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Lexus ES defines a new type of luxury car

'Neo-Luxury - Neo Smart' ES handles better than its predecessors

The new Lexus ES brings a whole new meaning to the words "Practical Luxury," which also happens to be the ES's new slogan.

In many ways the ES epitomizes Lexus and is one of the original founding vehicles the brand has been built around. A sterling reputation for build precision, high quality and solid value for the money has made it the most popular Lexus.

The all-new sixth generation ES will come in two editions - the ES 350 and an ES 300h, a completely new hybrid version, when released next August. There's now a hybrid-drive version of nearly every Lexus in the product line, plus a couple of hybrid-only models.

As you might expect, the new ES has a new look, which Lexus describes as "Neo Luxury - Neo Smart." Many styling cues, including the new spindle grille design, come from a super-coupe concept vehicle called the LF-LC, which has been doing the auto show circuit.

Lexus has put engineering emphasis in this redesign to make the ES a better handling vehicle with a higher level of driving enjoyment. In spite of the fact the new ES has a longer wheelbase and a (slightly) wider track, the chassis, steering and suspension changes do seem to give it a lighter and more balanced feel on the road. Straight line directional stability has also gained a more positive steering feel.

The chassis changes also take this ES further away from its Toyota Camry roots than any previous generation. And the difference becomes profound when you move inside and enjoy its opulent decor. It's also a larger cabin that offers considerably more rear passenger room (104 mm more legroom and 71 mm of extra knee space) compared to the current ES.

The trim packages start with a base version with (NuLux) synthetic leather upholstery. It looks good, is lighter than the real leather used on higher trim levels and gives an option to those opposed to the use of leather in cars. Then there's a Premium Package, Leather and Navigation Package, a Touring Package and a Technology Package.

That's certainly a lot of option packages for a luxury class car, which many buyers typically expect to come fully equipped. Lexus is not revealing the price structure on the new ES until closer to its release date in August, but expect a fairly wide price spread between a base version and a full-load top trim ES.

That said, you can certainly add some nice features, including rear cross traffic alert, a lane departure warning system, a blind spot alert system, vented as well as heated seats, a "Remote Touch" interface, a panoramic sun roof or a heated steering wheel. A new changeable drive mode feature is standard on both ES350 and ES300h.

Eco, Normal and Sport are the drive mode settings and are selected via a knob on the centre console. Steering feel and throttle response (and air-conditioning use) changes as you flick through the three settings, but not the suspension. You can also flick the transmission into a sport mode, if you're really in the mood for some spirited driving.

Power comes from a 3.5-litre, 268-horsepower V6 engine in the ES 350 and it's mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which is basically the same as the current ES 350. It has good low engine speed grunt and in combination with the new sport mode features this ES can really move and is fun to drive.

The new ES 300h uses basically the same hybrid system that's in the Camry Hybrid. The gas engine is a 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder, and in conjunction with the electric motor it can generate 200 hp and it is silky smooth in operation. Most drivers will also find the power provided to be more than adequate and there's an EV (electric) drive mode with a range of up to two kilometres.

The payoff for the ES 300h is, of course, at the gas pump and to the environment. Lexus, however, was not able to provide official fuel economy numbers and again promised them closer to the release date in August. I expect the numbers should be close to the new Camry Hybrid, which is an exceptionally good 4.9/5.1 L/100 km (city/highway).

The ES has been the top-selling Lexus in Canada for the past five years and 31 per cent of buyers were a previous owner of a Lexus ES. Now those are solid numbers!