Lexus’ ES has come a long way in 30 years. Yes, 2019 marks three decades of the quintessential Japanese luxury brand’s best-selling car, which started life as the comparatively humble ES 250 in 1989. …

2019 Lexus ES 300h Road Test

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus redesigned its ES luxury sedan for 2019, with even this 300h hybrid looking sportier than ever before. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Lexus’ ES has come a long way in 30 years. Yes, 2019 marks three decades of the quintessential Japanese luxury brand’s best-selling car, which started life as the comparatively humble ES 250 in 1989. 

It was obviously based on the Camry family sedan, yet despite being rushed to market in order to make sure the full-size LS 400 wasn’t alone in the new premium brand’s lineup, it was a handsome, well-built and reasonably strong performing V6-powered mid-size luxury sedan. Lexus has made six ES generations since, releasing this most recent seventh-generation redesign late last year as a 2019 model, and while each new version made improvements on its predecessor, this latest iteration is by far the most dramatic looking, most refined inside, and best to drive yet. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The new ES is stylish from all angles, its new elevated rear deck lid providing a particularly sporty look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

In fact, Lexus has done such a good job of pulling the ES upmarket that it’s getting more difficult to justify having two mid-size sedans in its lineup. The two look similar and are near identical in size, the ES’ wheelbase just 20 mm (0.8 in) longer at 2,870 mm (113.0 in), and 4,960 mm (195.3 in) of overall length a bit more of a stretch thanks to an additional 110 mm (4.3 in). The ES is 25 mm (1.0 in) wider than the GS too, measuring 1,865 mm (73.4 in) from side to side, but at 1,445 mm (56.9 in) high it’s 10 mm (0.4 in) lower, the ES’ long, wide and low design giving it proportions arguably more appealing than the sportier, more upscale sedan. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus has taken its trademark spindle grille to new lengths, heights and widths with the new ES. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To be fair to the GS, it not only delivers stronger performance, particularly through the corners and off the line, especially in 467 horsepower GS F form, but it generally feels more substantive thanks to a 66-kilo (145-lb) heftier curb weight in base trim and 185-kg (408-lb) difference in hybrid trims, a rear-drive architecture shared with the smaller IS series sedan and coupe, a stiffer, more robust suspension setup, and other improvements that justify its significantly higher price point; the GS ranging from $63,800 to more than $100,000, compared to just $45,000 to $61,500 with the ES (find pricing for all new and past models at CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and individual options, plus money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could keep thousands in your wallet). 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
These stunning Tri-LED headlamps come as part of the mid-range Luxury package. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Under the base ES hood is a 302 horsepower version of Lexus/Toyota’s ubiquitous 3.5-litre V6, just 9 horsepower and 13 lb-ft of torque shy of the base GS engine yet 34 horsepower and 19 lb-ft of torque more than the previous ES 350, and the Japanese luxury brand now marries it to an eight-speed automatic instead of the comparably antiquated six-speed unit found in last year’s ES and the pricier GS currently on sale. 

My as-tested ES 300h, which incidentally starts at $47,000, combines an upgraded 176 horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder featuring 163 lb-ft of torque with a 67 horsepower (50 kW) electric motor and 29.1-kWh nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery for a net output rating of 215 horsepower and an undisclosed torque rating (the previous ES 300h’ net torque rating was 206 lb-ft). Toyota’s fourth-generation hybrid system once again incorporates a silky smooth electronically controlled continuously variable transmission that suits this car’s luxury role well. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The ultimately angular 2019 ES can no longer be called a bland wallflower. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Fuel economy is incredibly good at a claimed 5.5 L/100km in the city, 5.2 on the highway and 5.3 combined, which despite its performance gains beats last year’s ES 300h hands-down, that model only capable of 5.8, 6.1 and 5.9 respectively. The new ES 300h handily outmaneuvers its Lincoln MKZ Hybrid archrival past the pumps too, the domestic luxury sedan only managing 5.7 city, 6.2 highway and 5.9 combined, while other notable efficiency comparisons include the conventionally powered ES 350 that gets a rating of 10.6 city, 7.2 highway and 9.1 combined, the same car with its F Sport styling upgrade that manages 10.9, 7.5 and 9.4 respectively, and the regular GS 350 AWD with its 12.3, 9.1 and 10.9 rating, while last year’s GS 450h hybrid eked out an impressive 8.0 city, 6.9 highway and 7.5 combined, but it’s no longer available so the point is moot unless you can find a new one lurking around your local Lexus dealer or are willing to live with a pre-owned example. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The top-line Ultra Luxury package includes these stylish 18-inch noise reduction alloy wheels. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

You might find the latter difficult being the GS is as rare as the proverbial bird’s teeth, with year-to-date sales a scant 82 units as of August 31, compared to 1,445 down the road for the ES. That latter total makes for the mid-size luxury segment’s second-best results behind the Mercedes-Benz E/CLS-Class, plus the category’s best growth at 55.54 percent over the same eight months of last year. Only two rivals saw any upside at all, Mercedes’ E/CLS-Class (which also includes a coupe and convertible) up by 1.24 percent, plus Audi’s A6 and A7 with 18.87 and 24.28 percent YTD growth respectively, the latter two cars only capable of garnering 441 and 430 unit sales apiece during those eight months, however. 

In case you were wondering, the GS, its sales down 43.84 percent, wasn’t last, with Jaguar’s XF having lost 52.89 percent for 57 deliveries, Acura’s RLX down by 24.53 percent for 40 unit sales, and Infiniti’s Q70 dropping 2.56 percent for a 38 unit total. The segment’s biggest loser by percentage is the Lincoln Continental, dropping 56.88 percent so far this year, while closest to positive without going over is the G80 from Hyundai’s upstart Genesis brand that narrowly missed out with a loss of just 0.44 percent (thanks to GoodCarBadCar.net for the detailed sales results). 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Here’s a closer look at the ES’ raised rear deck lid, that seems to pay some homage to BMW’s once infamous Bangle butt. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

After witnessing the sales carnage in this mid-size luxury sedan class it’s easy to appreciate why Lexus might eventually choose to keep the ES over the GS, and while anyone that’s driven a GS F might lament such a decision. Personally, I’d back a CEO that makes good, sound business decisions over someone merely wanting a hyper-fast executive shuttle in their fleet. Certainly there’s a reasonable case for image cars, but Lexus is already losing money on its gorgeous LC coupe, which will go a lot further to bolster the brand’s image than an aging four-door sedan could ever do, let alone a car that sells in such small numbers there isn’t much image building being done anyway, so let’s see what happens to the Lexus lineup as we move into the next decade. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The ES’ new LED taillights are exquisitely detailed. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

One thing is for sure, the ES will continue to fill its unique position within the marketplace, and it will have fewer rivals moving forward. The aforementioned Continental will soon be gone, as will Lincoln’s more directly competitive MKZ, which also comes in electrified hybrid form. Cadillac will also drop its front-drive XTS and CTS, while sales of its newer CT6 are so slow it hardly rates. The only challengers not yet mentioned include BMW’s 5 Series, Volvo’s newish S90, and Tesla’s aging Model S, while some might also shop the ES against Buick’s LaCrosse (also slated for cancellation), the Chrysler 300 (there’s no definitive word about this aging car’s future), and possibly Kia’s impressive Stinger, not to mention large luxury sedans like Toyota’s own Avalon, which is basically the same car as the ES under the sheetmetal, and lastly Nissan’s Maxima, which also gets very close to premium sans highfalutin badge. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
If you think the exterior is appealing, wait until you get inside. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Still, the ES has long outsold most of these would-be rivals, and this newest iteration should keep that ball rolling for the next few years. As noted earlier, the ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid are completely redesigned for its seventh generation. No matter whether trimmed out as a base ES 350, upgraded to its more athletic looking ES 350 F Sport trim, or delivered in classy as-tested ES 300h form, Lexus’ front-drive four-door now adds an entirely new level of visual drama to its outward design. 

