Today’s range of models offered by Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, is extensive with not only sedans but also SUVs, coupes and hybrids. But back in 1989 when the brand was launched, Lexus offered only two models – the LS400 which epitomised the superlative engineering and the ES250, a mid-sized sedan that was added to give the newly-established dealers an extra model to sell. While the LS was rear-wheel drive, the ES had front-wheel drive as it was adapted from the Camry of the late 1980s. [Click here to read about ‘The Lexus Story’]
Like the LS, the ES went through generation changes but it largely remained a product for the American market. It could have been that the closeness to the Camry was not helpful at a time when the Camry itself was just starting to be established as a global model (it was Toyota’s second ‘world car’ after the Corolla). In any case, until the mid-2000s, Lexus was pretty much a brand for North America only.
After Lexus was introduced in other countries (during the past 8 years), the ES was available and interestingly, it has accounted for some 40% of total Lexus sales over the past 6 years. This makes it the most popular model in the range.
For the latest sixth generation, however, it appears that Toyota has decided to promote it more and this could be due to the confidence that the Lexus brand has reached a level where it is recognised as a credible alternative to the European luxury brands (especially in Asian markets).
For UMW Toyota Motor, the availability of the new ES gives the company a chance to continue its relationship with its customers beyond the Camry, the flagship of the Toyota range here. There is nothing higher up as the Crown has not been sold since the early 1980s. Where Camry customers might have left the brand for European products, the ES may now be appealing enough for them to switch to a Lexus instead.
The design of the new ES shows a departure from the Camry-ish looks of the previous generation with the now-familiar spindle grille being used as well as arrow-shaped LED daytime running lights that also serve as a signature for current Lexus models. At the rear, L-shaped graphics for the design of the combination lamps link the ES with the rest of the range, especially the flagship LS model.
Compared to the Camry, the ES is marginally longer and also has a slightly longer wheelbase. But where the Camry has a more blocky design in its latest form, the ES is sleeker with a flowing profile. Like the first generation which was presented as a sports sedan, the latest generation also bears sporty undertones.
As mentioned earlier, the new ES sits on a platform adapted from the Avalon, the flagship model of the Toyota range in America. This model was originally developed for the US market and initially used an extended Camry platform. So one could say that the Camry, Avalon and ES have similar ‘genes’ but Toshio Asahi, Chief Engineer for the new ES, clarified that the ES platform is not identical to that of the Avalon. It has the same configuration but with a greater focus on body rigidity – while lowering weight – there are many areas of the platform which have received engineering enhancements (eg additional spot welds).
The bodyshell is also more rigid, thanks to the increased use of high-tensile steel that is strong but light. Increased rigidity not only helps in handling but also reduces noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). However, for Lexus engineers, the approach to lowering NVH right from the start has been not to add insulating material and ‘hide’ the noise but to identify the source of the noise or vibration and eliminate it. This is one of the reasons why Lexus can boast of a high level of refinement.
Two powertrains are offered for the ES imported from Japan for the Malaysian market. One is the familiar 2AR-FE 2.5-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine with Dual VVT-I which is also found in the Camry. With a compression ratio of 10.4:1, the engine produces 181 bhp/235 Nm which is slightly higher than the engine in the Camry. According to Mr. Asahi, though the engine is shared with Toyota models, the factory making the engine in Japan has been requested to manufacture the 2AR-FE to the higher standards required for Lexus. He added that there are also slight differences in the tuning of the engine, with the one used in Lexus models having a sportier feel and stronger low-end torque.
The other powertrain is a hybrid one in the ES300h and this is something new for the ES model line as the model has never been offered the Lexus Hybrid Drive. The hybrid drive comprises a high-output electric motor working with a 2AR-FXE 2.5-litre 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle petrol engine. This new, low friction DOHC 16-valve engine utilizes a sophisticated power management system and Dual VVT-i. A higher compression ratio of 12.5:1 is used to achieve higher fuel efficiency and low emissions and extensive local testing has confirmed that the engine runs smoothly with RON95 petrol. Its power output is 158 bhp/213 Nm at 4,500 rpm but when operating with the 105 kW beltless electric motor, the maximum system output can be as high as 202 bhp.
The ES250/ES250 Luxury use a 6-speed automatic Super ECT transmission with AI Shift for smoothness while the ES300h uses an electronically-controlled CVT. And yes, the ES has front-wheel drive.
A Drive Mode Selector system allows the driver to choose from three different driving programmes – ECO, NORMAL and SPORT. The programmes not only alter engine characteristics but also steering response which will be sharper in SPORT mode. For the ES300h, there is a fourth mode – EV. In this mode, it is possible for the car to be driven short distances using only the electrical power from the nickel metal hydride battery pack. The distance varies depending on the speed and available energy in the battery pack.
As would be expected, the ES cabin has the same ambience found in all Lexus models. It’s an ambience that provides the occupants with a premium luxury feel in both the visual and tactile senses. Even the air coming out of the air-conditioning system has nanoe ions which make it fresher.
In designing and packaging the cabin area, the interior designers aimed to achieve best-in-class rear space and quietness. In comparison to the Lexus IS and GS models, the rear legroom of the ES is more generous.
As there is emphasis on the comfort and convenience of the rear passengers, the audio system and temperature controls can also be operated from the rear seat as there are duplicate controls in the centre armrest.
A Mark Levinson Premium Surround audio system is standard for the ES 300h. Mark Levinson, a leading audio system company, has worked closely with Lexus to customize the performance its systems to the cabin of each model, providing superior sound quality and rich harmonics. The system for the ES300h uses GreenEdge eco-friendly technology which is said to double the output of the amplifier while reducing energy consumption by 50%. No less than 15 speakers are located strategically around the cabin for home theatre-quality sound reproduction. [Click here to read more about Mark Levinson and Lexus]
Superlative build quality and refinement are hallmarks of Lexus so it’s not surprising that where safety is concerned, the ES also comes with an extensive list of equipment to help the driver avoid accidents or minimise injuries during an accident.
There are 10 airbags around the cabin and even a tyre pressure monitoring system which alerts the driver if a tyre has abnormal air pressure. Standard for all variants are ABS, Brake Assist with Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) with Traction Control.
Lexus Malaysia expects to sell 100 units of the new ES by year’s end and 600 units during 2014. As its mission is to draw more new customers to the brand, the ES is expected to account for 40% of the total Lexus sales that the company has targeted.
To know more about the new ES250 and ES300h, visit www.lexus.com.my