The 2020 Lexus ES is a shining star in the Japanese luxury brand’s lineup, and the hybrid version makes the already impressive midsize sedan even better. Despite its sophisticated looks, smooth, quiet drive, and cruising comfort on even the longest trips, the ES 300h’s fuel economy is still the sedan’s biggest highlight.
The ES 300h is perhaps the only Lexus that actually makes the brand’s huge signature spindle grille look elegant. Instead of using the mesh texture seen on many of its other models that can make some of the vehicles look a bit like creatures from the movie Predator, the ES hybrid uses vertical slats that follow the grille’s spindle shape. The result is a striking look that’s well-suited to a big luxury sedan. Although I’m not a huge fan of all the chrome used, the grille looks expensive, which is important when dealing with a luxury car.
The sedan’s proportions are great, the lines are miraculously understated compared to some other cars in the Lexus lineup, and the car should age well. It looks stylish and modern from all angles.
Inside, the few passengers that rode with me during testing mentioned that the interior felt old, and I would have to agree; although it’s made well, it’s dated and quite boring. There’s a CD player taking up room on the dashboard, for example, and that speaks volumes about how behind the times the interior is. The layout and buttons make the ES’s interior feel dated, there are a few too many different trim materials used, and the overabundance of lines and layers used in the design keeps it from looking sleek and modern.
A Lexus is nothing if it’s not comfortable, and the ES 300h is comfy to the core. The seats are very supportive and even during long drives, absolutely no fatigue settled in. There’s plenty of shoulder- and headroom for all occupants, and the cabin feels spacious.
The ES 300h is also the quietest car I’ve driven in a while, its vault-like aura making it a relaxing place to spend time. Even on the highway, the cabin is serene and you can barely hear anything from the outside world. I was very impressed when I closed the window next to a rackety 18-wheeler idling next to me as it basically ceased to exist audibly. The ES also coddles its passengers, its suspension isolating them from any rough roads and helping the sedan glide effortlessly over the pavement.
The 2020 Lexus ES was given the highest Top Safety Pick+ rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), getting the highest possible ratings in all its crash tests and for its vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian crash prevention systems. It also received top marks for its upgraded triple beam LED headlight package, which my tester was equipped with.
The ES 300h comes standard with Lexus’ full suite of driver assistance and safety features, which includes lane-centring assist, full-speed adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beams, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and blind-spot monitoring. Rear cross-traffic alert with automatic emergency braking is available as part of an options package.
All the safety and driver-assistance features work smoothly, with the adaptive cruise control feeling natural. Acceleration and deceleration are smooth, and the collision systems aren’t jarring or overly sensitive. I think the Lexus leaves slightly too much room between it and the car in front, giving other drivers more opportunities to cut you off, but the way it handles braking when this happens is quick and smooth, so it’s not a huge deal. The lane-keep system could use some refinement, as it feels like it’s bobbing the car between the lane markings instead of actually staying in the middle.
Many of the desirable features in the Lexus ES 300h are available as part of optional packages but should be included as standard, such as wireless phone charging, a 360-degree top-down parking camera, a head-up display, and more. Luckily, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, power-folding mirrors, and a sunroof are all included, but the ES is definitely lacking standard equipment and is lagging behind many of its competitors in terms of technology that you can brag to your friends about.
The upgraded 12.3-inch widescreen is crisp and clear, but when displaying Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, it doesn’t use the full width of the screen, which is a missed opportunity. [This is the fault of the phone interfacing systems and not Toyota, but it’s still noteworthy. – Ed.] Luckily, that space can be used to display other information like audio information or fuel economy.
User Friendliness: 5/10
The Lexus ES has one of the worst infotainment interfaces in the industry and it is nearly a deal-breaker for me. Instead of using a touchscreen, Lexus opted to use a little trackpad, kind of like the ones you might find on a laptop. The cursor is finicky and erratic and it never goes where you want it to. Completing any simple task like changing the radio station or typing in an address takes way more time than it should, and the touchpad is extremely distracting to use while driving because it takes your eyes off the road for too long.
The touchpad is also closer to the passenger than it is to the driver, so reaching to use it makes it even more unergonomic and distracting. Besides that, the menus are convoluted and finding anything is a task. The ES does have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but you still have to use the trackpad to interact with them, so it takes away a lot of the benefits of using smartphone mirroring.