The car’s trademark spindle grille is larger and considerably more expressive, its origami-inspired LED headlight clusters more complex with sharper edges, its side profile longer and sleeker with a more pronounced front overhang and a swoopier sweep to its C pillars that now taper downward over a shorter, taller trunk lid, while its rear end styling is more aggressively penned due to a much bigger crescent-shaped spoiler that hovers above expansive triangular wrap-around LED taillights. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The new ES pulls plenty of design cues from the LFA supercar. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The overall design toys with the mind, initially flowing smoothly from the grille rearward, overtop the hood and down each sculpted side, but then it culminates into a clamour of dissonant creases, folds and cutlines at back. Still, it comes together quite well overall, and certainly won’t conjure any of the model’s previous criticisms about yawn-inducing styling. 

Similar can be said of the interior, but instead of sharp edges the cabin combines myriad horizontal planes and softer angles with higher-grade materials than the outgoing ES, not to mention a few design details pulled from the LFA supercar, particularly the black knurled metal pods hanging off each side of the primary instrument hood, the left one for turning off the traction control, and the knob to the right for scrolling between Normal, Eco and Sport modes. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
This full digital gauge cluster is heavily inspired by the LFA, but modernized with unique hybrid features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Between those unorthodox pods is a standard digital gauge cluster that once again was inspired by the LFA supercar and plenty of lesser Lexus road cars since, this one providing real-time energy monitoring via a nice flowing graphic just to the left of the speedometer, while the infotainment display at dash central measures a minimum of 8.0 inches up to the sizeable 12.3-inch unit tested, yet both look even larger due to all the extra black glass bordering each side, the left portion hiding a classic LED-backlit analogue clock underneath. The high-definition display gets attractive graphics plus deep, rich colours and contrast, plus responds quickly to inputs. 

When opting for the as-tested ES 300h hybrid the infotainment interface now comes standard with Apple CarPlay for those who’d rather not integrate their smartphone via Lexus’ proprietary Enform system. This said Enform is arguably more comprehensive and easier to use than Android Auto, which is not included anyway, while standard Enform 2.0 apps include info on fuel prices, traffic incidents, weather, sports, and stocks, plus it’s also bundled with Scout GPS Link, Slacker, Yelp, and more. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Paddle shifters in a hybrid? The ES 300h is a lot more fun to drive than it used to be. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The 2019 ES 300h also gets an updated Remote Touch Interface trackpad controller on the lower console, which allows gesture controls like tap, pinch and swipe, and works much better than previous versions, with more accurate responses, especially to tap inputs, while other standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, Bi-LED headlamps, LED taillights, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a nicely shaped leather-wrapped steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, 10-speaker audio with satellite radio, a deodorizing, dust and pollen filtered dual-zone automatic climate control system, truly comfortable 10-way powered front seats with both three-way heat and ventilation, NuLuxe breathable leatherette upholstery, all the usual active and passive safety equipment including 10 airbags, plus much more. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Just like the LFA, these cool pods provide a unique way to adjust driving settings. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Safety in mind, the new ES 300h comes standard with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 that features an autonomous emergency braking pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicycle detection, plus lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, new Lane Tracing Assist (LTA) automated lane guidance, automatic high beams, and full-speed range adaptive cruise control, all of which worked well, without being overly sensitive. 

The just-noted 12.3-inch infotainment display comes as part of an optional $3,800 Premium package that also adds blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse tilting side mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a toasty heatable steering wheel that along with the heated front seats comes on automatically upon startup (I love this last feature), front seat and side mirror memory, accurate navigation with incredibly detailed mapping, and Enform Destination Assist that provides 24/7 live assistance for finding destinations or points of interest. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The upgraded 12.3-inch centre display allows for a big backup and overhead camera experience. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Alternatively you can choose the even more comprehensive $10,600 Luxury package that combines everything from the Premium package with unique 18-inch alloy wheels, ultra-bright Tri-LED headlamps, much appreciated Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging, full leather upholstery, and a powered rear window sunshade. 

Lastly, the as-tested $14,500 Ultra Luxury package builds on the Luxury package with an attractive set of 18-inch noise reduction alloy wheels, calming ambient interior lighting, a really useful 10-inch head-up display, a 360-degree surround parking monitor that made getting into awkward parking spaces easier, a sensational sounding 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system, softer and more comfortable semi-aniline leather upholstery, rear door sunshades, and a touch-free gesture control powered trunk lid. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The new trackpad improves upon Lexus previous Remote Touch Interfaces. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Needless to say this $61,500 model is the most lavishly equipped Lexus ES 300h to date, but it also provides the best ES driving experience by a long shot. Of course, those who love a comforting ride will appreciate the ES for its suspension compliance, the fully independent setup combining front struts and a multi-link rear setup, albeit revised for 2019 with newly developed Dynamic Control Shocks that include an auxiliary valve to complement the main damper valve in order to respond better to subtler movement. The front suspension was reworked for both comfort and stability, while additional adjustments made to the rear trailing arm and stabilizer bar mounting points helped minimize body lean, all resulting in an ES that’s quite adept through fast-paced curves. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
As usual, the ES driver’s seat is excellent, while more reach from the steering column makes for an even better driving position. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The ES 300h is actually quite fun to drive now, something I would not have admitted to previously, Lexus even including steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to swap a set of simulated gears that mimic the real thing quite well when in Sport mode, plus this enthusiast setting also adds torque at low speeds and provides a tachometer within the digital gauge cluster to monitor all the action. Those purchasing their ES 300h for economical or environmental reasons might prefer Eco mode that improves fuel economy, while EV mode lets you cruise silently at low speed for short durations. 

Enhancing efficiency yet more is new Auto Glide Control that allows the ES to coast more freely when lifting off the throttle, instead of slowing down automatically from automatic regenerative braking. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Rear seat roominess and comfort will impress. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

No matter the speed this wind-cheating ES is now the quietest yet, thanks to twice as much structural adhesive, improving noise, vibration and harshness levels, front fender liners and underbody covers, and sound deadening material coating 93 percent of the ES 300h’s floor pan, a major increase over the previous car’s 68 percent area coverage. 

The aforementioned battery is smaller but more potent, by the way, and is now located under the rear seat and not in the trunk, which makes the cargo area identical in size to the non-hybrid ES 350 at 473 litres (16.7 cu ft). It also allows for a centre pass-through capable of swallowing up skis or other long items, and therefore allows rear passengers to enjoy the more comfortable window seats. And yes, the ES is roomy and comfortable no matter where you’re seated.   

