Once the pre-eminent champion of affordable, no-thrills luxury sedans, the Lexus ES has lost its luster in recent years. The latest to drink the ES' milkshake is the Buick LaCrosse, which outsold the ES by 30% last year — something that probably doesn't sit well with Lexus.
Lo and behold, not only are we getting an all-new Lexus ES 350 for the 2013 model year, there's also a new hybrid variant that Lexus is calling the Lexus ES 300h.
The model's new exterior takes cues from the recently redesigned 2013 Lexus GS and the LF-Gh concept, and that's a good thing. The ES bears the trapezoidal "spindle" grille and a low-slung side profile with a squared-off rear end. The V-6 model features integrated dual exhaust cutouts in the bumper, while the hybrid has a hidden exhaust unit.
Overall, the ES' wheelbase is 1.8 inches longer – the wheelbase and overall length are longer than its Toyota Camry platform mate. The added space lends more interior passenger volume, Lexus says. There's 2.8 inches more knee room and 0.6 inches more legroom for backseat passengers. The new seat design gives rear passengers more foot room, too.
The 3.5-liter V-6 carries over from the last ES 350, and it's mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The ES 300h features a 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid system and a two-speed continuously variable automatic transmission. Like the Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid, the ES 300h will likely achieve an EPA-estimated 40/38/40 mpg city/highway/combined score. While impressive, the fuel economy likely won't beat a future Lincoln MKZ hybrid, which will likely get something similar to the Ford Fusion Hybrid's 47/44 mpg.
Other mechanical updates include a revised suspension and steering system that offers more precise handling, fluid-filled engine mounts and new sound-absorbing materials to reduce outside noise. The ES is 90 pounds lighter than the outgoing model despite the extra insulation, Lexus says.
Lexus didn't provide any interior photos before the embargo lifted, but you can expect the same treatment found in the GS, including a large, upright dash with an analog clock and a multimedia screen nestled deep within the upper dash. The ES gets Lexus' mouse-like controller for the climate, audio, phone and navigation systems. The ES also gets the brand's Enform multimedia system, which displays music and apps including Pandora internet radio and a Bing search feature.
The ES comes standard with Lexus' "NuLuxe" vinyl upholstery, which is made with 65% less carbon-dioxide emissions compared with making leather, says Lexus. Genuine leather is available, too. Piano black, maple and bamboo wood trims are available, depending on upholstery colors.
Manual window shades, a power rear shade, one-touch power trunk lid, blind spot monitoring system with cross traffic control, lane departure warning system and a pre-collision safety system are among the many options. Like the new Camry, the ES comes standard with 10 airbags, including driver and front passenger knee airbags.
There is no word yet on availability, but given how Toyota and Lexus typically release models, it should be heading to a showroom in the near future.