- Library-quiet interior
- Comfortable ride
- Responsive powertrains
- Lots of backseat space
- 40-mpg city, in a large sedan (300h)
- Distracting Remote Touch interface
- Conservative exterior
- Rearview camera not standard
- Brake feel
- Leather no longer standard
Larger but leaner, the 2013 Lexus ES gains a hybrid model and some very attractive new styling to stave off strong new competition.
The Lexus ES has long been the choice for those who want to be cosseted and comforted, and don't want to be overly involved in the driving experience. At the same time, there's a new kind of luxury shopper who wants a car that's quiet and cushy, yet more responsive—not sluggish or boatlike.
We think that the 2013 Lexus ES models should do well in appeasing both of those types—especially those with some modern expectations about how a premium sedan should respond behind the wheel. Whether you're interested in the V-6 ES 350 or the new ES 300h hybrid, these models really handle well enough for the 99 percent who don’t subscribe to the enthusiast vernacular of canyon roads and weekend track time.
Of course there is a difference in how they accelerate; the V-6 models are still the quickest and smoothest, surely, but the ES 300h—which pairs a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine with an electric motor-generator system—is surprisingly fleet-footed. With Lexus' incorporation of Drive Select modes (Eco and Power), you have a choice in how the hybrid system responds, and there's even now an EV-only mode. The big payoff comes at the pump, where the new ES 300h returns an EPA 40 mpg city, 39 highway (much better than the ES 350's 21/31).
While the 2013 ES models look pretty conservative on the outside—the new Lexus hourglass grille and a newfound curviness at the rear flanks are the exceptions—there's a lot to love inside. The ES's cabin has been completely redesigned, with a new sense of airiness and spaciousness thanks to a shelf-like horizontal design, and corners that have been pushed out (in a sort of anti-cockpit design). It resembles what Lexus did with its GS sport sedans, only it feels better done here, with the navigation system's screen fitting nicely mid-contour.
For the first time, the ES isn't riding on the same wheelbase (and about the same length) as the Camry; its wheelbase is now a couple of inches longer—think Avalon, lengthwise—which pays off in back-seat space. Thanks to its additional back-seat space, we might as well call it a large sedan. There's now enough room for three adults back there, if you need it, while in front, for the first time, Lexus is offering an available extendable thigh support for taller drivers (cushions are longer, too). Ride quality is slightly firmer, but the outside world, engine noise, and the road surface are all still supremely isolated from the cabin.
In addition to some new active-safety features like Rear Cross Traffic Alert and a Pre Collision System, the ES offers a host of high-tech entertainment and premium-luxury goodies on top of its standard kit. Major options for the ES include a hard-drive-based navigation system with voice command, Mark Levinson audio, upgraded leather and trims, a built-in backup camera system, and a next-generation Enform with apps. The only down side to getting the audio upgrade, or navigation, is the mandatory, mouse-like Remote Touch controller, which requires you to follow a pointer on the screen to make selections.