THINK of the highly competitive saloon sector and your mind automatically conjures up images of a BMW 5 Series, probably dawdling along, infuriatingly hogging a motorway’s middle lane.
The Germans have the market pretty much cornered in truth - Merc’s handsome new E-Class and Audi’s A6 are both worthy contenders to the BMW and, if anything, even eclipse that car.However, Lexus isn’t a manufacturer known for treading the same path as its rivals and its crack at luring customers away from established German cars - the ES300h - continues that trend.
As ever with the Japanese marque, you get one engine option and that’s that, but there’s no need to worry as it’s a cracker in any model it appears in. It’s a 2.5-litre petrol unit, with a couple of electric motors, meaning it’s not only every bit as pokey as you want but also cheap to run.
Unlike its European rivals, the forward-thinking manufacturer has culled diesel-powered engines altogether, but the unit can be driven purely on its batteries until more oomph is required. This is particularly handy around town, in stop-start traffic, as you’re not using a drop of fuel.
Style-wise, it’s familiar Lexus territory: huge front grille (better looking than BMW’s recent monstrosities), swooping front lights, sleek side profile and perhaps a little underwhelming from the rear, as is the same with its smaller IS sibling. Open the door and you’re met with a brilliant interior. It’s a place where its rivals all shine and the ES does not let the side down, with plush-feeling materials and a brilliant infotainment system. The driving position is spot on, too, and you can get extremely comfortable thanks to its multi-way adjustments on the seat and steering wheel.
Thumb the starter motor and it’s silent - it’ll be in its hybrid mode from the off and its engine will only awaken if you’re heavy-footed on the throttle. It’s all very hushed and its automatic gearbox does all the work for you so it’s not the most involving of experiences at first, but it rides very smoothly and the auto goes about its business without any drama.
Lexus has engineered its E-CVT gearbox to operate less intrusively than such systems once did - always a major gripe of mine in models of old. Floor the pedal and the revs build in relation to speed, rather than zooming for the red line and waiting for the car to catch up in what was a strange sensation.
The self-charging hybrid uses the engine’s power to top itself up, while the driver’s input through braking also helps, and it’s this technology which does make the pedal feel somewhat strange when you’re not used to it. If you’re familiar with hybrids, you’ll be impressed and having this technology will always beat plug-in alternatives.
There’s a respectable 215bhp available in the ES300h - plenty enough - but given it’s a heavy car thanks to its tech, it doesn’t exactly set the world alight with its pace. What is lacking is torque; mid-range isn’t the ES’s strong point but there’s just enough for it to be a well-balanced motorway cruiser.
Its steering and handling are surprisingly good, though - important traits in this market due to its rivals’ tendencies of being properly decent to drive. Involvement is somewhat amiss, but to bemoan that would be to miss the point of the ES.
If you want a handsome, well-made car that’s both easy on the wallet and something different to run-of-the-mill German cars, the £35,150 ES is definitely worth a look.