LEXUS has taken a different design direction of late and as a result, the frumpy frocks are gone. Now there are luscious exteriors, and impeccable cabins which have been lavished with obsessive care and attention. The ES makes a return to Australia after a hiatus of some years and fits between the IS and the GS. It is a big car with big presence.

If you hold your head just right, you can see a touch of the four-door sports coupe which Mercedes, BMW and Audi have cashed in on, except Lexus is doing it for half the price. The exterior is classy and elegant with the top hybrid getting Xenon headlights and our base model making do with halogen. Interestingly, the bottom-range ES is a hybrid. I’m a fairly recent hybrid convert and Toyota/Lexus’s Synergy drive is the grand-daddy of them all. You can run your car silently just on batteries up to about 30-ish km/h if there is enough charge. The system will tell you if the power is insufficient, and when it is the petrol motor cuts in without further fanfare. The battery charges when you coast, and ramps up that charging when you brake. The rest of the time the system switches between charging and driving the wheels.

The claims of fuel use are usually exaggerated beyond all recognition, but in this case it is pretty close. For a start, the Lexus runs on budget-priced 91 ron fuel according to the launch-day press release, which is unheard of in a luxury car. I note with some concern that the website states 95/98 ron. Perhaps one was a misprint.

The claimed economy is 5.5 l/100k which again is unheard of in a large luxury car. The 151kw output seems modest, but you’ll get to 100kph in 8.5 seconds. The torque on the electric motor is available from the second you put your foot down so it’s almost a second quicker than the old petrol Gen 4 ES. The steering is uber-light with an ethereal feel at parking speeds, and sharp with loads of road feel at highway speeds.

There are many things to like about the classy interior. The leather feels good to touch and it has been boot spacelavished on almost every surface. The knobs have that gentle resistance you get from quality European audio gear. It isn’t the obvious that gets my vote though, it is the thoughtful way it is all put together that is most endearing. For example, the analogue clock looks almost art deco and the large LCD screen is set back into the dash so that reflection from the sun won’t obliterate your view. You input data via touch or the “mouse” joystick. I’ll admit the joystick takes quite some getting used to but once you do, selection is as quick as a flash. And, with no fanfare or crowd waves, the seat slides back when you press the “stop” button. It gives you all the space you need to get in and out, especially appreciated by those who have previously been crippled on long distance journeys in Euro-snobs. Even the boot lid is electric on the base model.

We drove lots of highway kilometres and only occasionally does the CVT make the petrol motor protest. The rest of the time you don’t know if you’re on battery power or not because the double glazing keeps all but the most persistent noises outside where they belong. You can view which motor is doing what via a small graphic in one of the menus which will be displayed on the driver’s LCD monitor. I wouldn’t bother because you’re meant to be watching the road.

We had a variety of passengers on board to source as many opinions as possible. By far the least entertaining was my hubby who came with me on a school run. He and an eight-year-old found the rear controls. It made the trip home akin to Chinese water torture because you can alter far too many functions from back there. On several occasions I was heard to say “don’t make me come back there” and I realised I sounded like my parents. I was less than amused. The eight-year-old’s mother chuckled and said “it comes to us all in the end”. I got very grumpy.

Everyone who rode in the ES loved it, especially the gay ones. One, who works as an IT guru in banking, insisted on being dropped at his head office’s main door. He said it was just because of the short walk to the lifts, but I suspect it’s because the managers take their morning coffee just around that time.

Many thought it was as good as a BMW or Mercedes Benz and some thought it actually was a BMW or a Mercedes Benz. While I realise Lexus would like to be admired in her own right, she could do worse than to be compared favourably to the premium Germans. I’ll bet the premium Germans would be far less happy about it. They are terribly precious, if you know what I mean.

As I pulled into the top-secret Lexus headquarters in The Shire, I felt pangs of regret because I didn’t want to give it back. I don’t find many cars I don’t want to give back so make of that what you will. “Waft” is my word du jour and for the first time in a long time I can’t think of a single thing I’d change. I like the ES just the way it is thanks very much.

Would I buy one? Yes.

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