Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Choose Efficiency

With so much demand for SUVS and crossovers, sedans are becoming rarer in showrooms. But if you want a nice, roomy one that offers hybrid technology, the 2018 Lexus ES 300h is an excellent choice.

The ES goes back to the beginning of Lexus. It was a Toyota Camry-based junior model below the LS full-size flagship when the brand launched nearly 30 years ago. Its goal was to be an entry-level luxury product—and it still is. Now, of course, it’s part of an extended family that includes multiple sedans and crossovers.

2018 Lexus ES 300h

It’s been there from the beginning, and still looking to improve

Toyota, Lexus’ parent, has sold more than 1.6 million Priuses since in the U.S. since the hybrid arrived at the end of the last century. They know a lot about hybrid technology, and piloting one of these vehicles gets you halfway to the eventual EV future.

Lexus uses this successful technology in the ES 300h. Like Toyota’s other hybrids, it can drive in pure electric mode, both when the software decides to or when you lock it in by choosing EV mode. The EV setting requires sufficient charge in the battery and slow, level driving conditions. Otherwise, the software moves between the gas engine and electric motor to produce a smooth, unobtrusive drive.  

Choose Your Mode

Other mode settings include Normal, Sport, and Eco, which are what you’d expect. Eco encourages more leisurely acceleration and less air conditioning while Sport energizes the accelerator and steering, heats up the instrument panel graphics with red, and replaces the Hybrid System indicator with a tachometer. Of course, using Sport all the time reduces the benefits of hybrid motoring.

You can opt for the ES 350 gasoline-only model with a 302-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 or choose the subject of this story, the 2018 Lexus ES 300h gasoline-electric hybrid. What’s the difference? Well, the hybrid uses a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder gas engine and adds a high-output permanent-magnet electric drive motor, good for 200 total system horsepower.

2018 Lexus ES 300h

The 300h engine is a little smaller, but adds electric boost

The hybrid beats the gas car on range–688 miles versus 413. It also wins in EPA mileage and green scores. While the ES 350 earns 21 city/30 highway/24 combined, the ES 300h pushes that up to 40/39/40 respectively! My personal average for the hybrid came to 34.1 mpg in mostly freeway stop-and-go traffic.

Green numbers jump, too. The 300h earns an EPA rating of 7 for Smog and 9 for Greenhouse Gas, versus the 350’s 5 and 3. That means the hybrid achieves EPA Smartway status, while emitting 223 grams per mile of CO2 versus the all-gas vehicle’s 366. That’s significant.

The Hybrid Choice

What about price? The base price for the ES 350 is $38,950 against the Hybrid’s $41,820. But you’ll save money on gasoline, catching up eventually.

The hybrid weighs in at 3,682 pounds to the gas car’s 3,649, which isn’t a significant difference.

2018 Lexus ES 300h

Inside the ES carries out a luxury theme well

Driving the ES 300h is pleasant, as you’d expect. Auto engine shutoff makes it very peaceful at stoplights and boosts fuel efficiency. The joystick style remote touch interface saves you from having to reach up and add fingerprints to the display screen; it’s an older style than the touch pads on fancier Lexuses (the ES gets an ).

The ES line is purely four-door sedans, available in three trim levels. Start with the “base” Premium or step up to the Luxury or Ultra Luxury level with add-on packages. There are additional stand-alone options as well. My Silver Lining Metallic test car came with the Ultra Luxury Package ($3,000), which enhanced the experience with fancy leather seats (including heating/cooling and memory), wood trim, remote keyless entry, power rear and manual door sunshades, a panoramic glass roof and more.

More Goodies

My tester added additional goodies, including a heated wood and leather steering wheel ($450). 

The wheel had leather only at the 3 and 9 positions on the clock, so on curvy roads on a cold day, you’ll get alternating warm and cold grabs. Other options included a power trunk ($400) and Intuitive Parking Assist ($500). The Navigation and audio package ($2,615) features a super Mark Levinson 835-watt, 15-speaker system and the Lexus Enform App Suite. With this long list of additions, my tester, with $995 for shipping and handling, became a $50,795 car.

2018 Lexus ES 300h

The 2018 Lexus ES 300h makes the transition to greater efficiency easy

As equipped, this top-level ES 300h is the one you want, and the one Lexus would like you to buy. Toyota’s luxury division is hoping to lure someone who just isn’t happy with a plain Toyota Camry or Avalon, so they start with the very accessible Premium model ES. I don’t know how many ES 300h vehicles get into customers’ hands without at least some of the upgrades. Careful online and in-dealer comparisons will show if there’s a compelling reason to move upwards to the Lexus brand.

Just know that you can add significant efficiency by choosing the hybrid 300h.

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Smarticd is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at [email protected].

Steve Schaefer, a Contributing Editor and EV specialist at Smarticd, has written a weekly automotive column for 26 years, testing more than 1,250 cars. Now, he’s focusing on EVs and hybrids. Steve remembers the joy of riding in his father’s Austin-Healey. After discovering the August, 1963 issue of Motor Trend, he became entranced with the annual model change, and began stalking dealers’ back lots to catch the new models as they rolled off the transporter. Coming from a family that owned three Corvairs, Steve was one of the first Saturn buyers, earning him a prominent spot in their 1994 product catalogue. To continue the GM tradition, Steve has a Chevrolet Bolt EV. Steve is a founding member of the Western Automotive Journalists. Recently, Steve became a Climate Reality Leader, trained by Al Gore, and is focused on moving to EVs and 100% renewable energy. Currently he is working at a start-up dedicated to Read his EV/hybrid blog at stevegoesgreen.com.


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