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The ES 300h hybrid’s trunk is now just as large and accommodating as the regular ES 350. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Interior finishings are a lot nicer than previous generation ES models, with higher quality soft-touch composite surfacing being used, and more of it. This said, the lower door panels are still hard plastic, as are the sides of the centre console. Lexus smartly includes the wireless device charger under the armrest in the centre console bin, so you can keep your phone away from otherwise distracted eyes. 

All of the switchgear is improved over previous generations too, with some noteworthy details being those aforementioned pods that stick out each side of the instrument cluster, the little round metal buttons on the centre stack for controlling the radio, media, and seek/track functions, the temperature control switches, and, while not exactly switchgear, the speaker grilles and surrounds for the Mark Levinson audio system. The hardwood trim feels genuine because it’s actually real, and comes in Striated Black, Linear Dark Mocha or Linear Espresso, while the metallic accents are nicely finished and tastefully applied. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
A centre pass-through adds convenience. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Over the past 20 or so years of covering all things automotive I’ve spent many weeks with Lexus’ ES in both conventionally powered and hybrid forms, so therefore now that I’ve spent yet another seven days with this all-new 2019 ES 300h I can confidently promise that ES enthusiasts will like it best of all. It incorporates all previous ES attributes yet makes them better, resulting in one of the most impressive entry-level luxury sedans ever created.

Every luxury brand has models that sell in volume and therefore provide necessary income and hopefully profits, while most also have one or more image vehicle that increases visibility of the entire model…

2019 Lexus LC 500h Road Test

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The Lexus LC 500h makes a dramatic visual statement that looks like nothing else on the road. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Every luxury brand has models that sell in volume and therefore provide necessary income and hopefully profits, while most also have one or more image vehicle that increases visibility of the entire model lineup and, in theory, causes people to buy into the make. On rare occasion a model achieves both, but such is not the case with the beautiful new Lexus LC. 

Putting things into perspective, the LC could actually be considered a runaway success when compared to Lexus’ previous image car. The LFA was purposely limited to just 500 units worldwide over two model years built between 2010 and 2012, 10 of which came to Canada. By comparison the LC, which was introduced in 2017 as a 2018 model, is selling like gangbusters with seven examples finding well-heeled Canadian customers last month alone, and nine the month before. In total, Lexus delivered 55 LCs over the first seven months of 2019, which makes it the second slowest selling model in the Japanese luxury brand’s lineup, just ahead of the LS (with 51 units) but not the slowest selling sport-luxury car in Canada. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The rear end design is almost as visually arresting as the front. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That honour goes to the Maserati GranTurismo that only found 14 new buyers so far this year, while the LC is also doing better than Acura’s NSX that only has 17 units sold, not to mention the Nissan GT-R’s tally of 36, and the Audi R8’s 54. Still, Mercedes-Benz sold 99 SL-Class models year-to-date, BMW’s 8 Series earned 160 new owners thus far, Jaguar’s F-Type found 181 buyers, Merc’s AMG GT pulled in a surprising 258 (considering it starts at $170k), and Porsche’s 911 won over 587. Making matters more interesting, that Porsche sales total represents a 31.74-percent drop in popularity compared to the same seven months last year, due to a lull in availability ahead of the all-new 2020 model arriving now. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The headlamp clusters are downright bizarre, but they fit ideally with the rest of the design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The 911 wasn’t the only sports car to lose ground on this list either, the R8 falling a catastrophic 70.97 percentage points from grace, the GranTurismo losing 48.15 percent, this LC have been knocked down by 48.11 percent, F-Type sales dropping by 29.30 percent, the GT-R down some 21.74 percent, and the SL having dipped by 16.10 percent. Only the AMG GT grew its year-to-date sales, by 55.42 percent, with the 8 Series too new to compare. You might also get a kick out of learning that Lexus’ parent brand Toyota sold 66 new $65k-plus Supra models during its first month of availability in July, which you’ll now know is more than every LC sold so far this year. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
These beautiful 21-inch alloys come standard with the 500h. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

There are other cars competing in this class, but some, like the BMW i8 and Mercedes S-Class Coupe, combine their numbers with other models in their respective lineups (the i3 and S-Class Sedan in these cases), whereas the Aston Martin DB11, Bentley Continental GT and Rolls-Royce Wraith are in a slightly different league when it comes to pricing. Ford sold three Markham, Ontario-built GTs and Dodge even notched one up for the Viper, incidentally, but the former is a purposely low-volume supercar and the latter went out of production two years ago, so the unsteady trickle of deliveries shouldn’t count. A bit further down the pricing hierarchy is Chevy’s Corvette that totaled 840 units year-to-date, and it’s a foregone conclusion the slightly pricier mid-engine C8 will soon fly out of GM showrooms, which will make it even more difficult for very good cars like this LC to find sales traction. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
An upgrade on the regular LC 500, this carbon fibre roof is standard equipment with the LC 500h hybrid. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

When sales don’t stack up, it’s always important to point out that a given car’s popularity isn’t necessarily a reflection of its overall goodness. As one might expect, the very fact the LC is a Lexus is reason enough to give it respect, and other than the most recently introduced fourth-generation LS luxury sedan, the second model to use the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA), specifically TNGA-L (GA-L) underpinnings, the LC is easily the best Lexus ever made. 

The initial draw has to be styling. The LC takes the brand’s spindle grille to new widths and depths, but the design gets even more radical to each side, with headlamps that look like some sort of mechanical set of alien-implanted growths, yet the lit areas are actually quite small and filled with tightly grouped trios of LEDs (which Lexus had to reinvent in order to fit within such a small cluster). All of the abstract irregularities are just glossed over black trim, other than the Nike swoosh-style “arrowhead” daytime running lights just below. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The otherwise flush door handles pop out like those on a Jaguar F-Type or most any modern Aston Martin. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The LC design continues rearward with additional modern-day Lexus trademark elements, such as the blackened C-pillar “floating roof” effect with nice polished nickel detailing, far-reaching pronged taillights that more or less mirror the supposed “L-shaped” headlamps while infused with 80 individual LEDs per side and sharing design elements with the aforementioned LS (not to mention the Toyota Prius and Camry XSE). Each element might appear a bit bizarre on its own, but the entire package comes together in one surprisingly elegant and undeniably beautiful cohesive whole. 

Come to think of it I almost never comment on styling, unless the designer got something especially right or incredibly wrong. In the LC’s case, the Newport Beach, California-based Calty Design Research centre’s team, led by studio chief Ian Cartabiano, with Edward Lee responsible for the jaw-dropping exterior and William Chergosky plus Ben Chang in charge of the interior, the LF-LC Concept that inspired it couldn’t have been more right. It was miraculously transformed from awe-inspiring prototype to equally stunning LC 500 and LC 500h reality with only minor outer modifications made, the end result quite possibly the closest a production model has ever been to resembling its concept car roots. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The LC’s stylized taillights incorporate 80 individual LEDs. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The road-going LC’s interior was completely redesigned, albeit kept the general theme including an LFA-inspired pod-like digital gauge cluster, a horizontally shaped instrument panel with a recessed widescreen centre display, a cockpit-style driver’s compartment that’s semi-enclosed by a buttress-type centre stack extension doubling as a front passenger grab-handle in the production model, a flowing set of downward-swept suede-like alcantara door panel inserts, deeply sculpted, heavily bolstered front sport seats, similarly styled rear sport bucket seats, and more. All the effort spent was immediately rewarded by placement on Wards Auto 10 Best Interiors list when the car came on the scene in the spring of 2017, and I have to agree that it’s a wonderfully artful design that provides all the luxuries and digital modernity expected in a personal sports-luxury coupe starting at $102,750 in 2019 LC 500 form and $103,050 in just-arriving 2020 trim, or alternatively at $118,850 with the as-tested 2019 LC 500h electrified powertrain, or $118,950 as a 2020 500h model (see all Lexus LC 500 and 500h pricing at CarCostCanada for both the 2019 and 2020 model years, plus find out about available rebates as well as dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands).

