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2013 Lexus ES300h Test Drive Review

by Ben Lewis on

We recently tested the 2013 Lexus ES300h and came to a surprising conclusion: the fuel-sipping, 40mpg hybrid is the most fun ES you can get.

Even though we really enjoyed the all-new ES350 we tested (article here), with a smooth and powerful 268 hp V6, it really was more about luxury and comfort. But fun to drive? Meh. With the ES300h hybrid’s calling card being an impressive 40 mpg city and 39 mpg highway, we were expecting Prius levels of driving excitement. That is to say… more meh.

Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. While the all-new ES300h – the first hybrid ES – isn’t going to challenge the Euro brands for involvement, the truth is, it offers a surprising level of responsiveness, with a light, playful feel that can make even the most jaded enthusiast feel good about the hybrid that’s most likely in all of our futures.  

First thing we like. The 300h doesn’t scream “Hybrid.” Like the ES350, this is just a nice very tastefully designed sedan. Ours in Silver Lining Metallic looked handsome and substantial.

In the drive, where the ES350 is all about smooth and quiet, the ES300h gives you some interesting choices. Drive Mode Select on the center console gives you stops for Eco, Normal and Sport. In Eco and Normal, the combination of torquey 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, CVT transmission and Battery power gives a pleasingly smooth and relatively swift takeoff. In Eco (or if you press the EV Mode button), you’re running up to 25 mph in full electric mode (engine off) if you go very easy on the gas… er… accelerator. We also saw full EV Mode while cruising at higher speeds, or on a slight downhill or rolling to a stop.

The 2013 Lexus 300h has another party trick if you go into Sport Mode. First of all, the large round gauge next to the speedometer that was reading Power, Eco or Charge suddenly turns into a tachometer. And for all the world, it looks like a real gauge, not a projection on a screen. Toggle it back and forth at stoplights and amaze and entertain your friends!

To entertain the driver, the Sport Mode significantly picks up the throttle response and it feels sporty and powerful. The 2.5L, 4-cylinder engine isn’t particularly nice to listen to, but it does feel quick and alive.

And while the Hybrid weighs a little more than the ES350, the weight distribution actually makes it feel like it handles more responsively as well. Mind you, the fuel saving low-resistance 17-inch tires aren’t made for ultimate cornering; it’s just a feeling of greater involvement that makes the ES300h a nicer drive.

Another point in the 300h’s favor, in most super fuel saver cars, we end up in Power (or Sport) mode full time, just to wring out a little bit of performance, many times just to keep up with traffic. But we were more than happy to drive around in Normal Mode, enjoying the drive, scooting around, and still racking up close to 35 mpg. That’s a compromise we can live with.

There’s little much else that’s a compromise here. Much like the ES350, it’s a comprehensively equipped luxury vehicle, with a handsome new interior that echoes the GS and LS models. In fact, since we tested this immediately after the LS, we were impressed to find so much of the design, quality and overall feel of the $89,000 LS460L was present in our much less expensive ES.

The ES300h starts at $38,850, and builds from there. Our tester was nicely optioned, with safety goodies including Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert ( a bargain at $500), Lane Departure Alert with Intelligent high-beam headlamps ($965), the Hard Disk Drive Navigation System, with 8 VGA screen, Lexus Enform with App Suite, the same Voice Command for everything including Navigation that we loved on the LS460L ($2,625), Power trunk closer ($400) and Intuitive Parking Assist (saved our bacon a couple of times, another bargain at $500).

But there’s more! We also savored the Ultra Luxury Package with perforated semi-aniline leather trim, heated and cooled front seats, power rear sunshade, Bamboo wood interior trim and ambient lighting ($2,435) even a leather trimmed shift knob and heated wood and leather steering wheel ($450). Add in a couple of other things, and that LS460L didn’t have much on our ES300h. All totaled, our tester came in at just over $47,000.

Which brings us to the question – how much are you paying for the hybrid? The ES300h will run you $2,750 more than an ES350. With a combined EPA 40 mpg rating versus the ES350’s 24 mpg, if you drive 15,000 miles a year, the hybrid will save you $800 annually. So in 3.5 years, you’ll break even. After that, it’s money in your pocket. And for us, we’d be enjoying the drive in the hybrid more from the first mile. So even if you’re not really the Hybrid type, consider putting the ES300h on your shopping list. It might surprise you. It certainly did us. And not a “meh” to be heard anywhere.

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