We already knew the pricing and healthy standard specification of the new Lexus ES from the car’s unveiling at the Johannesburg International Motor Show.
We knew it would be front-wheel drive, four-cylindered, and cheaper than the smaller rear-wheel drive Lexus IS 350. What we couldn’t know – as it spun on a plinth at the Lexus stand – was how this dumbing-down of normally-litigious Lexus engineering would impact the ES’s drive quality. Now we’ve taken the Lexus ES 250 for a saunter around the Western Cape and we can report back on the experience.
Based on the humble front-wheel drivetrain, before the drive I was sharpening my pencil to poke holes in the Lexus ES for lacklustre dynamics, poisoned steering feel, brittle suspension componentry and wayward body control – saying it was a premium wannabe. But despite my greatest efforts to give it a hard time, it soaked everything up in its stride.
And when I say ‘soaked up’ I’m definitely referring to the ES 250’s exemplary ride quality. No adaptable dampers, just a well sorted dual-link rear suspension and McPherson struts upfront. The car is balanced and the steering is nicely weighted so placing the car on the road is a pleasure, and although it’s miles behind you due to the sublimely long wheelbase, you can always feel what the rear suspension is up to – it feels like a premium ride in that respect.
With the exception of the four-cylinder engine doing the propulsion, that is. With the best will in the world the 2.5-litre dual VVT-i is not up to snuff for a true premium offering. It doesn’t even do direct injection like competitor GDI offerings from Korea and the modest power output of 135kW is available at a somewhat breathless 6000rpm, while an equally modest 235Nm of torque at 4100rpm only arrives after much laboured exertion of valves and pistons under the bonnet.
The six-speed gearbox is smooth but the Lexus ES 250 comes sans paddle shifters on the steering wheel, so unless you stir the shifter in the centre console the ES always defaults to a high gear, even moments after you’ve kicked it down a cog with the throttle.
Might we have expected bigger things from Lexus considering competitors like the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata offer more power and torque from their GDI power plants for around R80 000 less? Well, perhaps, but I don’t think performance is a divisive topic for the Lexus ES in South Africa, and although I can’t believe I’m typing this, neither is the elimination of rear-wheel drive.
Yes, the ES 250 is a car that most blurs the lines between volume Toyota and luxurious Lexus, but not enough so that prospective owners need to have their reading-glass prescriptions checked. Although checking their prescription is what most Lexus customers might do when they see the low sticker price for the one-grade-fits-all Lexus ES 250. It is affordable, good value for money and the Lexus badge is worth its weight in rands to those who appreciate such things.
– Ray Leathern
MODEL | Lexus ES 250
PRICE | R435 900
ENGINE | 2495cc 4-cyl, 135kW @ 6000rpm, 235Nm @ 4100rpm
TRANSMISSION | 6-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
PERFORMANCE | 9.8sec 0-100kph, 207kph, 8.0 litres/100km, 188g/km
MODEL | Lexus ES 300h
PRICE | R515 000
ENGINE | 2495cc 4-cyl, 118kW @ 5700rpm + 105kW electric motor (total 151kW), 213Nm @ 4500rpm
TRANSMISSION | CVT, front-wheel drive
PERFORMANCE | 8.5sec 0-100kph, 180kph, 5.5 litres/100km, 130g/km