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The LC’s interior is so good it immediately earned placement on Wards Auto’s top 10. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Nothing significant changes from 2019 to 2020, only the elimination of a special $14,800 Inspiration Series package with Flare Yellow semi-aniline leather upholstery (etcetera) for the LC 500 model, and the addition of a new Bespoke White interior theme for the conventionally powered car as well. No matter which powertrain you choose all six exterior colours remain identical, with Infrared the only optional paint at just $650, while the three remaining interiors are also carried over. 

A key reason my 3.5-litre V6-powered hybrid LC 500h tester is pricier than its 5.0-litre V8-powered LC 500 sibling, despite the latter upping horsepower by 113 ponies and without doubt providing a more tantalizing exhaust note, plus fitted with a quicker-shifting, more engaging gearbox than the hybrid’s E-CVT (electronic continuously variable transmission), is equipment, the 500h coming standard with everything from the Performance package that would otherwise cost an LC 500 buyer $13,500 more. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The cabin pulls plenty of design cues from the concept. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The list of upgrades includes four-wheel active variable gear ratio steering, a Torsen limited slip differential, 21-inch forged alloy wheels on Michelin performance tires instead of the standard 20-inch set, a carbon fibre roof in place of the standard glass panel, an active rear spoiler, carbon fibre reinforced polymer scuff plates, an alcantara headliner, upgraded sport seats, and an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat instead of the usual 10-way unit, plus lane change assist added to a long list of standard advanced driver assistive systems on both models that include a pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, and dynamic cruise control. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The quality of materials is excellent, and layout optimizing comfort and the driving position. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I should point out a shortlist of standard luxury and convenience highlights while I’m at it, these including LED cornering lights to go along with the triple-LED headlamps noted earlier, a cool credit card-sized smart key to let you inside via proximity sensing, a head-up display to go along with the fully digital gauge cluster mentioned before, power-folding side mirrors, a heatable steering wheel rim that actually lets you adjust the temperature, a powered steering column that works with the front seat memory, cooled front seats (plus heat of course), semi-automated self-parking, and much, much more. 

Also standard is a 10.3-inch high-resolution centre display featuring a regular backup camera with dynamic guidelines, accurate navigation, Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity (but no Android Auto), superb 13-speaker Mark Levinson high resolution surround audio, satellite radio, dual USB ports, traffic and weather info, Lexus’ Enform App Suite 2.0 with Slacker, Yelp, Sports, Stocks, and Fuel apps, Enform Destination Assist with a one-year subscription, and the Enform Safety Connect suite containing Automatic Collision Notification, a Stolen Vehicle Locator, an Emergency Assistance button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance with a four-year subscription. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The digital instrument cluster mirrors that on the LFA supercar, as well as others used on Lexus models since. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The display is too far away to reach easily, so Lexus provides its Remote Touch Interface 2.0 touchpad on the lower console, and it works easily enough after some getting used to. A few quick-access buttons and audio controls surround the pad, making it perfectly acceptable yet hardly my favourite infotainment system. Fortunately there are plenty of other reasons to like the LC. 

Despite being based on the same platform architecture as Lexus’ big LS sedan, the LC is a fraction of the size in every dimension except width. It reaches across an extra 20 mm (0.8 in) at 1,920 mm (75.6 in), and you can sense its spaciousness in shoulder room once seated next to a passenger, but its wheelbase is 255 mm (10.0 in) shorter at 2,870 mm (113.0 in), and overall length a whopping 475 mm (18.7 in) less grand, while its obvious height difference is reduced by 116 mm (4.5 in). 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
These cool control nubs poke out each side of the pod-like instrument cluster. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

So what’s the closest rival in size and interior roominess? Before comparing measurements I initially thought of the S-Class Coupe being that it’s top of the personal luxury range at Mercedes, but the mid-size E-Class Coupe is actually a lot larger than the LC in every dimension except (once again) width. The LC is actually closer to cars like BMW’s i8 and Aston Martin’s DB11, with a bit more wheelbase, length and height than the exotic looking German and truly rarified Brit, but less width this time. 

The longer wheelbase and length means that four adults can fit inside, although I’d recommend smaller folks in back. I’m just five-foot-eight with taller legs than torso, and I had to bend my neck all the way over to the side in order to fit within, with my head still rubbing up against the rear glass. The seats were comfortable, and there was plenty of room for my legs and feet, not to mention my shoulders and hips, so it was a shame that even medium sized adults can’t fit in back. As for the trunk, it’s a bit smaller in this hybrid model, measuring 132 litres (4.7 cu ft) instead of 153 litres (5.4 cu ft), so you might be forced to stuff one set of golf clubs into that otherwise kids-only back seat. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The LC gets a horizontal dash theme that comes close to resembling its concept car roots. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

And yes, to those reading who don’t understand this market, the number of golf bags that can be stowed in the trunk of a personal luxury coupe is much more important than mere performance, which, together with rear seat room, may be reason enough that sales haven’t caught on as much as they could have. Let’s be clear, the LC is not a pure performance car, especially in hybrid trim, but rather a luxurious personal coupe that also goes quickly. In this respect it’s a lot like the just-noted i8, in that it drives beautifully and handles corners brilliantly, but it’s really a luxury car. As for comfort, the suede-like alcantara covered driver’s seat was as feel-good supportive as any in this class, plus wonderfully adjustable and replete with enough side bolstering for all but my most enthusiastic rally-type antics. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The infotainment display is good, but not the segment’s best. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I was initially scheduled to spend a week in both models, but someone did something naughty to the regular LC 500 just before I was to receive it, so instead of experiencing its 467 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque firsthand, not to mention its reportedly quick-shifting 10-speed automatic, I was shuffled into something else that week, never to see the LC 500 again. This said, not too many weeks later I was able to get into this LC 500h, which comparatively makes a more modest 354 horsepower and an unknown amount of torque from its V6/electric combination, but I have to say it feels a lot more energetic than the numbers claim. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
Strange that there’s no overhead camera. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The internal combustion portion of this hybrid power unit only makes 295 horsepower and 257 lb-ft of torque, which is actually less than the same engine puts out in Toyota’s Camry, but before we slag this top-tier Lexus for using such a pedestrian mill, take note that a more highly strung version puts out 430 reliable horsepower in the mid-engine Lotus Evora, so it’s in good company at least. Of course, the lithium-ion battery and electric motor fulfill their fast-forward purpose as well, the latter good for 177 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, for a combined 472 horsepower and, well, let’s not bother because net horsepower and net torque don’t exactly work that way, which is why Lexus officially claims 354 horsepower and other sources are estimating about 370 lb-ft of twist at the rear wheels. I think they’re being extremely conservative in this estimate, being that the conventionally powered V8 sprints from standstill to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds and the hybrid a mere 0.5 seconds slower at 5.6, and that’s despite weighing 77 kilos (170 lbs) more at 2,012 kg (4,436 lbs) for the 500h to 1,935 kg (4,266 lbs) for the 500. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
A conventional shift lever doesn’t even hint at the sophisticated E-CVT below. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

