improved efficiency, creative design and luxurious craftsmanship
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

The headlights have been redesigned with a sleeker, narrower look and in my case, three-beam LED Headlights and the BladeScan Adaptive High-beam System, which illuminate the way ahead at night without dazzling oncoming traffic. The new ES profile includes bold shoulder and belt lines and a dramatic flick at the rear of the sills, body-coloured mirrors and 18-inch feet that keep you firmly planted to the road below, while the rear offers LED lighting, a body-coloured boot lid spoiler and plenty of chrome garnish.

As I said before, it's hard not to notice the attention to detail and skill of the brand's famed 'Takumi' artisans, starting with the specially sculpted steering wheel that comes complete with a wooden finish that's as smooth as silk to touch. The heated and ventilated furniture came in fine whlte leather with some contrasting black inserts and the entire cabin seems to just flow. And the ES luxury is not just from the driver's perspective - there's extra rear seat comfort thanks to over one-metre of rear legroom and heated seats.

Review: Lexus ES300h Limited wows with improved efficiency, creative design and luxurious craftsmanship
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

The new 12.3-inch multimedia touch screen display has been moved forward by 112mm and angled 5 degrees towards the driver, with highly anti-reflective glass and compatibility with Apple, Android and Bluetooth. Plus, it comes with the Lexus Link app that presents numerous screens for better driving and a more informative ride. You can also control the infotainment screen via the Lexus touch pad beside the gear stick - it's better than before (less jerky) but I have to say that I'm still not a big fan.

It's not all digital though; there's an analogue timepiece, a CD player (yes, CD player) and a number of buttons and switches to adjust the A/C or the volume on the 17-speaker Mark Levinson PurePlay system. On the subject of A/C, the Lexus Climate Concierge creates a perfect cabin climate by automatically controlling the seat heaters, the steering wheel heater and the seat ventilation in synergy with the air conditioning system.

There's also a sensor that detects cabin humidity and cabin/windscreen temperature to ensure the windscreen does not fog up and an updated nanoe X system, helping to inhibit viruses and bacteria, reduce odours and moisturise hair and skin - how's that for luxury!

Now about that engine - or is that engines? Powered by its fourth generation Lexus Hybrid technology, the new ES 300h delivers lower emissions than conventional powertrains. The 2.5-litre petrol engine incorporates fast-burn combustion technology that makes it one of the most thermally efficient engines ever built, and when coupled with a light and compact electric motor, it produces 160 kW of power. Fuel consumption is from 5.2 l/100km WLTP and 119 g CO2/km emissions. Possibly more important for some, its low fuel consumption and 50-litre fuel tank means that the ES 300h provides a segment-leading 960km range with one tank of fuel.

Driving this ES Hybrid Sedan changes your whole demeanor. Other driver and traffic irritations that would normally have me frustrated simply disappeared as the whole cabin seems to be removed from the outside world. Not only has Lexus used multiple silencers in the intake system to reduce engine noise across all frequency bands, but the new ES 300h has been fitted with a noise-reducing engine cover made of polyurethane sound absorbing material.

On top of that is the way you feel driving a vehicle that comes dripping in upmarket refinement. The leather, the real wood, the highly polished surfaces and figure-hugging seats, it's effortless and rather stately - even my often hard-to-please family were impressed.

Review: Lexus ES300h Limited wows with improved efficiency, creative design and luxurious craftsmanship
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

There's ample power under acceleration when required and the switch between electric and fossil goes by unnoticed. The fuel needle movement (or lack thereof) does not, though this is a Sedan that's been built for long runs. With its improved Lexus Safety System+, the new ES300h is safe as houses too: it now detects cyclists during daylight hours and pedestrians in poor light conditions, supports steering in an emergency, and has new Curve Speed Reduction functionality for controlling speed around curves  - to name but a few highlights.

Creative design, improved efficiency and dripping in luxury and refinement - here's to 30 more years of Lexus ES art and craftsmanship.

Why you should: The attention to detail is a must for those into craftsmanship, it's incredibly frugal and its quietness will impress the most ardent of librarians.

Why you shouldn't: More of a 'driven' not driving experience - you're going along for the ride.

What else to consider: Look towards the Euro Sedans, Mercedes-Benz C class, BMW 3 (also the 330e), Jaguar XE and Volvo.