The Lexus ES Hybrid combines refinement with the zip and fuel economy of dual propulsion at a compelling price point.

For car enthusiasts old enough to remember, the Lexus ES has been one of two ever-present models in the 27-year history of the Japanese marque. But when the ES first entered production in 1989, it was only a compact-sized offering for the luxury end of the market. Over the years, the ES has evolved into a full-blown luxury sedan with the requisite bells and whistles that places it only a rung or two below its esteemed LS sibling.

The ES certainly has the size and presence that put it firmly within the luxury segment. At 4.915m long and 1.82m wide, the ES is not a lot smaller when compared with the top-of-the-line LS. But size is not the only thing going for the ES. If distinctive looks are what a successful professional or up-and-coming towkay wants from their set of wheels, the ES is unlikely to disappoint.

Design changes to the front have given the 2016 iteration a more aggressive and muscular look. The engine grille now extends all the way down to the bottom of the front bumper encased by shiny chrome. The LED daytime running lights reinforce the overall look as their jagged L-shaped motif blends in with the angular shape of the front grille.

But if the front of the car catches the eye, the rear remains bland. Drivers are reminded of previous ES generations as the basic design is largely unchanged. The most visible differences are a long strip of chrome trim lining the boot lid between the tail-lights and similar to the front, a jagged array of LED running lights to add further pizzazz.

External aesthetics aside, the internal accoutrements of the ES model are typical Lexus quality. The leather upholstery lining the interior is hand-stitched by artisans who have been through a stringent system of Japanese apprenticeship to qualify as Takumi craftsmen. One of their tests even involves the ability to fold an origami piece by using only the non-dominant hand within 90 seconds.

On the rest of the equipment front, the ES model in Singapore is available in two grades — Luxury and Executive — with the lower grade having many of the touches that drivers would want. These include features like three-zone air conditioning with “nanoe” technology to purify cabin air as well as a Drive Mode Select switch for three styles of driving — economy, normal and sport. Driving and safety aids come aplenty with installed features such as Hill Start Assist Control to prevent uncontrolled rolling when starting the car on slopes. For people who find parking in tight spots bothersome, there is a Parking Assist System equipped with eight sensors including a rear-view camera that projects images to a Multi-Information Display (MID) mounted on the dashboard.

Drivers willing to shell out for the higher- end Luxury grade will find added features like a Lexus Remote Touch Interface, which is an intuitive knob on the centre console for easy control of the MID; a premium Mark Levinson audio system with 15 speakers; a tilt and slide glass roof and a useful Blind Spot Monitor that illuminates warning signals on a door mirror whenever another vehicle travels close behind.

These features are nice extras but would offer scant consolation if the car is not up to expectations in the driving department. Here, I am glad to say that the test car in the ES Hybrid version did not disappoint. The Hybrid has a four-cylinder 2.5 litre engine just like the conventional ES 250 that is mated to an electric traction motor. The combined power of both engines peaks at a maximum output of 202 bhp.

What is perhaps more interesting is the torque generated from the hybrid engine and the way it is delivered. Maximum torque is rated at only 213 Nm, lower than the 235 Nm of its petrol-driven ES 250 sibling. But figures can be deceptive and this is where the smooth and linear delivery of electric power torque makes a world of difference in driving. From a standing start in sports mode, the Hybrid accelerates to 100 kph in 8.5 seconds, while it takes 1.3 seconds longer for the ES 250 to reach the same speed.

The seamless low-end torque of the electric motor makes the big Hybrid car a breeze to drive in city traffic. Tap on the accelerator and the car responds readily. If quicker response is required, a simple flick of the Drive Mode switch to Sport changes the personality of the car with the engine snarling audibly during acceleration. Otherwise, the Hybrid is a classic Lexus that provides a refined and cosseting ride for its occupants. The only quibble — and this is something Hybrid owners have come to accept — is the slight whining noise from the electric motor as the vehicle slows during regenerative braking to convert kinetic energy to electric energy.

That may be the biggest drawback of driving a hybrid vehicle but many owners consider it a small price to pay for enhanced driveability and fuel economy. The ES Hybrid claims an official fuel consumption figure of 5.5 litres for 100 km compared with 8 litres for 100km for its petrol-driven sibling. It has a rating as a “Super Ultra-low Emission Vehicle” in emitting carbon particles of 127 grams per km. Throw in the marginal price difference between the Hybrid which starts from $235,000 (COE prices as of end-September) and the ES250 at $10,000 less, and most buyers will find a compelling reason to go green.

LEXUS ES HYBRID
From $236,000
Engine: Hybrid drive system of 2,494 cc, four
cylinder in-line, coupled with electric traction motor
Power/torque: 202bhp/213Nm
Fuel consumption: 5.5l/100km
0 to 100km/h: 8.5 seconds
Top speed: 180kph

This article appeared in the Options of Issue 749 (Oct 10) of The Edge Singapore.