In order to maximize either model’s fun factor, choose the Drive Mode Select system’s most engaging Sport S+ setting, which may not be as extreme as the sportiest mode in a BMW M car, or a Lexus RC F for that matter, but it certainly allows the engine to rev higher and prompts quicker shifts from the large metal steering wheel-mounted paddles. I have to admit Sport S+ became my go-to position for getting through town quickly, particularly because the engine makes such vicious snarling noises, especially when revs ramp up, and “gear changes” are a lot more direct. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The upgraded sport seats feature alcantara inserts and good side bolstering. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

And yes, in case you were wondering, this may just be the best continuously variable transmission I’ve ever tested, but despite its impressive 10-speed Simulated Shift Control technology, which actually incorporates a conventional multi-gear transmission within, it still has some latent CVT tendencies, which means that even in its sportiest mode the shifts can come so quickly between intervals, albeit without all the snappy positive engagement from a sport-tuned automatic or dual-clutch automated gearbox, that it seems like nothing’s really happened at all, plus the engine tends to whine up and down with a bit of the old rubber band effect in between. This means serious performance fans will want to get the LC with its V8, leaving those wanting to make some sort of environmental statement opting for the hybrid, because I really can’t see anyone spending $100,000-plus for a personal sports coupe caring one whit about how much they pay at the pump. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
Access to the rear is pretty good. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The LC 500h’s estimated fuel economy is impressive, however, at 9.0 L/100km in the city, 7.1 on the highway and 8.1 combined compared to 15.1 city, 9.5 highway and 12.6 combined for the LC 500; bragging rights to all but Tesla warriors. 

I imagine the lighter weight LC 500 adds more agility through fast-paced corners than the LC 500h, but this long, wide, low and relatively large coupe is nevertheless a great handling car, taking up a couple of tons of real estate yet able to manage curves with deft precision. This is its forte, the LC providing the same kind of relaxed high-speed confidence found in a big Mercedes coupe, yet with its own Japanese premium flair. Its ideally balanced chassis is expectedly easy on the backside too, with a ride that’s a lot more comfortable than its big wheels and low-slung bodywork suggest, while its also wonderfully quiet when its driving mode is switched to one of its less formidable settings, Comfort, Eco and Sport also on the menu. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The back seats are comfortable, but there’s not enough headroom for regular sized adults. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

At the end of the week the LC 500h is a sensational car, but numbers don’t lie. As good as it is, the people have spoken. Even in the US, where Lexus is one of the strongest luxury brands available, the LC has only found 764 buyers since the first of January, which is a bit better than in Canada per capita, but hardly anything to get excited about. Word of a new more performance-oriented LC F arriving later this year could cause some much-needed interest to return to the nameplate, as will an attractive convertible version that’s starting to show up on the interweb, but then again the lovely LC may just end up as another image-building car, helpful for raising Lexus’ well respected name up to higher, pricier levels of the premium market, yet not capable of making a profit on its own. 

2019 Lexus LC 500h
The LC’s trunk is pretty small, and shrinks further in hybrid form. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

This said the LC makes for a wonderfully exclusive piece of automotive art that managed to attract more attention from passersby than many pricier cars with more prestigious branding, having garnered more longing stares, pointing fingers and open mouths of astonishment than I could count, not to mention a completely overcome German tourist who just had to get his photo taken beside it. Still, unlike the usual exotic hardware that causes such adoration, the LC still provides a high level of reliable performance, a standout feature for sure. If you’re looking for something breathtakingly beautiful that’s completely different from anything else on the road, I highly recommend the Lexus LC.

An off-road Lexus? To some this might sound like an oxymoron, but in reality two of Lexus’ priciest luxury SUVs started life as ultra-capable go-anywhere Toyota Land Cruisers.  The Land Cruiser name…

Lexus reveals rugged GXOR Concept at FJ Summit

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
The GXOR Concept shows Lexus in a much more adventurous light, and could make the slow-selling GX 460 much more appealing. (Photo: Lexus)

An off-road Lexus? To some this might sound like an oxymoron, but in reality two of Lexus’ priciest luxury SUVs started life as ultra-capable go-anywhere Toyota Land Cruisers. 

The Land Cruiser name is legendary, and in many markets considered a premium sub-brand of the world’s second-largest automaker. While most Canadians conjuring mental images of iconic Land Cruisers will look back to the now classic 1960–1984 FJ40 series, the larger and longer 1967–1980 FJ55 followed by the much more popular 1980–1989 BJ60, or the most recent 2008–present J200 that does double-duty as the Lexus LX 570, the model shown here is based on the 2009–present J150, or Land Cruiser Prado. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
The GXOR gets plenty of off-road gear to overcome treacherous terrain, plus an ultra-rugged tent trailer. (Photo: Lexus)

Known North American luxury consumers as the Lexus GX 460, this somewhat long-in-tooth albeit still very capable mid-size three-row 4×4 also shared underpinnings with the current Toyota 4Runner and FJ Cruiser (the latter no longer available in North America) in its previous third-generation J120 design (2002–2009), which should help anyone familiar with those no-holds-barred SUVs believe in this Lexus’ off-road prowess. 

It’s no wonder, therefore, that 4×4 enthusiasts looking to add luxury to their off-road lifestyle have opted for the GX 460, so now Lexus is paying homage to these faithful fans with this special creation, and even giving them partial credit for bringing the new GXOR Concept to life. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
Lexus should consider selling this tent trailer too. (Photo: Lexus)

“Concept vehicles are typically created to generate excitement for the enthusiasts, but sometimes, it’s the enthusiasts and their vehicles that give life to the concept,” stated Lexus. “The Lexus GXOR Concept (GX Off-Road) is fueled by the passionate Lexus GX owners that have discovered and embraced the SUV’s perfect combination of ultimate luxury and unrivaled off-road capability.” 

No wonder the Japanese luxury brand chose to launch the new GXOR Concept at the annual FJ Summit in Ouray, Colorado, the 12th of such events having taken place from July 17–21 this year. Similar in concept to a Jeep Jamboree, the FJ Summit provides an opportunity for Toyota 4×4 owners to test their personal driving skills as well as their Toyota/Lexus 4×4’s prowess on challenging trails, gives classes taught by experienced off-road instructors in order to hone those driving skills, and much more. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
All-terrain tires, a lifted suspension, and full skid plates below make for one capable 4×4. (Photo: Lexus)

Despite the GX 460’s impressive capability off-road, and its passionate group of diehard followers, its popularity with the general SUV-buying public has faded in recent months and years, with Q2 2019 sales down 25.41 percent compared to the same six months last year, resulting in only 138 buyers for last place in the mid-size luxury SUV segment (other than the now discontinued Lincoln MKT), while all 12 months of 2018 only found 376 customers after a high of 662 units in 2015. 

