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REVIEW: Lexus ES 300h combines comfort, style and fuel efficiency

The Lexus ES 300h combines a sleek, stylish exterior with a technologically advanced and roomy interior that offers something for both men and women drivers. The Lexus ES 300h combines a sleek, stylish exterior with a technologically advanced and roomy interior that offers something for both men and women drivers.

Slipping behind the wheel of the 2013 Lexus ES 300h is like drinking a cup of hot chocolate on a chilly night: It’s comfortable, cozy and, if decadent enough, leaves you wanting more.

During a recent weekend test drive, this reporter got the chance to experience the vehicle, which combines style, power and — given that it is Lexus’ first foray into hybrid territory — fuel efficiency as well.

In terms of style, the Lexus ES 300h combines a sleek, stylish exterior with a technologically advanced and roomy interior that offers something for both men and women drivers.

“Lexus ES hit the market 20 years ago and has since become synonymous with perfection in automotive engineering. It is an exemplary vehicle that combines luxury, efficiency, interior comfort and sophisticated technology to pamper and indulge the driver,” said Mario Dávila, president of Lexus in Puerto Rico.

“With the ES 300h, we continue to strengthen our commitment to responsible development of technologies. The model features ‘Lexus Hybrid Drive,’ our innovative system that results in maximum efficiency with less environmental impact,” he said.

The new system, coupled with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder “Atkinson” cycle engine, gives the ES 300h the ability to earn fuel economy ratings of approximately 40 mpg city, 39 mpg highway and 40 mpg combined. The ES 300h generates 200 total system horsepower that kicks in smoothly and makes driving up hills a non-issue.

The new, low friction engine utilizes a sophisticated power management system and high compression ratio (12.5:1) to increase overall efficiency. Equipped with an electric water pump, electric power steering, and an integrated hybrid electric motor/generator, this engine does not require any accessory belts. The beltless design helps improve fuel economy and overall reliability.

3 driving options
Adding to the fuel efficiency is the ES 300h’s “Drive Mode” selector, which when kicked into “Normal” mode, provides a blend of performance and efficiency that is ideal for everyday driving, while the “Eco” mode favors fuel economy. In “Sport” mode, the vehicle displays increased powertrain and steering responsiveness, which in the ES 300h, changes the ignition from the hybrid power monitor to a tachometer.

The ES 300h adds an EV mode, which allows short distance drives, at reduced speed, using only the power from the hybrid battery pack. All of these features translate into fewer trips to the gas station thanks to better fuel efficiency.

In terms of suspension, a stiffer body and a quicker steering gear ratio deliver more precise handling in the new 2013 Lexus ES.

According to Lexus, the vehicle’s front suspension employs opposite-wound coil springs to help enhance straight-line stability. Revised rear suspension geometry and improved shock absorber damping characteristics enhance ride comfort.

The ES 300h shown in  black leather and bamboo trim, with the luxury and navigation system packages. (Credit: www.lexus.com) The ES 300h shown in black leather and bamboo trim, with the luxury and navigation system packages. (Credit: www.lexus.com)

“The steering gear ratio has been reduced from 16.1:1 to 14.8:1 to help deliver a more responsive and direct steering feel. Increased body rigidity is achieved through lightweight, high tensile strength steel, added bracing and more spot welds. Airflow is smoothed beneath the vehicle, improving stability and fuel economy, and reducing drag,” Lexus noted.

Despite all of the forward-thinking technology, this reporter really put the Lexus ES 300h’s suspension system to the test on Puerto Rico’s bumpy roads, and didn’t always get the best results. On less-than-perfect pavement, the car is quite bouncy and not entirely smooth going, especially for passengers sitting in the back.

That flaw is somewhat offset by the vehicle’s roomy and comfortable interior design, which has been conceived to provide a sense of openness and security.

Security and perks
In terms of security, some of the features are spot-on and ideal for driving in Puerto Rico, where getting from point A to point B can be quite a challenge. On certain models, the optional Blind Spot Monitor with “rear cross traffic alert” helps detect vehicles in side blind spots. The RCTA also alerts the driver to rear cross traffic when backing out of a parking spot.

Other helpful features are the automatic adjustments on the rearview mirrors and activation of the rear backup camera that kick in to help the driver perform routine maneuvers such as parallel parking.

Rounding out the car’s features is a sound system with eight speakers, in-dash CD player, USB/iPod connectivity, and an integrated SiriusXM satellite radio receiver with a 90-day trial subscription. The available display audio package adds a seven-inch screen, HD Radio with iTunes tagging, Bluetooth audio, phone transfer, and a vehicle information display.

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