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2013 Lexus ES 350 H Road Test Review by Bob Plunkett

2013 Lexus ES 350h Road Test Review

Lexus ES 300h hybrid sedan earns 40 mpg with electric boost

By Bob Plunkett

We're scooting past high-rise condo towers on tony Turtle Creek Boulevard, which meanders through northside Dallas, in the 2014 Lexus ES 300h, a new hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) that shows us surprising get-up-and-go ability.

Automotive designers at Lexus in Japan conspired to reinvent the front-wheel-drive ES series of mid-size sedans, and the new design -- restructured and expanded with concerns for passenger comfort and personal safety foremost in mind -- spins off the HEV variation which earns high fuel economy scores up to 40 miles per gallon.

There's a thrifty but conventional 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine which operates on gasoline plus a battery-powered electric motor/generator.

Lexus adds a high-voltage and high-torque Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) system to control all energy produced by the two plants and applies it directly to the front wheels in infinitely variable measures through an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT).

The ES 300h in this hybrid edition can run on the gasoline engine or on the electric motor, or in a mode with both plants contributing power simultaneously.

Virtually silent at start-up with only the electric motor switching on, the ES hybrid will surge forward on command with initial help from the electric motor and the gasoline engine not actually firing up until the vehicle moves faster than three miles per hour.

At highway speeds the gas engine does most of the motivating, while in reverse gear it's the electric motor that handles all of the work.

The four-cylinder gasoline-fired plant, with dual overhead cams and intelligent variable valve-timing (VVT-i) system, develops 156 hp at 5700 rpm plus torque of 156 lb-ft at 4500 rpm. The electric motor, coupled to a 245-volt nickel-metal hydride battery, also contributes power and the combined effect of a gas-fired engine and electric motor is estimated to be 200 hp.

Net effect is a driving range which may exceed 650 miles and fuel economy numbers up to 40 mpg but with no detectable sacrifice of engine power for off-the-line accelerations or passing in the quick lane.

The ES 300h runs in four different power modes through a Drive Mode selector.

Punch up NORMAL mode as the standard driving mode with all systems working together automatically in a blend of performance and efficiency.

Pick SPORT mode to boost powertrain and steering responses as the throttle increases sensitivity for quick accelerations.

Select ECO mode to trim fuel consumption by managing throttle response and restraining power drawn by the air conditioning system.

Or choose EV mode for short-distance drives at reduced speed using power only from the hybrid battery pack.

Driving the ES 300h Hybrid becomes a high-tech experience. A remote transmitter fob takes the place of an ignition key, as the smart car will recognize a driver by the proximity of the transmitter. Simply slip into the form-fitting bucket seat and punch the power button on the dash. The electric motor switches on silently, as confirmed by a green light.

Then control the transmission through a console-mounted joystick that's electronically linked, as is the throttle, the steering system, even the brakes.

On tap to help stop the vehicle are disc brakes tied to the anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD). Additional electronic vehicle controls include vehicle stability control (VSC), which corrects lateral skidding, plus traction control (TRAC) to check wheel spin and a brake assist (BA) system to add maximum braking pressure during an emergency stop.

The sleek aerodynamic shape of the ES 300h features a low-sloping hood crowned by a pinched grille with chrome fins and low intake valence, plus canted lamp clusters mounted at the top of front corners.

Side panels are chiseled practically sheer to forge four slab doors, although there are crisp high-shouldered cutlines and a graceful inward tilt to the side windows, plus chrome-coated molding underscoring the doors.

A larger structure creates more space for passengers in the five-seat cabin and more room for cargo. The compartment is an efficient design and shows improvements in styling and the tone of materials, with comfortable seats and useful instruments plus a load of standard equipment aboard.

Stock gear on the ES 300h includes 17-inch v-spoke aluminum wheels, LED running lamps, foglamps, side mirrors with turn signals and puddle lamps, a tilt-and-slide moonroof, keyless ignition/entry, Optitron gauges and a 3.5-inch color thin-film transistor multi-information display, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate controls, vinyl seat upholstery, 10-way power controls for front seats, tilting-telescoping steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth phone connectivity plus an audio system with AM/FM/6xCD/MP3/WMA/USB/SLD/DSP and eight speakers.

The list of optional equipment is extensive, ranging from leather seat upholstery and a heated wood and leather steering wheel to HID headlamps, rain-sensing wipers with de-icer, power truck lid, Blind Spot Monitor, Park Assist, Navigation Package, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control Package, Mark Levinson Audio Package, Premium Package, Luxury Package and Ultra Luxury Package.

Estimated MSRP for the Lexus ES 300h is $38,850.

For more information on Lexus vehicles, click here.