To be fair, plenty of competitors have been losing ground this year, with Q2 2019 Tesla Model X sales off by 30.00 percent for 840 units, Audi Q7 deliveries down 36.13 percent to 1,674 units (possibly due to the new Q8’s arrival), the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class dropping 36.66 percent to 762 units, and the same German luxury brand’s GLE-Class plummeting by 42.00 percent to 2,413 units. Even the mighty Lexus RX (and new long-wheelbase RX L) saw a sales drop of 8.50 percent through Q1 and Q2, but its 3,982 deliveries kept it well in front of the entire mid-size luxury SUV pack. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
The cargo compartment gets filled with Goose Gear custom drawers and containers plus a slide-out National Luna fridge. (Photo: Lexus)

To put the GX’ 2018 calendar year sales of 376 units and 2015 high of 662 units into perspective, Lexus sold 9,329 RX crossovers last year, which was its second-best result after a high of 9,402 units in 2017. The RX also outsold Lexus’ next-most-popular NX compact luxury crossover, which had its best sales of 7,859 units last year. Hence, anything that could potentially spur on GX sales would be helpful. 

Enter the GXOR, which while only a concept makes the luxury model’s 4×4 credentials clear to those who might not be in the know, while its ardent fans could potentially build something similar from all of this prototype’s available aftermarket components. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
The GXOR’s roof rack is loaded with off-road goodies. (Photo: Lexus)

On that note, the GXOR’s plentiful upgrades include a custom CBI Stealth front bumper with an integrated Warn 9.5 XPS winch, a Safari snorkel for feeding air to the engine while wading through deep water, Lexus F Sport 18-inch alloys wrapped in General Tire Grabber X3 275/70 all-terrain rubber, a raised Icon 2.5 CDC suspension with remote reservoirs plus billet control arms with delta joints, full underbody armour skid plate protection, CBI frame sliders, a Redarc Tow-Pro brake controller, and lastly an EEZI-AWN K9 roof rack that comes complete with a Rigid 50 LED front light bar, a 160-watt Overland solar panel power supply, Alu-Box storage cases, and Maxtrax recovery boards. 

Inside, the GXOR Concept keeps the GX 460’s already luxurious finishings while adding an Icom 5100A ham radio up front for remote communication, whereas the cargo area is partially filled with a Goose Gear custom drawer system featuring storage compartments and a slide-out National Luna refrigerator. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
The GXOR gets an Icon 2.5 CDC suspension system featuring remote reservoirs as well as billet control arms with delta joints. (Photo: Lexus)

Finally, the GXOR Concept is shown towing a Patriot Campers X1H trailer featuring a power-operated pop-up tent, a hot water system, and more, while its electrical components are powered via the just-noted solar panel. 

On that note, Lexus doesn’t say whether or not the GXOR Concept’s 4.6-litre V8 keeps the production model’s 301 horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque or receives some performance upgrades, but it certainly should be strong enough to haul the hefty looking trailer either way. 

2019 Lexus GXOR Concept
Lexus should consider offering a dealer-installed GXOR kit. (Photo: Lexus)

“To all of the GX enthusiasts that use their rigs to escape on epic adventures, and proudly share the #GXOR, this concept build is for you,” added Lexus to its GX 460’s fan base. “Thank you for inspiring us to Experience Amazing.” 

As with all concepts and prototypes, the question of potential GXOR production needs to be addressed. Considering how successful Mercedes-Benz has been with its rugged G-Class, and similarly how Land Rover Defender enthusiasts have been getting excited about that model’s upcoming arrival, something like this GXOR Concept could find reasonable sales traction if offered in production trim, or at least as a dealer-installed kit. The latter would allow retailers to modify unsold GX 460s, which might bring some much-needed attention to the model. 

Until this happens (or doesn’t), enjoy our complete gallery of GXOR Concept photos above, plus a video that Lexus provided below. Also, to find out how affordable the 2019 Lexus GX 460 is, check out CarCostCanada where you can see complete pricing of trims, packages and individual options, plus learn about available rebates and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands. 

Lexus GXOR | GX Off-road Concept Build (2:45):

Lexus is in the unique position of offering the North American luxury market two premium sedans nearly identical in size and more or less the same shape, within an auto sector that’s shunning four-door…

2019 Lexus ES 300h

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus redesigned its popular ES series luxury sedan for 2019, and we’ve got the ES 300h hybrid in our garage. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Lexus is in the unique position of offering the North American luxury market two premium sedans nearly identical in size and more or less the same shape, within an auto sector that’s shunning four-door three-box designs faster than you can say SUV. 

Rather than nix at least one of them like so many of its rivals are doing, the preeminent Japanese luxury brand soldiers into 2019 with the sportier and more upscale GS 350 AWD, unchanged since 2015, and the ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid completely redesigned for its seventh generation, this latter set of models hot on the heels of the all-new fifth-generation Toyota Avalon that shares underpinnings. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The new ES 300h gets much more dramatic styling front to back. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

No matter whether trimmed out as a base ES 350, upgraded with more athletic ES 350 F Sport duds, or delivered in classy as-tested ES 300h guise, Lexus’ front-drive four-door now adds an entirely new level of visual drama to its outward design. Its trademark spindle grille is larger and considerably more expressive, its origami-inspired LED headlight clusters more complex with sharper edges, its side profile longer and sleeker with a more pronounced front overhang and a swoopier sweep to its C pillars that now taper downward over a shorter, taller trunk lid, while its rear end styling is more aggressively penned due to a much bigger crescent-shaped spoiler that hovers above expansive triangular wrap-around LED taillights. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
This is one of the most expansive spindle grilles in Lexus’ lineup, while its standard LED headlamps are razor sharp. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

The overall design toys with the mind, initially flowing smoothly from the grille rearward, overtop the hood and down each sculpted side, but then it culminates into a clamor of dissonant creases, folds and cutlines at back. Still, it comes together quite well overall, and certainly won’t conjure any of the model’s previous criticisms about yawn-inducing styling. 

Similar can be said of the interior, but instead of sharp edges the cabin combines myriad horizontal planes and softer angles with higher-grade materials than the outgoing ES, not to mention a few design details pulled from the LFA supercar, particularly the black knurled metal pods hanging off each side of the primary instrument hood, the left one for turning off the traction control, and the knob to the right for scrolling between Normal, Eco and Sport modes. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The big rear spoiler looks like it could’ve been inspired by the 2nd-gen E63 2003–2010 BMW 6 Series coupe. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Between those unorthodox pods is a standard digital gauge cluster that once again was inspired by the LFA supercar and plenty of lesser Lexus road cars since, while the infotainment display at dash central measures a minimum of 8.0 inches up to a sizeable 12.3 inches, yet both look even larger due to all the extra black glass bordering each side, the left portion hiding a classic LED-backlit analogue clock underneath. 

Better yet, when opting for the as-tested ES 300h hybrid the infotainment interface now comes standard with Apple CarPlay for those who’d rather not integrate their smartphone via Lexus’ proprietary Enform system. This said Enform is arguably more comprehensive and easier to use than Android Auto, which is not included anyway, while standard Enform 2.0 apps include info on fuel prices, traffic incidents, weather, sports, and stocks, plus it’s also bundled with Scout GPS Link, Slacker, Yelp, and more. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus really upped the ES interior, especially when equipped with the Premium package that adds a 12.3-inch infotainment display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

The 2019 ES 300h also gets an updated Remote Touch Interface trackpad controller on the lower console, which allows gesture controls like tap, pinch and swipe, while other standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, Bi-LED headlamps, LED taillights, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, 10-speaker audio with satellite radio, a deodorizing, dust and pollen filtered dual-zone automatic climate control system, 10-way powered front seats with both three-way heat and ventilation, NuLuxe breathable leatherette upholstery, all the usual active and passive safety equipment including 10 airbags, plus much more. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
This digital gauge cluster comes standard. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Safety in mind, the new ES 300h comes standard with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 that features an autonomous emergency braking pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicycle detection, plus lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, new Lane Tracing Assist (LTA) automated lane guidance, automatic high beams, and full-speed range adaptive cruise control, all for just $47,000 plus freight and fees, which is only $2,000 more than the conventionally powered base ES 350. 

