You can’t spell Lexus without the letters E and S. That’s because they not only make up the name of Toyota’s luxury division, but also because the ES was one of Lexus’ original models when the brand first started selling vehicles back in the late 1980s. In September of 1989, luxury sedan buyers were able to choose between the large and long LS 400 and its smaller brother, the 1990 ES 250.
Two years later, that grew into the 1992 ES 300, powered by a 3.0-liter V6. The third-generation ES arrived for the 1997 model year. Overall length and luxury features increased substantially. For 2002, designers and engineers incorporated new styling, Variable Valve Timing, and a five-speed automatic into the fourth-generation ES. It soon became the best-selling luxury car in the US.
A new 3.3-liter V6 changed the suffix after ES from 300 to 330 for the 2004 model year. That was joined by an improved navigation system and enhanced safety features.
An even larger 3.5-liter V6 with 272 horsepower was installed in the fifth-generation ES, known as the ES 350. Sales of the 2007 model began in April 2006. A facelifted 2010 version followed a few years later.
Attendees of the 2012 New York International Auto Show got a glimpse of the sixth incarnation of the ES. The 2013 ES 350 featured the company’s new spindle grille, better steering, improved suspension, and a longer wheelbase for higher levels of interior comfort. Lexus stylists made the ES’s lines even more striking for 2016; engineers added several safety tech upgrades.
Over the last 27 years, there have been Coach and Pebble Beach Collection special editions and dozens of awards. There have even been hybrid ESs. We recently drove one, a 2016 ES 300h, for a week and reaped the benefits of nearly three decades of cosmetic, luxury, powertrain, and technology improvements made to one of the long-standing pillars of the Lexus brand.
2016 Lexus ES 300h Exterior
The front end of the ES 300h is a collection of angles, each one of them eye-catching. The triangular semi-frames around the fog lights point to the large, pronounced, chrome-bordered spindle grille, a Lexus design signature. The top of that flares out to LED daytime running lights, LED low beam headlights, and automatic high beams.
Our tester’s two-tone, 10-spoke, 17-inch wheels simultaneously coordinated and contrasted well with the sleek Caviar colored sheet metal above them. That was formed into a rear end topped with a subtle trunk lid spoiler. Below that, a slim chrome strip joined the taillight casings, which covered stylized L-shape elements.
2016 Lexus ES 300h Interior
The exterior wasn’t the only part of the ES that designers tweaked for 2016. Their changes go below the car’s metal skin. In a press release, the automaker said, “New interior colors and color coordination, soft-touch materials added to the console and silver-trimmed piano black door switch plates are among the details that give the interior a richer appearance.”
We had a chance to drive our ES media loaner from Temple, Texas to Dallas and back to Austin – plenty of time to tell if it was as comfortable as a luxury sedan should be. To our total lack of surprise, it was. The sounds of the outside world, even at highway speeds, had almost no success in making their ways into the cabin. We were coddled by the suspension and its skillful translation of rough roads into easily forgotten pavement.
Among other features, our ES was equipped with the Luxury Package and the navigation system/Mark Levinson premium audio package. The first one was filled with goodies such as heated and ventilated front seats, a power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, and memory for the settings of the driver’s seat, outside mirrors, and steering wheel. That last part’s wood and leather sections felt great in our hands and even better on chilly mornings after we activated its heating function. That second package provided by Mr. Levinson was stuffed with plenty of bass and clear sound at its mid-range settings. We just kept the 15-speaker, 835-watt system locked into that sonic sweet spot…and bobbed our heads to the music.
If we needed to map a route to a destination or check out what the weather would be on the way to it, we just used the ES’s second-generation Remote Touch Interface to point and click our way to navigation and information.
2016 Lexus ES 300h Performance
That little “h” at the end of the 300 makes a big difference – the difference between the gas-only 3.5-liter V6 of the ES 350 and our review vehicle’s 2.5-liter V6/electric motor setup. Its total output of 200 horsepower was routed through a continuously variable transmission. Throttle response was most enthusiastic when we turned the dial for the three-mode drive mode selector over to the right to engage the Sport setting – which we used often. Doing so ultimately made our combined city/highway fuel economy dip below the EPA’s official rating of 40 mpg**, but we have no regrets. Only happy memories of instant gratification.
2016 Lexus ES 300h Safety
In addition to its dual front, front knee, front and rear seat-mounted, and front and rear side curtain airbags, our ES 300h media special came packed with the Lexus Safety System+. That included the Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control to maintain a selected speed and distance from vehicles ahead, intelligent high-beam headlights, and Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist.
2016 Lexus ES 300h Overall
The letters E and S are important to the Lexus name. The sedan whose name they form is an essential model for the Lexus brand. Lexus had made great strides in establishing itself as a high-end performance car manufacturer, but it’s important that it doesn’t forget to produce what it started out making: luxury vehicles. The 2016 ES 300h is attractive, comfortable, and well-equipped proof that it hasn’t. You can drive that proof yourself at an AutoNation-affiliated Lexus dealer. Prices for the 2016 ES 300h start at $40,920*. One just like ours carries a sticker price of $49,410.
*MSRP excluding tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on 2016 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.