Under the long hood of the ES 300h sits a 178bhp/221Nm 2.5-litre naturally aspirated motor which, at times, is assisted by 120bhp electric motors. Now although this setup has been carried over from the old ES, there are quite a few upgrades. For instance, the engine now makes slightly more power whereas the electric motor is smaller than before. There is also a new, shorter hybrid transaxle that arranges the two electric motors in a multi-axle configuration instead of the previous coaxial setup. Also, the nickel-metal hydride battery that powers the electric motors has been relocated from the boot to underneath the back seat. So that’s all the changes covered, but how well does this all work in truth?
Like before, you have four driving modes in the ES – Normal, Eco, Sport and EV. Switch to EV mode and you will be marching forward using the electric motors alone, however, there is a catch. One can only cover a couple of kilometres in EV mode before the batteries run out of juice and the petrol motor kicks in. The ES in EV mode, then, is perfect for bumper-to-bumper traffic as it can run noiselessly, purely on electricity while the petrol motor is decoupled from the drivetrain to reduce friction. In urban driving conditions, the electric motor works well with the petrol engine as there is always enough grunt at the bottom end to reel in other motorists. As for the engine refinement, this 2.5-litre unit remains smooth throughout the rev range without making too much of a fuss.
As you would expect, the ES 300h is dead silent at slow speeds. In EV mode you could even sneak up on other motorists, it’s that silent. With the petrol and electric motors working together, performance is strong throughout the bottom end and midrange. It goes without saying that this Lexus gets up to highway speeds with ease. The effortless acceleration, in fact, goes well with the laidback nature of the car. As for the gearbox, the 6-step CVT unit in here has been tuned in line with the relaxed nature of the car. Naturally, it is a little slow to react and hardly engaging when you are up for some fun behind the wheel. That being said, the rubber-band effect usually present with CVTs isn’t as obvious in this hybrid and also, there is a decent sensation of pace when you shift to S and use the paddle shifters as the CVT does a good job of replicating immediate upshifts.
The ES has always been known for its quietness and with this 2018 model, Lexus has upped the ante further. There is additional stuffing of polyurethane foam in the A pillars and thicker front fender liners. Meanwhile, sound deadening materials now cover up to 93 per cent of the floor pan, up from 68 per cent in the old ES. All of this has certainly helped the ES with overall refinement as you are well isolated from the outside world – the combination of a silky smooth engine, electric assist and the heavy noise insulation gives the ES a clear edge over its rivals. The ride quality is supple, too, with the well damped suspension absorbing low speed imperfections with decent composure – it’s only the big potholes that catch this car out as the big 18-inch wheels crash over them. The soft suspension set up soaks up low speed jolts well, but it’s at the expense of high speed manners where the ES isn’t as planted as we would like, especially under full load. As we lot (Venkat, I and a couple of guys from Lexus) blasted down the Yamuna Expressway, the ES 300h displayed noticeable amount of vertical movements over long undulations. As for the matter of shredding speed, braking performance, despite the regenerative system, is good with reassuring pedal feel and good stopping power.