This is far from a sports sedan and that’s absolutely fine, considering what it brings to the table.
It is hard to believe that we are now in the seventh generation of the Lexus ES in a world dominated by SUVs left, right and centre. Before the Lexus RX was introduced, the ES was the sales darling of the Lexus brand. Drive around the suburbs in the GTA twenty years ago and you saw an ES sitting in the driveway every few blocks or in some cases every other house. This 2021 Lexus ES 300h Ultra Luxury made it very hard to return the keys after my test drive.
The 2021 Lexus ES looks exactly the same as the 2020 model and that’s not a bad thing. This is one handsome looking car and commands your attention. Lexus has nailed the exterior design and made it a huge improvement from the previous generation. From the side, there is a striking resemblance to the much larger and more expensive Lexus LS, the flagship of the brand. The front-drive luxury sedan segment is shrinking, but the ES is still a soldier that continues to impress.
We’ve now grown accustomed to the large spindle grill and it meshes well with the rather aggressive design used on the front bumper. The LED headlights look fantastic and their output once the sun sets provides great visibility. At the rear, the taillight design fits perfectly with the overall design. Overall, the ES no longer looks boring and is more aggressive and pronounced. My only complaint on the exterior are the 18-inch alloy wheels that are included with the Ultra Luxury Package; a slightly larger wheel would finish off the overall look nicely.
As mentioned, the 2021 ES 300h we have here has been optioned with the Ultra Luxury package. While the upgraded wheels and triple beam headlights are the only exterior upgrades, the majority of the goodies are inside. This includes a Mark Levinson sound system with 17 speakers, a wireless phone charger, a 10-inch heads up display, power rear sunshade, manual passenger rear sunshades, ambient lighting, Semi-Aniline leather seats, rear passenger detection, four-way driver lumbar support, driver seat power cushion extender and a power trunk with kick sensor.
The Mark Levinson sound system sounds fantastic with zero distortion when the volume is turned up. No, this isn’t some bass thumping aftermarket system that will rattle the windows and have other drivers shaking their heads in disgust, but a truly premium sound system for those that prioritize clarity over all else. However, it truly is a shame that Lexus has not made any improvements to the infotainment system and the touchpad used to control most of its functions. It is still as infuriating as ever and requires way too much attention when driving.
Passengers are coddled with cooled and heated seats up front, and heated seats in the rear. There is a mix of hard and soft touch materials used throughout, with a variety of colors and textures. The hard plastic bezel around the infotainment screen is disappointing. The seats are extremely comfortable and soft to the touch using semi-aniline leather. Wind and tire noise even with winter tires is well muted inside the cabin. Those looking for isolation from the outside world during their commute will be more than satisfied inside the confines of the ES 300h.
The 2021 ES comes available with three engine choices. Depending on the trim level, buyers will walk away with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, a tried and true 3.5-liter V6 or what we have here, the Lexus Hybrid Drive mated to the 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder. Combined power from the hybrid model here is 215 horsepower, and the instantaneous torque off the line means it feels much faster than the estimated 0-100km/h time of 8.2 seconds. The CVT transmission is smooth and well sorted during my downtown commute. The suspension soaks up imperfections and the chassis is well sorted, with exemplary ride quality all around.
For 2021, Lexus has improved the ES 300h by switching from a nickel-metal hydride battery pack to a more compact lithium-ion setup. By doing this, the overall height of the battery has been reduced by 4.7 inches and allowed Lexus to move its placement from the trunk to under the rear seats. This has resulted in improved handling with the weight moving closer to the center of the vehicle. Rear seat space has not been impacted with this move. Trunk space also benefited from this change as it now matches the 394-liter capacity found in the gas powered ES.
Lexus rates the ES 300h at 5.5L/100km in the city and 5.2L/100km on the highway. During my week of city driving, I managed a more than reasonable 6.0L/100km. With a massive winter freeze during the week, constant usage of the heater, defroster, heated seats and steering wheel at maximum levels, staying into full EV mode is quite rare.
Pricing for the Lexus ES 300h starts at $51,450 but lacks various luxuries that are expected from buyers so there are two packages to choose from. The Luxury Package at $6,800 adds half of the tech found in the $10,700 Ultra Luxury Package optioned here. Look for a fully decked out ES 300h to cost $62,150. Personally, I’d skip the Luxury Package and spend the close to extra $4,000 for the full luxury experience.
The Lexus ES 300h has proved to be an excellent addition to the ES lineup as it does everything that is expected but with the added fuel sipping capabilities and longevity of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system. The improved handling capabilities are a nice bonus normally overlooked by consumers. For something close to this price point and level of luxury, buyers may want to consider a Genesis G80 2.5T, however as a new brand, it still has much to prove when compared to Lexus’ proven reliability.
We genuinely enjoyed our time behind the wheel of the 2021 Lexus ES 300h Ultra Luxury. This is far from a sports sedan and that’s absolutely fine, considering what it brings to the table. For empty nesters looking for a replacement for that large SUV or minivan, or younger buyers who want luxury but with the fuel-sipping tendencies of a hybrid, the ES is a great way to isolate from the constant hustle and bustle outside.