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…

What can I say about Lexus ES’ that hasn’t already been said countless times before, other than it’s a front-wheel drive, mid-size, premium-branded anomaly that’s managed to weather regular storms…

2017 Lexus ES 300h

2017 Lexus ES 300h
The Lexus ES 300h is one fine looking car, but is it too provocative for its traditionally conservative clientele? (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

What can I say about Lexus ES’ that hasn’t already been said countless times before, other than it’s a front-wheel drive, mid-size, premium-branded anomaly that’s managed to weather regular storms of negative driving dynamics criticism and come out shining as a top seller in its field?

Of course, there really isn’t much else directly in its field to compare it to other than Lincoln’s MKZ or the front-drive Acura RLX that’s no longer available in Canada. Alternatively we could look down market into mainstream volume brands in order to face it off against its own platform-sharing Toyota Avalon or others like Buick’s LaCrosse, Chevrolet’s Impala, Chrysler’s 300, Dodge’s Charger, Ford’s Taurus, Kia’s Cadenza, or Nissan’s Maxima.

2017 Lexus ES 300h
No one should be offended by the ES 300h’ attractive rear end design. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The major differentiator in this class is this electrified 300h that brought Toyota’s storied Hybrid Synergy Drive to the mid-size luxury class in 2012 (a year after the MKZ Hybrid), but even this is now old news in the premium sector thanks to much more advanced plug-in hybrids from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti and the like. And after all is said and done, most luxury buyers will look for their hybrid (or non-hybrid) fix in the SUV segment where Lexus’ own NX 300h utilizes the identical drivetrain in a more popular and more utile body style.

To get a clearer understanding of all this, let’s take a look at sales. Unfortunately Lexus doesn’t report hybrid numbers separately, other than the dedicated CT 200h, but lumps them in with their conventionally powered equivalents, so we’re left to guess that hybrids sell at similar percentages of total sales from model to model. Lexus sold 2,153 ES models in Canada last year, a far cry from the 4,251 purveyed in 2007 yet better than the 1,892 delivered in 2011. The NX hasn’t been around that long, but its sales have steadily grown from 6,127 in 2015 to 6,295 last year. What’s more, after five months of 2017 the NX has found 2,766 new owners, so it looks like it’s on schedule for another record year, whereas the ES’ has only managed to lure in 775 buyers, which could result in a new low. Then again, compared to the 432 MKZs sold over the same five months, the ES is all roses.

2017 Lexus ES 300h
Lexus mixes some very good and some very average ingredients into the ES 300h interior. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As for which vehicle matters more in the market, the numbers speak for themselves. To be clear, these sales totals in no way reflect which model is better or worse, but rather have everything to do with a near universal shunning of four-door sedans and adoption of crossover SUVs, other than a few exceptions like BMW’s 3 Series and Mercedes’ C-, E- and S-Classes in the premium sector and Honda’s Civic, Toyota’s Corolla, and Hyundai’s Elantra amongst mainstream brands.

The sad reality is this 2017 ES is the best ever, and while halfway through the second year of its sixth-generation facelift, it’s still worthy of much higher sales than it’s getting, that is if there was anyone under 70 interested. We’ll likely never know if its traditionally conservative clientele has been rubbed the wrong way by the model’s adoption of Lexus’ avant-garde styling or if its drop in popularity is just a sign of the times, but a quick rundown of those “competitors” mentioned earlier shows a similar downward trajectory for the Taurus, Avalon and Cadenza, plus the MKZ mentioned earlier, although sales of Charger are surging (it had one of its best months ever in May) and 300 strong, while the Impala, LaCrosse and Maxima are on track to make small gains as well.

2017 Lexus ES 300h
The hardwood is a bit old-school glossy, but it’s real. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As far as mid-size front-wheel drive sedans go, I find the ES 300h attractive from front to back. Its spindle grille, Nike swoosh driving lights and chromed apostrophe-squiggle fog lamp bezels are big bonuses in my opinion, giving the car a more daring façade than its inner personality deserves, while its rear end design, with its subtle deck lid spoiler overtop gracefully understated LED taillights and lovely lower body diffuser/undertray, is as pretty as its backside has ever been.

