Higher class of hybrid
Lexus keeps the best to last with the release of its latest premium market model, writes Martin Brennan
Keeping the best wine to last always makes for a good story and that is what Lexus has in store for premium-market drivers with the arrival of a new version of an existing model which never made it to our shores.
It may surprise many to learn that the imminent Lexus ES model has been on sale in America for many years. Now in its seventh generation guise, it is coming to Western and Central Europe as a replacement for the GS model.
It comes with high-grade technology. There is a new platform called the Global Architecture-K (GAK) to give extra body rigidity for better driving performance and it also incorporates the latest Lexus safety systems and a new self-charging hybrid system.
With the ES 300h, Lexus hopes to capture sales from the Mercedes Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series, Audi A6 and Jaguar XF, so the arrival is timely as hybrid technology is now tempting captains of industry to abandon diesel for the cleaner and equally fuel-efficient petrol/electric saloon models.
Ian Corbett, head of Lexus in Ireland, would like to see government incentives for hybrid vehicles to move executive fleet sales away from more-polluting diesel models. Premium saloon sales account for 26pc of sales at the top end of the market and are expected to account for up to 18,000 new car sales this year.
The ES comes with hybrid drive only (there may be an EV version later) and will be here by year-end for 191 registrations. Pre-production models will be in showrooms in October to give potential customers an opportunity to get a flavour of what is on offer. Prices will be competitive with rival brands - in the €50,000 region. The new offering gets a new 2.5 litre petrol engine with electric motor generating 218bhp with a claimed fuel consumption figure of 4.7L/100km (over 60mpg). The engine is more thermally efficient which Lexus says will give a more energetic performance and reduced emissions and fuel consumption as it is backed up by a new more power-dense electric motor.
This is a front-wheel-drive saloon with a distinctive large wide grille and sporty lines. There will be four trim levels and price options ranging from Executive, Luxury, which is expected to be the big seller, F-Sport, which will have adaptive suspension available, and Premium.
The ES sits low, has coupe-like features and there is a new multi-link suspension and a new electric power steering for more positive handling. Versions coming here get the latest CVT automatic transmission unit.
The interior is spacious despite the reasonably compact exterior. It has a 50mm longer wheelbase than the previous model so there is plenty of leg room and enough equipment to keep executive types happy including a 12.3in screen with voice recognition commands available. The sloping roof still leaves good headroom but the low level of the seating in the rear may make exiting a trifle more difficult than the hip-friendly crossover models we have all become accustomed to. A 17-speaker Mark Levinson PurePlay system is available.
The Lexus Safety System Plus gives added protection to driver and passengers with its accident-prevention systems. New features include daytime cyclist protection, now included in the Pre-Collision System. The PCS is already capable of detecting oncoming vehicles and pedestrians, but the ability to detect cyclists addresses one of the most common accident scenarios on the road today.
The PCS also has improvements which more quickly detects pedestrians at night with increased radar sensitivity and range.
There is also a two-stage adaptive high-beam system to turn on/off high beams automatically and the 24 individual LED light array can adapt the light pattern to give a more focused spread while reducing glare for on-coming traffic.
Lexus has announced also the arrival of its latest SUV, the UX crossover. This will go on sale at the end of the year and will compete with premium brands such as the Volvo XC40, Audi Q2 and Q3 and Jaguar E-Pace.
The latest design comes in a compact shape below the NX showing the wide grille, sculpted bonnet and rising shoulder line. The rear gets a single piece LED light bar, a stand-out feature. Inside there is a new digital dash with an ultra-wide infotainment screen.
Lexus claims that with extra rigidity and a low centre of gravity, handling will be one of the main features. Hybrid power will be the preferred offering with a two-litre engine with an option of an E-Four all-wheel-drive which adds another electric motor to the rear axle. A turbocharged petrol engine is a possibility.