2017 Lexus ES300h Review – Driving It Like I Stole It, Once


2017 Lexus ES300h red - Image: © Timothy Cain

2017 Lexus ES300h

2.5-liter DOHC inline-four (156 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm; 156 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm)

Battery: 1.6 kWh nickel-metal hydride

Combined system horsepower: 200

Continuously variable automatic, front-wheel drive

40 city / 39 highway / 40 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

5.8 city / 6.1 highway / 5.9 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

28.7 mpg [8.2 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $42,815 (U.S) / $48,345 (Canada)

As Tested: $46,510 (U.S.) / $52,445 (Canada)

Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $2,145 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

This is not a proper review, not the kind of tome presented to TTAC’s audience after a major vehicle spends a full week with one of the site’s editors. I didn’t drive the 2017 Lexus ES300h across multiple states. I didn’t resolve to land on as many beaches as possible on EV power. I didn’t get a proper chance to take pictures. I hardly drove the Lexus ES300h at all.

Ah, but the one journey undertaken by the midsize luxury hybrid and your humble TTAC Prince Edward Island bureau chief was quite a journey indeed.

What happens when the least sporting Lexus car is suddenly tasked with arriving at a destination on the other side of the Island in order to be removed from Island duty? What happens when you rush a car that was never intended to be one of Lexus’ rushable cars?

Decidedly un-hybrid-like mileage, for one thing.

There was no lack of communication; no misunderstanding. But the gentleman who routinely drops off and picks up manufacturer-supplied test cars and I were on different wavelengths, literally. On Sunday morning, I was half an hour from home, on the south side of Prince Edward Island, when Mr. Sowerby emailed, called, and texted to say he was coming to PEI in the afternoon.

A data dead zone, an iPhone hiccup? Whatever it was, all of the notifications poured in at 12:57 PM, hours after contact was first initiated. I shovelled down lunch, grabbed a few items out of the Lexus for the kids, forgot about the birthday cake that was about to be served in honor of my brother’s 50th, and bolted for the north side of PEI.

Initial acceleration is, to be frank, unimpressive. Zero to 60 mph in 8 seconds is insufficient when you’re in need of Bugatti Chironesque country-crossing ability. By the ES300h’s final day with me, I should’ve known this. But because of scheduling quirks (incidentally brought on by a Toyota Canada media launch of the new Camry in PEI) the Lexus only arrived here Thursday and couldn’t be used when my brother’s family and mine needed a single vehicle for Island touring on the weekend. Minivans always win.2017 Lexus ES300h and 2018 VW Tiguan - Image: © Timothy CainBut yes, jumping into the ES300h for an urgent solo trip through the middle of PEI revealed a continuously variable transmission you just want to grab by the scruff of the neck and shift, a throttle pedal you’re desperate to pin even farther into the mat, and a speedometer that’s climbing all too slowly.

The ES needed fuel, a wash, and a vacuum before its pickup artist arrived in Margate. I already knew that unlatching the front-facing Diono from its rear-parcel-shelf anchor was going to be a nightmare. I wasn’t going to avoid dirty roadside puddles. I needed to be home half an hour ago.

By the time all of these thoughts had pinged around in my mind, the Lexus ES300h and I were up to speed. And by speed, I’m talking about a number-which-shall-not-be-named kind of speed. Credit taut suspensions for backroad barnstorming all you want — Inkerman Road is a rough stretch of asphalt. The ES300h’s ability to soak up brutal pavement is a boon to nine-tenths driving when the road is more likely to include high-speed sweepers rather than tight, decreasing radius switchbacks. There’s an obvious requirement in the pillowy ES300h to brake early and often — brake feel and strength are major ES300h weak points, by the by — but the Lexus copes well for a car with no sporting intentions.

I cross Kinkora Road and glance over at the Mk7 Golf GTI crossing the dangerous intersection in the other direction. I’m not craving his power, as I’m largely carrying speed that’s (slowly) created by the ES’s 200-horsepower hybrid powertrain. I’m not concerned with the ES’s lack of a fast-shifting DSG; the ECVT-i is not an obtrusive partner once we’ve settled in at speed. I’m not terribly troubled by the ES300h’s hilariously light and uncommunicative steering rack either. I know an arrow-straight, oft-patrolled span of Route 2 is approaching and I’ll be temporarily ensconced in a heavily equipped luxury cruiser with cooled seats, finger-light steering, and lane-keeping assist besides.

Nah, I just want the GTI’s superior performance tires. The 215/55R17 Michelin Primacy MXV4s on the 2017 Lexus ES300h are undoubtedly suited to the ES’s mission. They’re just not suited to my mission, not today. I’m longing for the kind of grip that would engender a level of mid-corner security, without which I find myself saying time and time again, “Whoa now, steady ol’ girl.”

In no time, I’m traversing the brutally pockmarked County Line Road in Norboro and doing so at a speed that would loosen teeth in 95 percent of 2017’s performance cars. The ES300h dips into an EV cruise as we veer downhill on Kerrytown Road into Clinton. Then an uphill struggle on Route 6 once again clarifies how ill-suited this car was to my Sunday afternoon drive.

Too many minutes later I’m struggling to unhook the Diono’s tether from its anchor, chuckling at the 27-mpg result in a 40-mpg car, vacuuming the sand left behind by two child seats, and dusting the center stack. An exterior wipedown has the Matador Red ES300h glimmering in the slowly-appearing sun we hadn’t seen since Friday. I took a seat on the doorstep for a few seconds, ready to take a picture of the incoming 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan and the outgoing 2017 Lexus ES300h. Sowerby appears not a moment too soon.

In what is likely the final full year for the sixth-generation Lexus ES, I bonded yesterday more with the wonders of the modern automobile industry than the Lexus itself. This is an eco-focused, visually awkward, comfort-oriented midsize luxury sedan in the driveway of an enthusiast who normally traverses these same roads in a Miata.

Yet the ES300h, as if representing the leaps forward by an industry that not long ago built comfort-oriented sedans that could only handle straight lines, acquitted itself with aplomb, deftly performing a balancing act between total comfort and a modicum of handling prowess.

Would the 2018 Lexus IS350 AWD that’s supposed to visit PEI later this month have been the preferable candidate for Sunday’s unanticipated cross-island drive? Presumably, though the quantity of fuel consumed would have surely increased and the fitment of the other child seat, a rear-facing Diono, would have been impossible behind the driver.

Perhaps large traditional sedans aren’t all that bad, after all.

[Images: © Timothy Cain]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.



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