2013 Lexus ES300h is a game-changer
Lexus ES Background
The 2013 Lexus ES300h has a long legacy. In 1989 Lexus was created to capture Toyota drivers and owners of other premium vehicles who desired a higher level of luxury and service than Toyota had offered in the past. In order to earn the business of these customers, Lexus started with a front-drive platform based on an existing model sold by Toyota. From there it developed a car so refined that it was better in most ways than the established luxury brands at any price point. Lexus followed the new trend in naming, giving the car the moniker ES250. The sixth generation, 2013 Lexus ES300h is just as much a game changer as that 1989 model was.
Overview of the 2013 Lexus ES300h
The new 2013 ES300h is a hybrid. If you drove this car back to back with other entry-luxury cars in the class you likely wouldn’t know this. In 1989 the Lexus ES came with a 2.5 liter engine that made exactly 156 horsepower. At the time, customers who were seriously considering this type of car did not think that was underpowered at all. In fact, the power would have seemed quite appropriate to a near-luxury car of its size and type. The 2013 Lexus ES300h comes with a 2.5 liter engine that generates exactly 156 horsepower. Today that number seems a little low when it appears on a specification page. In actual operation the gasoline engine in this car is just fine. When assisted by the electric motor it is close to being peppy. There is always enough power for daily driving and merging onto the highway and overtaking is never a concern. If you want a luxury rocket, and you want a Lexus, there are many to choose from. That is not what the ES class is designed to be. Its buyers know that. For the record, the total system horsepower is an even 200 when the electric assist is factored in.
ES300h Hybrid Drivetrain Details
The drivetrain in the 2013 Lexus ES300h starts with a 2.5 liter four cylinder gasoline engine. Instead of the Otto cycle, the engine operates on the Atkinson cycle, which provides a shade more efficiency in most driving situations. At 156 horsepower the engine is just enough. Not what would be considered powerful, but it isn’t a slow-poke. The engine connects to the front drive system via a constantly variable transmission. A CVT offers a bit of a fuel efficiency gain when compared to, say a 6 speed automatic. Working with the gasoline engine in some cases, and sometimes working to propel the car on their own, are two motor generators. Diving deeper than this into the inner workings is not really practical. Let’s believe that this system works. When you drive it you will agree.
The ES300h driver has the ability to select from four modes of driving. “Normal” operates all of the systems automatically. Sometimes the car starts off in all-electric mode, and sometimes it starts off being moved by the gas engine. Sometimes both are working to hustle the car from a stoplight. Eco makes the “gas” pedal less responsive. It tries to keep the car in electric-only mode whenever it can and it makes the car less satisfying to drive in normal operation. In stop and go traffic it would be an ideal tool to help conserve fuel. Sport Mode makes the most use it can of the combined system power of the drivetrain’s many components. EV mode can be selected but it really is a mimic of the Eco mode. It will just try harder to hold off the gas engine.
If a nitpicker labored to sense the transitions the car makes from one mode of operation to another it is possible they could detect it. To the contrary, when one drives this car normally these transitions are never obvious, definitely not intrusive, and are nearly always imperceptible. This is the first of the many hybrids I have ever written about that includes that statement.
Fans of electric cars and hybrids always want to know about the batteries. Lexus employs nickel metal hydride batteries on this vehicle because they work. They are cost effective, reliable, have a good size to power ratio, and did we mention that they work? We know how much power they can store and deliver, but absolutely refuse to tell you because it is about as important as the volume of air the tires can hold. It is enough for the system to work well and Toyota and Lexus have absolutely proven that the technology lasts past 150,000 miles. One thing we will say is that the system is air cooled. Beware liquid cooled batteries in anything.
Driving Impressions of the 2013 Lexus ES300h
When we were invited to test this car we knew we would be drawing comparisons to the previous generation ES350, which we know quite well. That was, and is, a fine car that drives nicely. This ES300h is better than that car in every single way we can think to list except braking. Braking in hybrids seems to always have some kind of issue. Either the brakes are not there, and then grab too aggressively, or they are non-linear in some other way. This new 2013 Lexus ES300h seems to be 95% of the way to “normal.” The binders do have a bit of non-linearity just as you come to a slow stop, but they are safe. There is a great sound as the car decelerates. That is the sound of your wallet getting fatter as the battery recharges to offer the drivetrain free energy.