What is it?
A new aesthetic treatment for Lexus’ established ES ‘midsize’ sedan, the ES 300h F Sport adds a more dynamic-looking bodykit, wheels and interior trim to provide an alternative to the more sober Luxury and Sports Luxury grades. Notice how midsize was in quotes? That’s because the ES 300h, which is based on a slightly stretched version of the Toyota Camry’s architecture (but shares none of its interior or bodywork), sizes up as a large sedan, with a longer wheelbase, greater width AND overall length than a Holden Commodore.
Priced at $73,755 before on-road costs for the car tested here (without the optional enhancement pack, it retails at $69,755), the Lexus ES 300h F Sport aligns with many mid-spec midsize rivals like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, while offering cabin space from the size category above.
What's it like to drive?
There’s just one powertrain available for the ES range right now, and it’s a 160kW 2.5-litre petrol/electric hybrid . Shared with the Toyota Camry Hybrid, it’s a strong, quiet and refined powertrain that’s also easy on fuel, and getting close to the official claimed consumption of 4.6L/100km isn’t too hard. In urban stop-start driving the average we saw hovered in the 5.3L/100km range, which is extremely frugal for a car of this size.
Is it a sporty powertrain? Well, no, but going fast in a straight line is not really the point of the ES. It’s not really the point of the F Sport grade either – proper performance gains are reserved for the brand’s ‘F’ products, like the Lexus GS F and Lexus RC F. 'F Sport' is more about pulling some Adidas over your dadbod.
However the ES 300h F Sport does have some mechanical differentiation to the rest of the range. Its suspension receives an F Sport specific tune and adaptive dampers that can either deliver bump-banishing comfort, or tauter body control when the mode selector is twisted over to the ‘Sport +’ setting.
Does it work? Mostly. The ES 300h is not a light car by any means, but it handles twisting roads with confidence in its sportier modes. That said, its dull steering doesn’t really compel you to push harder, and it’s obvious that the ES is far better suited to cruising highways and city streets where its efficiency and seamless (and near-silent) switching from electric to petrol propulsion can be appreciated.
What's it like to live with?
If you can’t stretch the budget to the truly opulent Lexus LS or its smaller brother, the GS, the ES 300h is a pretty decent alternative. In some ways, it’s actually even better.
For one, the cabin is far more spacious than the GS – particularly when it comes to rear seat legroom. There’s sprawling space aplenty, and while those in the back get limousine-like accommodation, those in the front two seats aren’t forgotten either. The F Sport’s heated front seats are exclusive to this model, and give figure-hugging support that’s great for long trips. The seating position also feels quite sporty thanks to a fairly low hip point and the high centre console and window line – don’t look behind you, and you’d almost swear you were piloting a coupe rather than a biggish sedan.
Yet while that side glass profile and low roofline sure do look good, it introduces issues for taller passengers when getting into the rear doors – better duck if you value your cranium. Headroom is fine for most people once you’re seated, though, and there’s a powered rear sunshade to keep the sun away from your scalp.
Another edge the ES has of the GS is one that comes courtesy of the ES’s relative youth. It’s a newer car than the aging GS, and its cabin design reflects that. It’s a more up-to-date rendition of Lexus’ design language, and the attractive cabin furnishings and better-resolved control layout are evidence of that.
The drive mode and stability control switches sprout from the top of the instrument binnacle like Shrek’s ears, but really they’re the only visual miss-step in what is otherwise a very handsome and high-quality cabin. It’s just a shame that Lexus’ infotainment system still persists with that touchpad interface, though it does at least respond much faster now and feels more or less natural if you turn the haptic feedback all the way down.
At least Android Auto and Apple Carplay smartphone mirroring are finally available to get around that.
For storage space, it’s about par for the segment with a 473 litre boot capacity and the usual storage cubbies throughout the cabin. Door bins with bottle are only on the front doors, however the back seat does at least get a generously-padded fold down centre armrest and USB power outlets and air vents on the back of the centre console.
Is it worth the money?
Absolutely. Value for money has long been a Lexus hallmark, and the ES 300h F Sport continues that tradition. Retailing at $69,755, the ES 300h F Sport delivers enough interior space to rival the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class while being priced at 3 Series and C-Class money.
Our tester was equipped with the optional Enhancement Pack that brings a Mark Levinson 17-speaker audio system, power-operated bootlid and heated steering for an extra $4000, but we would want to see more equipment on top of that before we’d consider that package to be good value. Besides, the standard fit-out is already generous enough.
Pros: Handsome styling; fuel economy; generous standard equipment; superb ride comfort; value for money
Cons: Merely adequate performance despite sporty styling; rear seat entry/egress; sub-par infotainment