By Christopher A. Sawyer
As sure as night follows day, a new ES follows a new Toyota Camry, and it is no different this time. However, there is more space between those two vehicles than ever before; the new ES standing as far apart from its higher volume Toyota brother as it does from the fifth-generation ES.
The new ES sits on a 1.7-in. longer wheelbase (111.0-in.), is 1.6-in. longer (197.2-in.), and just 0.8-in. (57.1-in.) taller. Width remains the same as before at 71.7 inches. Cars without the optional full-length Panorama sunroof gain 0.1 and 0.7-in. of headroom front and rear, but the big change comes in leg room. Though front seat passengers lose 0.3-in., those in the back gain a massive 4.1-in. And, before you guess that trunk capacity has fallen as a result, the ES 350 gains one-half cubic foot at 15.2 cu. ft. Even the ES 300h hybrid model has a 12.1 cu. ft. trunk, despite the triangular-section battery pack sitting just behind the rear seats.
The 2013 ES uses more high-strength steel, fewer panels, more spot welds and floor braces, and has a more rigid support for the less angled steering wheel shaft. Despite these improvements, the body shell is 90-lb lighter. Aerodynamics have improved slightly with the drag coefficient dropping from 0.28 Cd to 0.27. A lot of work went into keeping the air attached and flowing along the vehicle and cutting wind noise. That meant adding small stabilizing fins to the door frame covers on leading edge of the A-pillars and to the taillight lenses. Underbody covers further manage the airflow.
The powertrains are both familiar and different. The 3.5-liter V6 engine is carried over, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Output is 268 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 248 lb-ft of torque at 4,700. The EPA ratings estimate for this combination is 21 city/31 highway/24 combined. This engine is joined by a hybrid system based around Toyota’s 2AR-FXE Atkinson cycle inline four-cylinder engine. When combined with the hybrid drive system, this 2.5-liter engine is capable of producing a total output of 156 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 156 lb-ft of torque at 4,500. EPA fuel economy for this combo is estimated at 40 city/39 highway/39 combined.
The MacPherson strut front suspension uses opposite-wound coil springs that center forces on the vehicle centerline for greater straight line stability. Revisions to the dual-link independent rear suspension center around new geometry and enhanced dampers, while the steering ratio of the electric power steering is quicker for amore nimble feel. Seventeen-inch wheels and tires are standard on all models, and only the ES 350 can be ordered with the optional 18-in. wheels and tires.
Being a Lexus, the styling is not wildly adventurous. Up front there’s the spindle grille Lexus has adopted as its signature, highlighted by LED daytime running lights in the headlight units. The body sides have a pronounced flow, punctuated by “tucked in” front and rear corners. For greater visibility, the A-pillars have been reshaped to reduce their cross section, and the bottom edge of the rear glass — which is more horizontal than the previous car’s — is lower and the trunk lid is more horizontal. Lexus claims these changes reduce the rear blind spot by 13%.
However, it is the interior where the most visible changes have been made. Hand stitching accentuates the instrument panel’s upper surface, sewn by craftsmen who have shown “Takumi” skills. This includes the ability to fold an origami cat’s face in less than 90 seconds while only using their non-dominant hand. Now that’s dexterity. This stitching also extends to the door panels and arm rests. Ambient illumination issues from below the ornamentation panel that extends across the instrument panel, as well as the door trim. It is designed to bathe the interior in a soft glow while enhancing the ability to see the controls.
Ten-way power front seats are standard, and these have been redesigned for greater comfort. They feature more prominent side bolsters, a more forward pelvic region in the lower cushion for greater stability, less lower cushion distortion, increased range of adjustment, greater seat frame rigidity and a higher headrest location. The latter two items contribute to a reduction in whiplash injuries, and the headrest can be adjusted fore/aft by 1.1-in.
The seats can be trimmed in three ways. Base vehicles are fitted with NuLuxe, a synthetic leather that is lighter, as supple and, because there is no need for solvents in its production, has lower volatile organic compound pollution. Next is embossed genuine leather with perforated main and side bolster areas. It is followed by semi-aniline leather that not only remains supple far longer, the greater dye penetration helps hide any scratches in the hide from use. These choices are offset by three accent trims: Piano black, Birdseye maple and, for the 300h model only, Bamboo.
The standard audio system features a 7-in. display, in-dash CD player, HD Radio with iTunes tagging, eight-channel digital amplifier, Bluetooth connectivity, Sirius/XM capability, eight speakers and a console-mounted Aux jack. The audio, climate control and vehicle personalization systems are activated by the Lexus Display Audio control. It is a revised input device with push, rotate and joystick movements for information entry. Move up to the Mark Levinson audio system, and you get an in-dash CD/DVD player, 5.1-channel audio with 12-channel digital amplifier, 15-speaker “GreenEdge” speaker system, eight-inch display, XM NavTraffic, 80 GB hard-drive navigation system and Lexus Enform with App Suite. It’s accessed via a Remote Touch Interface that uses a second-generation haptic-response joystick controller. This replaces the previous unit’s spherical joystick orbit with a planar sliding motion and press-to-click activation.
The Lexus Enform Suite includes apps controlled by conversational speech voice recognition that are downloaded to a smartphone from the Internet and sent to the vehicle. The Lexus Insider function receives, displays, deletes and plays back audio data content distributed to Lexus users. Destination Assist downloads Point of Interest (POI) information the driver has requested from the Lexus call center. The eDestination function uses a computer or smartphone to access a database, downloaded through the vehicle’s Data Communications Module, with up to 10 POI destinations for up to 20 folders. In addition, the call center tracks vehicle information to send maintenance reminders.
On the safety front, the ES models feature 10 airbags (dual front knee bags are standard), blind spot warning with cross-traffic alert, a visual and audible lane departure alert, backup camera, and a park-assist monitor. High-intensity discharge headlamps are available as an option.
A brief drive showed the uplevel ES 350 to be as quiet and composed as you would expect from a Lexus, with a ride that stops just sort of becoming floaty. Steering response is quicker and more direct, but far from sporty, and that’s just what the ES buyer wants. But the most obvious improvements are on the inside. The instrument panel sweeps gently down from the driver’s to passenger’s side, punctuated by an abrupt jump over the outboard air register. Rear seat leg room is generous, and all of the surfaces are clean and crisply styled. Further impressions will have to wait for a full road test, but current ES buyers and near-luxury intenders will undoubtedly give the ES 350 and ES 300h a good, hard look.