The ES is distinguished by Lexus' now-familiar "spindle grille" design, a cue that debuted on the smaller CT hatchback. Generally, the latest ES' overall shape doesn't deviate far from its predecessor, although it appears lower and wider, much like the larger, rear-wheel-drive GS sedan. More pronounced wheel arches hint at increased performance, although the ES' Avalon-based architecture remains front-wheel-drive. Lexus will continue to rely on the smaller rear-drive IS sedan to court sedan buyers focused on sporty handling.
Revised rear suspension geometry and improved shock absorber damping characteristics add up to enhanced ride comfort, Lexus says, while opposite-wound coil springs in the front suspension improve the car's straight-line stability. Meanwhile, a stiffer structure and revised steering ration help make the comfy cruiser a bit better of a dance partner on the backroads.
Inside, the outgoing car's symmetrical dashboard has been thrown out the window in favor of a horizontal unit derived stylistically from both the CT and the GS. Like the Camry, the ES boasts improved rear seat room - over four inches of additional legroom - and an emphasis on decreased ambient noise thanks to substantial sound deadening.
The ES 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6, which produces the same 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque in this application as it does in the Camry. However, with the latest ES 350 weighing in at 3,549 lbs. (about 90 less than the outgoing model), the motor is able to achieve slightly improved highway fuel economy of 31 mpg along with 21 mpg in the city.
Shifting duties are handled by a six-speed automatic transmission that sends power to the front wheels. Unlike some competitors, no all-wheel-drive system is available.
The more efficient ES 300h hybrid uses a 2.5-liter straight-four engine that sends 156 horsepower to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The engine works with two electric motors that get juice from a 1.6-kWh battery pack.
Total system output is 200 horsepower, and mileage is estimated at 40 mpg in the city and 39 mpg in the highway compared to the ES 350's 21/31 mpg ratings. The drawbacks to the efficient hybrid system include increased weight and diminished stowage space due to the batteries, which eat up 3.1 cubic feet of the trunk.
Four driving modes are available in the ES 300h: Normal, Sport, Eco and EV. The Sport setting calibrates the powertrain for maximum responsiveness, while EV mode allows for electric-only operation for about half a mile at speeds of up to 25 mph.
Both versions of the ES come standard with environmentally-friendly NuLuxe seating surfaces, while genuine leather and coddling semi-analine leather are available as options. Also optional is a HDD Navigation System with voice recognition, an integrated backup camera, an eight-inch screen, and Lexus' Enform infotainment system. Enform provides access to Bing search, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, Pandora, Yelp and Facebook Places through compatible smart phones.
The standard eight-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system features an iPod/aux input jack along with Sirius XM satellite radio. The available Display Audio package adds a seven-inch screen, HD Radio with iTunes tagging, Bluetooth audio, phone transfer, a vehicle information display and a rear backup camera.
Audiophiles will want to spring for the optional 15-speaker, 835-watt Mark Levinson audio system. This setup includes an eight-inch display screen, HD Radio with iTunes tagging and DVD audio/video. GreenEdge technology from Mark Levinson doubles the output of the amplifier while reducing energy consumption by 50 percent.
Other standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control, a rear-view camera, 10-way power adjustable front seats, push-button start, Bluetooth connectivity, LED headlamps and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Buyers can order Apple's Siri Eyes Free system, which uses the ES' steering wheel-mounted controls to access the Siri function of any iPhone equipped with iOS 6. Once linked, drivers can use voice commands to perform actions like make phone calls, play songs from iTunes, listen to and compose text messages and add appointments to their calendars.
The ES comes standard with driver and front passenger knee airbags, front and seat-mounted airbags, rear seat-mounted side airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and Whiplash Injury Lessening front seats, which are designed to limit excessive head movement in rear-end collisions.
Optional safety systems include Blind Spot Monitor, Lane Departure Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which alerts the driver to rear cross traffic when backing out of a parking spot. The available Pre-Collision System uses sub-millimeter wave radar to detect obstructions traveling ahead and prepare the vehicle for a potential collision.
The new Lexus Safety System + suite adds a pre-collision system, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, intelligent high-beams and dynamic radar-enabled cruise control.
Other options include costlier but better-handling rides like the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 and the Infiniti M Hybrid as well as smaller, less-expensive machines such as the Acura ILX Hybrid and the Audi A3 TDI.