Lexus hybrid a true touring car

LEXUS ES300h: Provides comfort on a long journey.

My wife and I had just checked into a Queenstown hotel and had made our way to the room.

The drop-off zone and foyer were very busy, so I opted to leave the car key with the concierge to do a valet park. A short while later I was phoned, asking if I could I go down and help with the car, evidently it wouldn’t start.

That puzzled me given that we had just driven south from Christchurch and it had run fault-free. When I arrived back downstairs the concierge looked confused, he had pressed the start button and all the dash lights were illuminated, yet the engine wasn’t running – the reason being the car was a hybrid, a Lexus ES300h to be exact, and in the first instance the internal combustion engine doesn’t fire, momentum is initiated by the electric motor.

I explained the inner workings of the ES300h to the concierge, and from that point all was well. However, the fact remains, hybrid power is yet to gain full acceptance and meaning.

However, I’m sold on the concept. I was in Queenstown to watch the annual Gibbston Valley Winery summer concert series, and my wife and I also used the event to continue further south to Bluff and take in a couple of days on the tranquil Stewart Island.

We clocked up over 1500km in the Lexus, and every kilometre was covered in comfort, luxury and quiet motion. That trip was the longest I’ve travelled in a hybrid, and I can categorically say that the ES300h is a touring car of true genius.

The combination of power and economy is quite satisfying. The ES300h gets the 2.5-litre petrol/electric system from Toyota Camry Hybrid and other Lexus product such as NX and GS. While it is based on the mechanical process of Prius, its larger engine capacity provides strong performance – up to 151kW and 270Nm is claimed from the petrol/electric combination.

That equation translates to quick overtaking times and solid acceleration from standstill –
0-100km/h in 8.5sec.

Yet, the large four-door sedan is also a fuel-miser. Lexus claims a 5.5-litre per 100km/h (52mpg) combined cycle rating for the ES300h, so I set myself a 6l/100km goal at some point along the journey, but I failed. The best I could achieve was a 6.3l/100km (45mpg) figure on the road to Bluff from Invercargill, the rest of the time the readout sat at 6.4l/100km. Those figures were realised, bearing in mind that I constantly maintained a healthy pace.

The ES300h is a car which relishes the open road, it feels relaxed and sits well attached to the road, the steering is beautifully weighted and directional when pushed quickly into a corner. Along with a major facelift, Lexus claims the ES series has had a suspension enhancement, the four-strut system has been stiffened slightly. I can report that the changes do nothing to affect ride quality.

The Lexus 300h isn’t one of the company’s best sellers. In this age where SUVs are still increasing in popularity the NX or RX are expected to become Lexus’ most popular choice for buyers. However, I’m a great sedan fan and enjoyed the ES immensely. It is available here in four variants starting from $74,990.

The test car was a Limited model at $86,990 and it lacks for nothing. Incidentally, there are also two conventional V6 petrol-powered models at $88,990 and $100,990.

Major items in the Limited include three-zone climate control, satellite navigation, electric sunroof, heated and cooled front seats (heated rears), fabulous wood and leather steering wheel and radar cruse control. The latter is part of the extensive safety package Lexus has upgraded for the new ES. Titled Safety System +, it includes crash avoidance and pre-crash technologies.

The entire in-cabin experience is one of comfort. The seats are body hugging, each time my wife and I exited after a journey we felt fresh and were without any body aches.

For 2016, Lexus in New Zealand is in the process of rolling out a raft of new models and upgrades. There is some exciting product landing along with the more middle-of-the-road models like the ES series. And while that may sound as though the ES doesn’t have charisma, it certainly does, and its capability all-round doesn’t cease to surprise.