The aforementioned 12.3-inch infotainment display comes as part of an optional $3,800 Premium package that also adds blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse tilting side mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a heatable steering wheel, front seat and side mirror memory, navigation with extremely detailed mapping, and Enform Destination Assist that provides 24/7 live assistance for finding destinations or points of interest. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
This left-side LFA-inspired pod controller is for turning off the traction control. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Alternatively you can opt for the even more comprehensive $10,600 Luxury package that combines everything from the Premium package with 18-inch alloy wheels, Tri-LED headlamps, Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging, full leather upholstery, and a powered rear window sunshade. 

Instead, the as-tested $14,500 Ultra Luxury package builds on the Luxury package with unique 18-inch noise reduction alloy wheels, ambient interior lighting, a 10-inch head-up display, a 360-degree surround parking monitor, 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio, softer semi-aniline leather upholstery, rear door sunshades, and a touch-free gesture control powered trunk lid. 

2019 Lexus ES 300h
The new ES 300h’ driver’s seat looks comfortable, but are the ergonomics good for all body types? Come back for a full review to find out… (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

By the way, to get all 2019 Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h pricing details including trims, package and options, plus important rebate information and dealer invoice pricing that could save you thousands, be sure to visit CarCostCanada.

Needless to say this $61,500 model is the most luxuriously equipped Lexus ES 300h to date, but you’ll need to wait for our full road test review to find out just how nice it is inside, plus how its upgraded Hybrid Synergy Drive power unit performs compared to the outgoing version, whether its fancy Sport mode does anything worth talking about, if its fully independent suspension is sportier than the old ES 300h’s setup, let alone as comfortable, and if its fuel economy is any thriftier. Of course, we won’t hold back our criticisms, so make sure to come back soon for our full review…

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a bit weary of all the news saying that cars are dead and SUVs now rule the road. The fact is, well designed cars that deliver good value still have a strong…

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD Road Test

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
Lexus added more sport to its compact D-segment IS sport sedan last year, and it continues forward into 2018 unchanged, other than some trim name shuffling. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a bit weary of all the news saying that cars are dead and SUVs now rule the road. The fact is, well designed cars that deliver good value still have a strong following in Canada, a point proven by the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf in the mainstream volume compact class and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Acura TLX and Lexus IS in the compact luxury D-segment. 

All of these cars actually grew their year-over-year sales in calendar year 2017, something that can’t be said about the Infiniti Q50 and Cadillac ATS. To be fair to Infiniti, when combining sales of its Q60 Coupe with the Q50, deliveries were actually up last year, which is also true for the IS and Lexus RC coupe, despite the latter being slow to move off dealer lots, while ATS sales numbers include both sedan and coupe models (like Mercedes does with its C-Class sedan, coupe and convertible), and showed a much deeper year-over-year decline. 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
New LED taillights and a fresh set of rectangular tailpipes denote the updated 2017/2018 design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Aiding last year’s IS series sales success was a dramatic refresh for the 2017 model year, this being the first significant update since this third-generation model was completely redesigned for 2014. F-Sport trim already boasted a fairly aggressive front fascia as seen in my 2014 and 2016 IS 350 F-Sport reviews, but last year’s update made it more akin to the RC F Sport, which left room to beef up the non-F Sport trimmed IS 200t and IS 300 AWD models. 

The result is a look that might even be more eye-catching than the previous F Sport model, with Lexus’ trademark spindle grille growing in size, the headlamps reshaped to a simpler design and equipped with standard LEDs, and the lower front fascia now much bolder thanks to larger, deeper and considerably more pronounced corner “brake” ducts. 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
A larger spindle grille, new standard LED headlamps, and more aggressive corner ducts can be found on non-F Sport trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That these faux vents only look cool is a shame. Rather than forcing cooling air onto those brakes, these aero detractors actually create wind resistance, but it’s possible some increased downforce enhances high-speed handling. 

The checkmark-shaped LED driving lights remain unchanged, as do the car’s swoopy bodyside panels the sweep upward in dramatic fashion before tapering off over the rear wheel cutouts, but the seemingly identical LED taillights receive new lenses and innards. Lastly, a slightly reworked matte black diffuser-like lower bumper cap features new angular tailpipes, doing their part to modernize the rear end design. 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
A closer look at the new headlamps show some nice LED lenses shining from within. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As noted in last year’s IS 350 AWD F Sport review, I’m not willing to say that Lexus’ bigger and bolder design departure necessarily translates into better, but some of the changes made are noticeable improvements, particularly inside where gorgeous new light on dark laminated wood inlays decorate the dash front and door switchgear panels. 

The IS has always provided good perceived interior quality, with soft touch composites in all the expected places, nice tastefully applied metallic accents throughout, mostly high quality switchgear, and particularly good digital displays, despite this less expensive model not featuring Lexus’ fully configurable gauge cluster found in last year’s pricier alternative. Audi fans might find the look a bit cluttered, Lexus preferring an origami-inspired multi-angle interior design to match exterior styling, rather than anything organically grown. Consider it the Nakamichi Dragon of instrument panels, with lots of little buttons, knobs and toggles atop a hard-edged black metal and composite structure, the infotainment system’s unique albeit somewhat archaic joystick-style controller also seeming to try and take us back to the days of cassette decks and turntables. 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
These gorgeous 18-inch mesh alloy wheels are optional. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

If you used Lexus’ Remote Touch Interface in the past and haven’t tried it in a while, take note that it’s improved a lot. Side buttons for selecting functions were added a few years back, eliminating the frustration of having the joystick slip off course when pressing on top, and the system’s haptic response, which feels as if it’s locking onto a given link as the curser passes over, isn’t quite as grabby. Most people seem to like this setup better than RTI 2.0, which is a lower console-mounted touchpad design laid out in quadrants, this found on some other Lexus models, but I’d much rather have the display screen moved closer and a straightforward touchscreen installed. Toyota, Lexus’ parent company’s namesake brand, does a great job with its touchscreens, plus its new Entune system is fabulous (Lexus Enform, which is basically the same thing, is currently only available on the 2018 NX, RC, RC F, LS, and LC), so I’m looking forward to Lexus saying goodbye to all of these creative controllers and delivering a much simpler RTI 3.0 soon. 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
A fabulous new LED taillight design adds some sensational nighttime drama. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As noted the actual display is superb, and was upgraded from the standard 7.0-inch screen to 10.3 inches thanks to the addition of a $4,850 Luxury Package that also added accurate navigation and a single in-dash DVD player (yes, another throwback to yesteryear) to the infotainment system, plus 18-inch alloys on 225/40 front and 255/35 tires (replacing standard 17s that look a bit small on this car), adaptive cornering headlamps, a powered steering column, a heatable steering wheel rim, ventilated front seats, driver’s seat memory, auto-dimming side mirrors with memory, front and rear parking sensors, a powered moonroof, a powered rear sunshade, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
Rectangular tailpipes and a revised diffuser-style bumper cap enhance the changes in back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