Luckily, the ES has some redundant physical buttons, so you can at least use the climate control system without having to use the touchpad, and those buttons are mostly logical. The ES is also easy to park with the upgraded 360-degree camera and good visibility.
The trunk in the hybrid ES is the same as the conventional gas-only model and is capable of holding a generous 473 L. The trunk lid has a wide and low opening and can also open and close remotely.
Inside, there aren’t enough cubbies to store keys and wallets, though there is a nice slot for your phone. If your phone’s charging port is on the bottom, however, you have to put it in the compartment upside down. The optional wireless charger is also located in the armrest storage cubby, so be prepared to forget your phone all the time.
The ES 300h is motivated by Toyota’s proven hybrid powertrain, a 2.5L naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor and a powerful battery for a total system output of 215 hp. The system is bulletproof and sophisticated, providing enough power so the ES doesn’t feel sluggish during passing or getting up to highway speeds but still prioritizing efficiency.
The ES 300h switches between electric-only driving and gas-powered driving seamlessly and can run in EV mode while coasting, idling, parking, or during low-speeds and other low-effort scenarios. The driver can put it in EV mode via a button near the shifter, but the ES does a fantastic job of managing on its own and the powertrain operates invisibly, always smooth and quiet, and it operates exactly as it’s intended to. This is a fantastic powertrain that has been backed by reports boasting years of reliable and efficient operation.
The ES is not offered with all-wheel drive (AWD), but it makes so much sense for Lexus to make it available on the hybrid because Toyota already has an excellent electric AWD system it could easily use in this sedan.
Driving Feel: 9/10
The Lexus EX 300h is remarkably dialled and its driving dynamics are pretty incredible; it drives exactly like a luxury sedan should. While I wouldn’t call it sporty, the suspension is taut so it handles a corner well and it doesn’t feel sloppy at all, even though it prioritizes comfort. The steering is also a highlight: It has some weight to it and feels responsive but never too artificial. Lexus also got the braking feel spot-on, which can be difficult with a hybrid’s regenerative brakes, but the setup feels natural and progressive, making it easier to drive smoothly.
Fuel Economy: 10/10
Fuel economy is one of the ES 300h’s biggest strengths. After a week of extensive testing that was predominantly done on the highway, the hybrid was returning an impressive 5.0 L/100 km, lower than its official ratings of 5.5 L/100 km in the city, 5.2 on the highway, and 5.3 combined. The best part about this is that other than putting it in Eco mode, I wasn’t even trying that hard to eke out the most from the gas tank, so even novice hybrid drivers won’t have a hard time saving on fuel.
The hybrid ES is $2,000 more than the conventional V6-powered sedan and comes standard with pretty much all the same stuff. Considering Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) estimates the yearly fuel cost for the hybrid will be $1,378 compared to $2,366 for the V6 model, it won’t take long for a driver to recoup the added cost of the hybrid. So if you have already decided to buy an ES, there’s really no downside to opting for the hybrid version.
Starting at $47,100, the ES 300h is lacking features that should be included as standard on a vehicle of this price like the bigger 12.3-inch widescreen, a heated steering wheel, head-up display, and wireless phone charging, for example, which Lexus includes in options packages. Loading it up like my tester to have the full scope of what Lexus offers will cost an additional $14,800 for the Ultra Luxury Package, bringing the total to $61,900 before taxes and other fees.
This all-in price seems fair and the Lexus ES hybrid doesn’t have any electrified direct competitors, but it lags behind in terms of both wow factor and outright user-friendliness, making its price tougher to justify if you’re cross-shopping brands.
The 2020 Lexus ES 300h is held back from greatness by its awful infotainment interface, but if you can get over that one major flaw and don’t mind a slightly dated interior, then the hybrid sedan is excellent. With an understated and sophisticated style, smooth and efficient powertrain, comfortable driving, and stellar fuel economy, the ES hybrid has a lot to offer.
|Engine Displacement||2.5L + hybrid drive|
|Peak Horsepower||215 hp (net)|
|Fuel Economy||5.5 / 5.3 / 5.3 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||473 L|
|Model Tested||2020 Lexus ES 300h|
|Price as Tested||$64,095|
$14,800 – Ultra Luxury Package, $14,800