Can a Euro edge give extra confidence to a Lexus sedan that tends to sit in the background?
EFFORT to tune it to meet European dynamic expectations was one ingredient of the new generation of the second oldest Lexus sedan that has kept the local distributor interested.
Lexus New Zealand has confirmed it will take the seventh-generation ES, revealed at Auto China in Beijing yesterday, though purely in a hybrid format in 300h and 300h Limited trim levels.
Expected to come on sale around August, the model continues a lineage that dates back to the early 1990s – the first ES here was the second Lexus to come on sale in New Zealand, understudying the brand’s first ever car, the LS400.
Originally a derivation of the Camry, the car has never been a big seller and that’s unlikely to change, Lexus NZ senior general manager Paul Carroll says.
He is citing probability of a modest 50 units per annum, but says volume isn’t the point of the exercise. “Even though the volume is tiny it’s another vehicle in our range. We don’t have a very broad range compared to the Germans so it’s another addition that we will have.
“There will be people who will want to stay in the sedan market rather than SUVs.”
Carroll has confidence the car has ability tp turn heads and not simply because it evidences the latest styling drama.
Being built on the new Global Architecture platform that underpins the latest LC and LS models is also a plus, though whereas those models are rear drive, the ES still pulls from the front. Hence why the platform is designated K (GA-K).
So, not quite a BMW 50-Series rival? Well, it still can be, the brand suggests.
The underpinning allows ES to become longer, lower and wider than before, with wheels that have been pushed closer to the corners thanks to a longer wheelbase and wider tracks front and rear.
Carroll understands also the platform allows for something previous ES editions were not renowned for: Expressive dynamics.
“It’s come out of a result of very strong request from the European guys to have something to compete more strongly dynamically with the (rival) European product.
“The key focus of the new ES, apart from the effort to change the look to be more in keeping with our new design language, is to be more dynamically developed. It’s a much better driving car.”
Project Chief Designer, Yasuo Kajino, describes the look of the ES as “provocative elegance”. “The ES has always been an elegant luxury sedan. For this generation, we have added daring design elements that challenge the traditional expectations of buyers.”
To create a dynamic yet fluid shape, Kaijino’s team used the low bonnet enabled by the new ES platform to produce a distinctive silhouette emphasised by an aggressive downward slant. Up front, the face of the ES is dramatically different.
In a break away from the previous ES models, the car uses a fast roofline that emphasises its lower stance and slippery aerodynamics. The rear end is clean and sharply chiselled, with LED tail lamps that wrap around the quarter panels to provide a continuous styling line from any angle.
There are two different wheel designs, with a 17 inch alloy for the ES 300h while the ES 300h Limited gets 18 inch alloy wheels with a hyper-chrome metallic finish.
The interior blends a driver-centric cockpit with a spacious and comfortable area for the front passenger. In the ES, the driver’s focus is kept on the road ahead by placing the centre display screen, instrument panel and head up display in a tight cluster in the driver’s field of view. Additionally, adjustments were made to components such as the steering wheel angle and position and brake pedal angle and location to provide the driver with a natural driving position.
One element of the ES that hasn’t been radically transformed is its dedication to safety with the Lexus Safety System Plus suite as standard. In addition to the usual assists such as automated emergency braking, lane keep and blind spot alert, this adds capabilities such as Lane Trace Assist and Road Sign Assist that further expand the scenarios in which it is capable of providing additional safety to the driver and passengers.
Lexus here has not talked about the drivetrain, but overseas’ reports say the 300h pairs a new 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder petrol engine with a small electric motor for 160kW and claimed 4.7 litres per 100km. As per normal Lexus/Toyota hybrid convention, it drives through a constantly variable transmission.