This was all added to my otherwise base IS 300 AWD, which other than a standard backup camera comes outfitted identically to the rear-wheel drive IS 300 (that strangely doesn’t have one), including the aforementioned LED headlamps that are also auto-leveling, plus proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, paddle shifters, rain-sensing wipers, a windshield wiper de-icer, a great looking analogue clock, filtered dual-zone auto climate control, 10-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio, USB and aux ports, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, satellite radio, Siri Eyes-Free, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink garage door opener, heatable eight-way powered front sport seats with vertically powered headrests and powered driver’s lumbar support, NuLuxe (pleather) upholstery, stainless steel scuff plates, and 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks expanding on the smallish 306-litre (10.8 cubic-foot) trunk. 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
The IS interior is mostly impressive, but there’s still room for improvement. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

All IS trims receive the usual assortment of safety features as well, plus a knee airbag for both front occupants, rear side-thorax airbags, and finally the Lexus Safety System+ suite of advanced driver assistance systems, which adds a Pre-Collision System featuring forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and dynamic radar cruise control. The result of Lexus’ focus on safety is IIHS Top Safety Pick status, minus the best-possible “Plus” rating, while the NHTSA gives it a five-star safety rating with extra notes saying that it’s had zero complaints, zero investigations, and zero recalls. 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
A snug cockpit provides small to medium sized drivers a sporty seating position. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Another difference between RWD and AWD IS 300 models is the chosen transmission, the RWD model getting a sophisticated eight-speed automatic and this AWD version making do with a less appealing (at least from a marketing perspective) six-speed autobox. The eight-speed unit includes quicker shifting Sport Direct Shift Control too, transmission technology originally designed for the IS F, although the six-speed is a Super Electronically Controlled Transmission (Super ECT), whatever that means. Suffice to say that one is built for comfort and one for speed, with the AWD model getting smooth, linear response to input, but not the fastest shift interval times. 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
Lexus offers a fully configurable digital gauge cluster for this car, but the standard setup uses analogue dials and a large multi-info display instead. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

This brings us to the real meat of the IS 300 RWD/AWD issue, the former actually being last year’s IS 200t with a new name. Isn’t that sneaky? The only difference between the 2017 IS 200t and the 2018 IS 300 is the badge on the trunk lid, being that both have identical 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines making 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Oddly, while the IS 300 AWD being tested here includes a carryover 3.5-litre V6, output has been bumped by 5 horsepower to 260, with torque remaining the same at 236 lb-ft. And yes you read that right, the little turbo-four makes an additional 22 lb-ft of torque, plus max twist arrives 350 rpm sooner within the rev range at 1,650 instead of 2,000. Both engines get direct injection and Lexus’ Dual Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i), and have a reputation for quality and dependability. 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
The multi-tiered centre stack is awash in high quality switchgear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As you can likely imagine the smaller engine is better on fuel, its Transport Canada rating claimed to be 10.6 L/100km in the city, 7.3 on the highway and 9.1 combined, while the V6 gets an estimated 12.3 city, 9.1 highway and 10.9 combined. 

While the base IS 300 seems like the better choice on paper, it will really come down to personal preference and/or price, with the RWD model starting at $41,050 and the AWD version hitting the road at $43,600, plus freight and fees of course, these prices found at CarCostCanada.com, along with important information about possible rebates and even invoice pricing that can save you thousands when purchasing. 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
The larger 10.3-inch infotainment display is a split-screen that’s capable of multitasking, but unfortunately it’s not a touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Seat of the pants differences include a sportier, edgier, lighter weight feel from the IS 300 RWD compared to a smoother, more refined, and arguably more premium experience in the IS 300 AWD, with the latter also delivering a more satisfying exhaust growl. Still, while the AWD model comes across as a bit less enthusiastic, it’s nevertheless a sporty sedan that’s plenty of fun to charge down a deserted side road and throw into a fast-paced corner. You’ll be more likely to do that mid-winter in the AWD version as well, which might be reason enough to choose the 70-kilo (154-lb) heavier model—the IS 300 RWD weighs in at 1,625 kg (3,583 lbs) and the as-tested IS 300 AWD hits the scales at 1,695 kg (3,737 lbs). 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
Now that’s one great looking analogue clock. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Another alternative that deserves mention is the IS 350 AWD noted earlier. It remains at the top of this car’s trim echelon, hefting an identical curb weight to the IS 300 AWD and powered by the same 3.5-litre V6, yet making 311 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. It starts at a reasonable $53,100 and comes standard with many of the same features that were optional on my IS 300 AWD tester, so it’s worth a look if you’ve got your eye on an IS. 

Purchasing in mind, Lexus is no longer at the top of some third-party quality indexes, with the most recent 2018 J.D. Power and Associates U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS) placing Hyundai’s luxury division Genesis in the lead and Toyota’s luxury division improving on last year’s best of the rest score (below average at 15th overall and sixth amongst 14 luxury brands) to eighth overall and fourth amongst luxury brands. 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
This is Lexus’ aging Remote Touch Interface, and it’s time to replace the entire system with a touchscreen. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Keep in mind that J.D. Power “quality” factors are murky at best, being that quality has as much to do with complaints about owners’ difficulties using infotainment system interfaces as cars breaking down at the side of the road, yet an improvement of 11 points, which resulted in Lexus’ sole two-digit (99-point) score, makes it number one overall in the same firm’s 2018 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS), which also means it’s no longer tied for first place with Porsche. 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
A great driver’s seat is nothing new from Lexus. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Consumer Reports annual reliability survey (fortunately renamed “Annual Report on Car Performance, Reliability, Satisfaction & Safety”) rated Lexus number one last year, but like J.D. Power, that lead was trumped by South Korea’s Genesis for 2018, with the Japanese brand actually falling all the way down to fourth behind Audi and BMW. This said the study includes experiential road test analysis from their own team of reviewers, information that is hardly data driven and therefore has nothing to do with reliability. There are other studies that rank Lexus first or close to it, especially when dependability is the core criterion being compared, so suffice to say it’s one of the safer bets when it comes to short and long term reliability. 

2018 Lexus IS 300 AWD
The rear seating area is a bit tighter than the class average, but the outboard positions are comfortable. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As for resale values, the IS ranked second in the 2017 Canadian Black Book Best Retained Value Award’s “Entry Luxury Car” category, but it didn’t make the top three for 2018 (the ES ranked third in the same category this year). The Mercedes CLA was first, incidentally, a smaller car that doesn’t directly compete with the IS, while the Volvo XC70 was second, this being a discontinued crossover wagon that really can’t be considered entry-level luxury as it was sized larger and priced higher than the more comparative V60 Cross Country, their true entry crossover wagon. More specific to the IS, there’s no reason to think this 2018 model’s resale value will be any weaker than it was when it placed second last year. 

After all, the 2018 Lexus IS delivers strong performance, impressive comfort, good quality, a wide assortment of features, a fairly long list of advanced safety systems, better than average expected reliability, and reasonable value when comparing it to similarly equipped German competitors. It’s one of the smarter choices in its class.