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Lexus’ 2020 ES300h is an unexpected pleasure

August 2, 2020

front side view

There was a time when Lexus’ ES model induced yawns. It was wallowy and boring, and didn’t stand out from the crowd. To many, it was simply a tarted-up Toyota Avalon with, perhaps, better customer service at the point of sale and beyond.

Forward to today’s Lexus ES300h and discover a fun, rewarding four-door, front-wheel-drive sedan that can be driven (rather than simply operated) and enjoyed. An 11-day trip to the midwest to attend NHRA’s return to racing back-to-back races outside Indianapolis, afforded the opportunity to live with and enjoy this mid-size hybrid sedan, which celebrated a redesign last year.

rear side view

The 2020 Lexus ES300h sedan in Matador Red exudes elegance. It’s inviting from the first ignition and rewarding over the road. Its looks aren’t generic, but do have a Lexus familiarity to them, from the exaggerated waterfall grille at the front to the upswept rear trunk area with its winglet. Chrome accents abound at the grille, window surrounds, at the trunk opening and lower rear fascia. It’s all very cohesive and, yes, elegant.

side view

Lexus’ ES hybrid has been around for ten years now and has evolved to be an excellent machine, as have all Lexus and Toyota hybrid vehicles. Under the hood, Lexus matches an Atkinson cycle 2.5-liter inline four cylinder engine of 215 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque together with a battery pack that lives below the rear seats, keeping the trunk usably large.

engine

Lexus employs an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT) that adds to this sedan’s efficiency but doesn’t hunt and peck for gears as many of its ilk do. For those that intend to use the sport setting, rather than eco or normal modes, Lexus fits paddle shifters that encourage spirited driving. Front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link suspensions keep the ES300h planted to the road, while [optional] P235/45R Bridgestone Turanza tires adorn 18-inch twinned five-spoke alloy wheels.

Brakes are excellent and handily recharge the battery pack, while electronically controlled power steering has only a slight vagueness on-center. When the car is placed in sport mode, everything tightens up and feels more sporting; you’d almost think this was an F-sport, not a hybrid as it dances through the wooded area roads where we spent our Indianapolis-area visit.

front view

This sedan is extremely comfortable, with dual power seats up front and plenty of space for those in the rear. The driver’s seat has a seat-bottom extension for the taller folk. There’s even sunshades for both the active and the porthole back-seat windows, as well as the rear-facing window, which is power operated. These shades are awfully nice when the summer temps in Indiana creep towards triple digits. Rear passengers have their own air flow and USB/auxiliary outlets.

rear air flow & outlets

Lexus equips this 3,704-pound vehicle so nicely, with standard items such as 10 airbags, Bi-LED headlamps, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Lexus Enform WiFi that’s compatible with smartphones and smart watches, Sirius XM satellite radio, electrochromic heated folding outside mirrors, dual-zone climate control, three memories for the driver’s seat, rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats, wood trim and ambient lighting. There’s a small, usable sunroof as standard equipment and all seating is leather-faced.

office

Of course there are a pile of options on the 2020 Lexus ES300h that increase its entry fee of $46,685 including destination to a grand total of $55,550.. Some of these items, in this writer’s opinion, should be included but not my call. Lexus charges $1,900 for blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, intuitive parking assist with auto braking, rear pedestrian detection and panoramic view monitor. The wireless charging pad ($75) sits inside the central storage area, while the 18-inch wheels carry a $950 charge.

On this car, Lexus fits a 10.2-inch head-up display ($500) and triple-beam headlights for $1,515. The big option is Lexus’ Navigation/Mark Levinson audio package ($2,900) which includes the nav system with a 12.3-inch color multimedia display, replacing the standard 8-in unit, Lexus Enform dynamic navigation, dynamic voice command, Lexus Enform destination assist and the luscious Mark Levinson PurePlay 17-speaker, 1,800-watt premium surround sound audio system. There’s also a heated wood and leather trimmed steering wheel with windshield wiper de-icer and fast response interior heater ($480), door edge guards for $145 and illuminated door sills for $400.

We flew into Chicago and drove this 2020 Lexus ES300h to the Indianapolis area. It is exceptional over the road and gets an easy 44mpg at outrageous speeds (don’t ask; don’t tell) from the 13.2-gallon tank, using regular unleaded fuel. A massive shopping trip en route to our friends’ home didn’t even start to occupy the trunk’s 16.7 cubic feet. This foot-operated trunk is massive, has a first-aid kit and a pass-through to the cabin. A small spare is fit below the trunk floor with tools.

rear seats

The head-up display is excellent, showing the speed limit, actual speed, economy report and lane departure; the display can be raised and lowered as needed. It was easy to sync with the phone on this ES300h, which isn’t always the case with this manufacturer. The large, split screen notes freeway exits on main roads and a little box on the gauge cluster shows the speed limit – it’s rimmed in red when even one mile per hour over the limit.

Lexus’ infotainment system has received some upgrades and is becoming even easier to use. The navigation system is excellent and has little difficulty finding some of the back, back roads used on this trip. The wireless charger is efficiently placed in the small central storage area with its clamshell opening on both sides for easy access. There are USB/aux/12-volt plugs inside, as well as inside the front cup holder that can also be closed.

It was surprising to drive this big, heavy car and find it as agile as it is, particularly in sport mode. Staying away from interstates and using back roads was enticing and with the excellent mileage it was quite rewarding. While the four-cylinder engine doesn’t scream with power, it’s capable enough to get around farm trucks and folks who just like to mosey down the road.

So thanks, Lexus, for restoring my faith in your ES model and giving me a great machine for this midwestern visit. Putting more than 1,000 miles on the Es300h was, unexpectedly, a great pleasure.

Words and photos by Anne Proffit

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