Inside, the ES 300h combines high-grade furnishings with low-rung hard shell plastics, some top-tier switchgear with others pulled up from the Toyota parts bin, some old-school glossy albeit real woodgrain trim next to nice looking metallic surfaces albeit often hollow and plasticky, and one decent electronic interface with another that shouldn’t show its face in the premium class, making my comparison to the many mainstream volume-branded players earlier quite fair. The ES raises its game over these in some respects, but falls below some of them in others.

2017 Lexus ES 300h
The ES 300h doesn’t shortchange its customers on interior space. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Under the “What’s new for 2017” column, all ES 300h trims get standard rain-sensing wipers, a rearview camera, and Lexus Safety System Plus, the latter package adding auto high beams, dynamic cruise control with emergency autonomous braking, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assist. You’ll need to spend more for blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, but this is hardly uncommon in any class.

I’ll go into more detail in my upcoming road test review, in which I’ll also dispel myths about comfort-focused, melted butter driving dynamics, or not, and praise its fuel economy—maybe (of course I’ll nee to compare it to the MKZ Hybrid). You’ll have to come back to find out, but either way Lexus won’t be selling anywhere near as many of its ES 300h models as it will the NX 300h, so I might as well skip this one and go straight to writing my review of the hybridized SUV, right? I suppose not. Instead I’ll get both finished as soon as possible. Stay tuned…

Amazingly, Lexus went from having nothing in the compact luxury SUV segment throughout most of 2014 to being one of the top-three players by the end of 2016. The story is even better in the U.S. where…

2017 Lexus NX 300h Executive

2017 Lexus NX 300h Executive
The 2017 Lexus NX 300h still looks fabulous despite being in its third year of availability. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Amazingly, Lexus went from having nothing in the compact luxury SUV segment throughout most of 2014 to being one of the top-three players by the end of 2016. The story is even better in the U.S. where the new NX is now number one in the entire class.

How the mighty Germans have fallen, not that Lexus is particularly weak and feeble. The Japanese luxury brand is a powerhouse in the crossover sport utility sector where its RX has been the bestselling mid-size luxury SUV in both Canada and the U.S. (by a long shot) for as long as there’s been a mid-size luxury SUV segment, a vehicle class it helped to create. Therefore it only makes sense the NX would do well too.

2017 Lexus NX 300h Executive
Modern angles are everywhere, Lexus no longer the conservative wallflower it was in decades past. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

It helps that it looks fabulous, or at least I like it a lot. The NX’ design hasn’t changed one iota since arriving in December of 2014 as a 2015 model. Lexus didn’t wait long before getting this hybrid variant to market either, joining it up with the NX 200t for the model’s inaugural year and making it an important part of its one, two knockout NX punch ever since.

2017 Lexus NX 300h Executive
The full LED headlamps and 18-inch alloys are part of the Executive package upgrade. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Now that the Audi Q5 Hybrid is history, the NX 300h is an anomaly within the compact luxury SUV category. In fact, with Audi also eliminating the Q5 TDI (at least temporarily) and Mercedes-Benz doing likewise with its new GLC (again, just for the time being as far as we know), the only alternative-fuel competitors in the class are BMW’s X3 xDrive28d and the unlikely addition of Jaguar’s F-Pace 20d. Still, being that Dieselgate ruined Rudolf Christian Karl’s most fuel-efficient internal combustion engine (ICE) type, most environmentally oriented consumers won’t be turning to diesel as a way to save the planet, leaving the NX 300h as the only real green choice in this burgeoning market segment.

