Stick Shift: 2016 Lexus ES

The Lexus ES, though never all that aggressively styled or exciting to drive, has always been a strong 4-door luxury option. As a luxury sedan hybrid it only becomes more appealing, as their aren’t many to be found despite the popularity of less luxurious hybrids. Being one of only a few is a mantle of responsibility Lexus does not take lightly. As proof, 2016 ushers in some stylish changes that are sure to turn heads and keep the ES 300h firmly on any eco-conscious luxury consumers radar.

The most noticeable change is that oversized spindle grille, which has now officially found its way onto everything Lexus makes. It’s a welcome upgrade to the normally innocuous ES, elevating it from mundane to a little menacing. The bi-LED headlights are an improvement over the old xenons offered previously, and the tail lamps have adopted the L-shape bulb configuration like the rest of the Lexus family. Chrome is more thoughtfully integrated throughout, and lines in general have a sharper, more jagged feel. 17” machine finished 5-spoke wheels and a rear spoiler finish off the look nicely. This more arresting style might not be for everyone, but I think it’s a smart, refreshing move, and clearly one that hasn’t hurt sales in other Lexus models.
On the inside, our 2016 model gets improved sound deadening and a few other interior tweaks. New color combos and finishes include Parchment, flaxen brown and gray and black upholstery. You can also choose trim in glossy piano black, maple, dark wood, or natural bamboo with a beautiful matte finish. As we’ve come to expect from Lexus, the ride is quite and serene. Cabin noise at highway speed is minimal. All the better for enjoying the rich 15-speaker, 835-watt Mark Levinson surround sound system. I was most impressed with the audio capabilities of the new ES, offering super clean highs and tight, punchy bass. A one-touch sunroof lets in plenty of light, which you can than partially extinguish with manual door and power rear window sunshades.
With the Ultra Luxury package you’ll get heated and ventilated leather clad front seats that adjust in every conceivable way and even have a power seat cushion extender for the lucky person behind the wheel. Speaking of the wheel, it’s luxury light to operate, heated like the seats, wrapped in leather and warm wood and has power tilt and telescopic adjustability. In the back you’ll find the same soft leather seats, set low and allowing generous legroom.
Managing every audio, navigation and vehicle setting imaginable is a touchscreen/multipurpose knob controller. This mouselike device moves a cursor on the large centrally located display. Though intuitive, its extremely sensitive and a little distracting to use while driving. For the new year, Lexus added “Enter” buttons on each side of the controller to help out. Regardless, it still might be best to let the passenger play with it most of the time. Every system works well. Even the driving aides like the radar cruise control and lane departure alert with steering assist, aides that can be intrusive and abrupt in many vehicles, in the ES they step in just enough without bullying you around.
If you want a luxury sedan that offers world-class driving dynamics, the 2016 Lexus ES 300h might not completely fit the bill, that isn’t to say that it’s a complete bore to drive however. It is ultimately a hybrid though, and Lexus was smart to place an emphasize on fuel efficiency over raw speed. Powering our earth friendly Lexus is a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine paired to a high output electric drive motor. Total system output is 200 hp. If better performance is what you’re after there’s an ES 350 with a very capable V6 for that. For a hybrid though this 300 offers perfectly acceptable acceleration, reaching 60 mph in less than 8 seconds. The most important number isn’t a 0-60 time though, it’s a consistent 40 mpg combined, which the ES consistently hit under mixed driving conditions.
4-wheel independent suspension, pinned together with front and rear stabilizer bars animate the handling capabilities of the ES 300h, helping it find a remarkable balance between handling precision and out-and-out comfort. Bumps and road imperfections are largely soaked up without being totally taken away to the point where you have no idea whats going on underneath you. Braking feel is great for a hybrid as well. The transition from regular braking to regenerative hybrid braking is nearly imperceptible, as is electric-to-gasoline switch-overs.
Even in entry-level trim, the new 2016 Lexus ES 300h has a lot of luxury to love. With all the extras it only gets better, but for a price that’s eager to climb too high for many. For less money and all the same gas savings one could look towards other hybrids like the fully loaded Toyota Avalon, Honda Accord or even Lincoln MKZ. You could do that, but the list of things you’d be giving up is long. The more Lexus models I drive the more I appreciate the level of quality each vehicle exudes. A near obsessive compulsive level of craftsmanship, dependability and polish that will guarantee that special Lexus treatment with every mile for many years.

Price as tested: $50,530.00

By: Brandon Randall

 

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