Johannesburg - In a bid to lure customers out of their luxury German sedans, Lexus has launched its all-new ES four-door in South Africa. Just two models are available to choose from; ES250 and ES300h.

With the new ES, Lexus is walking a new and more ambitious path, one that its GS luxury sedan (which has been discontinued in SA) failed to conquer.

Long renowned for its comfort, refinement and luxury appointments, the latest Lexus ES builds on these qualities with an all-new chassis, a more dynamic exterior design and sharper driving dynamics. It’s also more spacious, quieter and safer than ever before, with the hybrid version packing an array of safety technology.

Built on an all-new Global Architecture GA-K platform (the same used in the Toyota Camry and Toyota Avalon in other markets around the world), the ES is a front-wheel drive car, unlike the rear-drive GS its replaces.

Nevertheless, because the new ES is built on the GA-K platform, Lexus took the opportunity to build a (very) large family sedan.

The ES is longer (+65mm), lower (-5mm) and wider (+45mm) than its predecessor. A longer wheelbase (+50mm) allows the wheels to be pushed closer to the car’s corners, with wider front and rear tracks (+10mm and +37mm). According to Yasuo Kajino, Lexus ES Chief Designer, the car’s new look can be considered ‘provocatively elegant’.

“The ES has always been an elegant luxury sedan. For this generation, we have added daring design elements that challenge a buyer’s traditional expectations,” he adds.

While a spindle grille and sharp, serpent-like LED headlamps draw attention at the front, the rear end is clean and sharply chiselled - with LED lamps that wrap around the quarter panels.

Two different 17-inch and 18-inch alloy wheel designs are available for the ES models. The ES250 (EX trim) model is equipped with 17-inch multi-spoke cast alloy wheels and the ES300h (SE trim) model runs on 18-inch Hyper Chrome Cast Alloy noise-reducing wheels, featuring a turbine design.

The hybrid model also features an integrated rear spoiler as well as auto-folding door mirror functionality.

‘Triple-beam’ LED headlamp technology on the Hybrid model uses three compact Bi-LED units, all-LED turn signals and LED indicator lamps in conjunction with an Adaptive High-beam System (AHS) to provide enhanced visibility for those drivers that find it challenging to see at night.

Another standard feature on both models is a ‘Moonroof’ with Tilt and Slide functionality.

Inside the car, it’s a mish-mash of premium materials and textures, particularly in the Hybrid model (with wood trim). According to Lexus spokesmen, the driver’s focus is kept on the road ahead by locating the centre display screen, instrument panel and head-up display (hybrid only) in a tight cluster within the field of view. Lexus calls this concept ‘Seat in Control’, a simple idea that ensures all the controls you need are within easy reach and all the information you want is in plain view.

The cabin is a connected space, too, with the availability of a navigation system on the ES300h, which includes a range of digital services. The navigation is displayed on a 31cm multimedia display and second-generation Remote Touch touch-pad control. Voice recognition capabilities extend to a mobile assistant, allowing you to make use of your smartphone’s messaging features without touching the phone.

The 250 model also features a standard rear-view camera, but the hybrid tops this up with a panoramic view display similar to what BMW calls Surround View. The instrument cluster in the 250 features an 18cm TFT LCD screen with a display configurable based on the driving mode.

An ‘Optitron-type’ gauge is used for the water temperature and fuel gauges and lastly, a start-up animation plays across the instrument cluster, multimedia display and Head-Up Display, creating a bit of excitement.

Moving on to its drive, Lexus Chief Engineer Yasuhiro Sakakibara, had a clear goal: transform the image of the ES.

That meant turning a sedan known primarily for comfort and quietness into one that is equally capable of delivering class-leading handling and power that you can feel and hear. According to Sakakibara, this ES has been built to deliver a fundamentally higher level of performance than any of its predecessors. He says: “We knew that this ES had to feel responsive and easy to drive, no matter what kind of road it was on. That can only be achieved with a solid foundation.”

The launch route allowed us to stretch the cars’ legs and explore its dynamics. It proved a heck of a lot more fun to drive than the old ES, but unfortunately the ES250 does require plenty of revs to keep pace with its German rivals. We tried to hang on to the back a quick-moving BMW 320d along the route, but simply couldn’t match that car’s pace.

The ES250 is powered by an all-new, high-efficiency, direct-injection 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to a new eight-speed Direct Shift automatic transmission. Outputs are pegged at 152kW at 6600rpm and 243Nm between 4000 and 5000rpm. Constructed in lightweight aluminium, it has a long-stroke design, laser-clad intake valve seats and advanced intelligent variable valve timing (VVT-i) to achieve high-speed combustion. Lexus says the ES250 will sip unleaded at a rate of 6.6 litres/100km, while dispatching the 0-100 km/h sprint in 9.1 seconds. Top speed is quoted at 210 km/h.

The ES300h is equipped with a new, fourth-generation, self-charging hybrid drive system that has been designed to deliver exceptional fuel-efficient, responsive performance and minimal emissions for a mid-size luxury sedan.

It couples the standard ES250’s 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a lighter, more compact and more power-dense electric motor. Total system power is rated at 160kW, with a claimed combined cycle fuel economy figure of 4.6 l /100km.

The ES300h sprints from 0-100 km/h in 8.9 seconds and is electronically-governed to a top speed of 180km/h, according to Toyota.

Both the Lexus ES250 and ES300h are equipped with Lexus Drive Mode Select, which allows the driver to tailor the driving experience by selecting from three different drive modes using a ‘horn’ mounted on the instrument cluster.

Normal mode provides an optimal balance between driving performance and fuel efficiency; ECO mode maximises fuel savings across all driving conditions by smoothing the throttle response, and by moderating air conditioning operation; Sport Mode delivers quicker throttle response and increased power steering feel.

If you are going to use this car as a family car, you’ll be pleased to note that it features ten airbags: 2 x driver and front passenger airbags; 2 x driver and front passenger knee airbags; 2 x driver and front passenger seat-mounted side impact airbags; 2 x front to rear-side curtain airbags; and 2 x rear cushion airbags.

The Lexus ES250 is priced at R593 300 and the ES300h retails for R843 800.

Lexus has also expanded its customer care experience with a seven-year/105 000km warranty and full maintenance plan. Vehicle service intervals are at every 15 000km, alternatively once a year. While it’s not as fun to drive as a comparable mid-spec car from its German rivals, the ES makes a good case for itself as a second car (particlarly the 250 model). The hybrid version is great but unfortunately it’s rather steep in terms of asking price, which could push some potential customers into an SUV instead.

IOL Motoring