2017 Lexus NX 300h Executive
The Executive package adds a number of upscale features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Behind the NX 300h’s bold spindle grille is the same ultra-clean powertrain as the new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Lexus’ ES 300h, comprised of a 150 horsepower gasoline-fueled 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson Cycle ICE with 152 lb-ft of torque driving the front wheels and a 50 kW (67 horsepower) permanent magnet electric motor powering the axle in back, the energy for the latter sourced from a rear-mounted nickel-metal hydride battery that gets recharged via the ICE as well as regenerative braking.

2017 Lexus NX 300h Executive
The 300h gets hybrid info in place of the usual tachometer. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

When topped off it has the ability to drive solely on EV power for short distances at low speeds (bumper-to-bumper traffic, parking lots, etcetera), but most of the time it merely assists the ICE for improved performance and reduced fuel consumption. A specially designed continuously variable transmission (CVT) takes care of shifting duties, of sorts, the full result of Lexus Synergy Drive’s combined forces being 194 net horsepower and the same 152 pound-feet of claimed torque (although it feels like a lot more and likely is).

2017 Lexus NX 300h Executive
A Sport mode is standard, as is an all-electric EV mode. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

More importantly the NX 300h is good for estimated fuel economy equaling 7.1 L/100km in the city, 7.7 on the highway, and 7.4 combined, which is far and away the best in its class (the X3 and F-Pace diesels achieve 7.9 and 8.1 combined city/highway respectively).

Along with its EV mode, the NX 300h features three selectable drive modes including Eco, Standard, and Sport, these focused on maximizing efficiency or power rather than changing steering and suspension settings.

2017 Lexus NX 300h Executive
This hidden Qi wireless device charger is is part of the Executive upgrade. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

This being a niche model in comparison to the NX 200t, Lexus’ Canadian division limits trims to just one and options packages to a singular digit as well. Standard trim, which starts at $54,350, is therefore generously equipped with 18-inch alloys on 225/60R18 all-seasons, LED low-beam headlights with washers, LED DRLs, LED clearance lamps, LED fog lights, LED taillights, aluminum roof rails, a rear rooftop spoiler, auto-dimming power-adjustable heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals and memory, proximity access, and more on the outside.

2017 Lexus NX 300h Executive
The NX 300h now gets standard leather upholstery. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Once inside the base NX 300h includes pushbutton ignition, a heatable leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a powered tilt and telescoping steering column, a colour TFT multi-information display, leather upholstery, heated and cooled power-adjustable front seats with driver’s side memory, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone auto climate control, touchscreen infotainment featuring a reverse camera with active guidelines and navigation, a 120-volt household-style power outlet, an integrated garage door opener, a powered moonroof, a powered tailgate, hill start assist, all the usual active and passive safety features including airbags for the driver’s knees, and more.

2017 Lexus NX 300h Executive
Is the rear seating area roomy enough for your needs? We’ll tell all in our upcoming review. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Our fully decked out tester included the $6,650 Executive Package that adds full LED headlamps with auto-leveling and auto high beams, rain-sensing wipers, dynamic radar cruise control, head-up display, Qi wireless device charging, 10-speaker audio, Shimamoku hardwood inlays, powered rear seat releases with switches on the dash and cargo compartment, front and rear parking sensors, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a pre-collision system with emergency autonomous braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, and more, raising the price to $61,000 plus freight and fees. These latter items earn the NX 300h Executive a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the IIHS.

2017 Lexus NX 300h Executive
How’s that for size? We’ll provide cargo specs and discuss overall liveability in the review. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Where the conventionally powered NX 200t can be had with the sportier F Sport package, the NX 300h makes do with less aggressive styling and more comfort-oriented suspension settings, although you can upgrade the wheels to a unique set of 19-inch F Sport alloys via the accessories catalog for $2,650 and change.

As you may have noticed I haven’t told you diddly squat about my experience behind the wheel, what I think about its overall refinement, or its standard and available feature set, overall roominess, pricing and value proposition, etcetera, etcetera, which means you’ll need to come back for my detailed road test review. Make sure you do, as you may just be surprised at what I have to say…