The Lexus ES introduced luxury and top safety features to mid-size car buyers in 1989. This August, Lexus will release the all-new 2013 Lexus ES 350, a sixth-generation version of the workhorse that started out with 156 hp and now has 268 hp @6200 rpm. For the first time, a hybrid version of the ES, the 300H, will also be released. Vroom vroom!

Sleek new styling includes a spindle grille that gives the ES a lean, mean look that the younger crowd will like yet won’t turn off those of us with more gray than brown. The ES 350 also has sporty dual exhaust pipes and flared fenders for a bolder appearance. Some of the design features are made for aerodynamics and sound reduction: the side mirrors are set off of the windows just a bit to reduce wind noise and it works. The windshield is acoustic glass, which has a plastic film compressed between two layers of glass that helps reduce sound (ok, does anyone else cringe at the thought of replacing that?).

Creature features include a 10-way adjustable driver’s seat for a truly unique driving experience with a steering wheel that adjusts up and down, in and out. It’s very easy to find a driving position that’s comfortable and affords the best view. The passenger seat also adjusts in 10 different ways. Side bolsters on the seats have been increased for comfort, yet don’t interfere with getting in or out of the car. Ventilated front seats are an option as is a heated steering wheel–now how’s that for an incentive for those of you living in frigid climates to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times?

    

A longer wheelbase by nearly 2” means back seat knee room is increased by 2.8” and legroom is increased by 4.1”. Seriously, you could probably fit an Evenflo infant seat with the handle down on the passenger side and still have space to spare. I measured 30″ from the back seat headrest to the back of the front seat and 32″ from below the back seat headrest to the back of the front seat.

Trunk room is spacious with a ski pass-through in the 350 model. The NiMH battery is housed between the back seat and the trunk in the hybrid model, so its trunk has slightly less space and no pass-through.

  

The ES utilizes a Smart Key hands-free access to the car. When you’re within 39” of the car (that’s 1 meter to those of us stuck in Imperial times ;)) and the key is in your pocket, the ES detects it and the dome and courtesy lights will glow and the doors will prepare to unlock. All you have to do is grab a door handle and pull—super convenient when your hands and arms are full. However, the downfall is that the doors won’t automatically lock as you walk away from the car; something I frequently forgot. The Smart Key is smart too—it remembers the last settings used by the driver for the seat and the climate system.

For installing child seats, the outboard buckle stalks are fixed in a flexible-ish plastic, but you can’t twist it unless you’re He-Man. In our pre-production model, it could be pulled very far over in the upholstery, so, eh. The center stalk is webbing, but short. Lower LATCH anchors are outboard and hidden just beneath the surface of the bight. They were relatively easy to access. Attaching a d-ring to the front seat legs will be easy for those with carseats; both the driver’s and passenger’s seat legs are easy to wrap the d-ring around.

  

Safety features abound in Lexus products and the ES 350/300H is no slouch. There are 10 airbags, including side torso bags for back seat passengers in addition to the curtain airbags. Bill Camp of Lexus College assured me that the rear torso bags won’t interfere with carseat installation. The back seat headrests, especially the center, are on the short side. I’m 5’6” with a short torso and on its highest setting, the center headrest was just tall enough. For anyone taller, it wouldn’t have provided the proper restraint.

For the test drive, we drove the ES 350 and the 300H in and around Dallas, TX, and we found out that, indeed, in Dallas, everything *is* Texas-sized. From the bumps in the streets, to the size of the highways, to the beauty of the area, it was an awesome drive. Steering was nice and tight—there was no mushiness like on some cars. The suspension felt firm, yet was able to handle the bumps and cracks in the roadways admirably. The thing I noticed most was the peace. All of the noise reduction the Lexus engineers have done really works and my driving partner didn’t have to yell my directions to me, though José probably felt like yelling at me when I got him lost. To be fair, I did warn him I was the world’s worst navigator!

Acceleration was quick and responsive. The Blind Spot Monitor was a very useful feature, especially on the right side which is my weakest spot for seeing vehicles. With the Blind Spot Monitor comes the Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which tells you if an object larger than a small motorcycle is coming at you when you’re backing out of a parking spot. I didn’t get a chance to test that feature.

Overall, the ES 350 and ES 300H are winners in luxury and driving. With the Lexus standard safety features and the enjoyment of driving either version, the ES is an appealing car that is even more desirable now that it comes in a hybrid version.

Now, to leave you with a story I thought was interesting when they told us before we left on our test drives. Part of the Lexus luxury is the fine craftsmanship you see the interior (and exterior, for that matter). The fit and finish of the various parts is impeccable. New this year is stitching in the leather along the dashboard and around the vehicle seats. This stitching is done by 12 Takumi craftsmen in Japan. To prove that they have the skills, these “masters” must be able to fold an origami cat like the one in the pictures with their non-dominant hand. Impressive!

Basics

Estimated fuel economy for the ES 350:
21 city/31 highway/24 combined mpg

Estimated fuel economy for the 300H:
40 city/39 highway/39 combined mpg

 

NHTSA and IIHS.org safety ratings: Not rated yet

 

Standard Safety Features

  • 10 airbags: driver and passenger frontal airbags, driver and passenger knee bags, side curtain, front and rear torso bags
  • Backup camera
  • Tire pressure monitor system
  • Anti-lock brakes
  • Electronic brake-force distribution
  • Brake assist
  • Vehicle stability control
  • Traction control
  • Smart stop technology

Lexus has not yet released pricing for either the ES 350 or the ES 300H, but that pricing should be released soon. I would expect pricing to be between $36,000-$45,000 based on current ES pricing.

 

Our test drive was provided courtesy of Lexus at a press event.  Please note: the opinions and content given are strictly those of CarseatBlog and were not submitted to us by Lexus or any other entity, except for certain photo content.  No compensation was accepted, beyond travel expenses to attend the media event. Thank you to Lexus and The Ritz Carlton Dallas for a great event!