FIRST DRIVE | The new 2021 Lexus ES soothes the soul
The world seems to have gone mad lately, and the frenetic energy has caused much stress for everyone. Step into the updated Lexus ES and experience motoring bliss that calms the soul.
The Lexus ES range is a sophisticated take on the executive saloon, with no pretenses of being a sports car. The updated car sees a new front grille design that subliminally echoes the Lexus logo.
The styling of the ES is modern, but not over the top or “out there.” It relies on sleek, long lines to provide flow to the long wheelbase and sedan proportions. It doesn’t stand out in a crowd, but it features a design philosophy that won’t age quite as rapidly as some other cars.
The interior has a serenity about it that few other cars can manage these days. The design is purposefully elegant, with extremely plush, comfortable seats and high quality trim finishes everywhere. The ergonomics make sense, although the infotainment system does have a few quirks to get used to. The tactile trackpad next to the gear shift can be used to control the features, but luckily the screen has been updated to a touchscreen variant with this update. The Android Auto and Apple Car Play integration is seamless, although Lexus does recommend using original charging cables to avoid compatibility issues.
The Lexus Premium sound system found in the base model EX spec in both 250 and 300h guises is definitely a cut above the rest, and the 300h SE features a brilliant Mark Levinson system that hits the premium note every time.
During the launch of the updated ES range in the Western Cape, we got to sample all the offerings on some of the best driving roads SA has to offer. Despite spectacularly volatile weather with high winds, pelting rain and ominous vistas, the ES felt like an asymptomatic Covid-19 patient while in mandatory isolation — completely undeterred and safe. The cabin barely allows in any noise.
The ride quality is exceptional, with the subtle suspension offering a smooth ride over every bump and undulation. The steering is fairly numb and there is never ever a want nor need to really attack a corner — even on the spectacular coastal road to Hermanus or over the Franschhoek Pass.
The range features two petrol engine options, both driving the front wheels: the 250 EX base model utilises a 2.5-litre, in-line four-cylinder that produces 152kW and 243Nm and is mated to an eight-speed, direct shift automatic transmission. The engine is quite happy to laze about in low revs, but the gearbox does sometimes hunt for the correct gear when urgency is requested.
The 300h EX and SE spec also feature a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder, but it is helped along by an electric motor to up combined power to 160kW. The continuously variable transmission that sends power to the wheels does a great job and suits the ES to a tee. The combination with the electric motor makes the 300h a much better car to drive in traffic and general low speed situations. Both engine options will reach 100km/h in around 9 seconds.
One thing worth noting is that the 17-inch tyres of the EX spec add to the comfort and ride quality of the ES. The 18-inch wheels on the SE spec ride a fair bit harsher and introduce a slight vibration to the otherwise muted steering. The ES comes with all the bells and whistles one would expect of a luxury sedan. Even the EX spec has most of the creature comforts. Automatic climate control, electric seats, cruise control, “moonroof” and keyless entry and start.
The SE spec adds some active safety systems with lane assist and adaptive cruise control, along with wooden inlays for the dash and steering wheel. The headlights are also adaptive LEDs compared to the standard bi-LED units in the EX models.
As a value proposition in the luxury market, the Lexus ES shines. With pricing starting at R719,900 for the ES 250 EX, the entry into premium motoring with extreme peace of mind is accessible to a wider market. The top of the range 300h SE retails for R948,400, but our pick of the bunch would be the 300h EX model at R774,400.