Nothing beats first class. Personalised attention, extra space and culinary options. That is the experience available in the new Lexus ES. It's like being cosseted in the pointy end of the plane.
This is the sixth generation of the large luxury saloon, although it's the first time in seven years that we have seen it in showrooms after Lexus decided to restrict build to left-hand-drive.
But it's back, with copious luxuries, an ultra-quiet cabin and space to stretch out - just what you'd expect with a first-class ticket.
Prices start from $80,995 for the entry-level hybrid and tops at $108,995 for the V6-powered Sports Luxury model.
Regal and beautifully finished, the cabin has the trademark hushed operation for which the luxury Japanese marque is revered.
Yokohama rubber especially designed to generate less noise, triple layer acoustic glazing of the windscreen and a multilayered dash all combine to lavish the occupants in near silence.
Putting that stitched panel together is a task completed by one of 12 Lexus craftsmen qualified to do the job - and part of the initiation process for that hallowed group is to fold an origami cat with one hand. Sumptuous seats provide heating and cooling up front, while Sports Luxury models have heated pews in the rear and their own air-con zone.
And it's in the back seats where you can be chauffeured in style. With more than one metre of leg space, even the tallest of drivers won't make adult travel a chore.
Four adults would welcome a long road trip, and three across the back seat doesn't come with any forced heavy petting.
On the road
There's a choice of two powerplants, a four-cylinder hybrid and the tried and tested V6 we have seen in the Aurion.
Neither are absolute firecrackers, yet they are no slouches either.
Under easy acceleration, around town or cruising on the highway, the hybrid does a solid job. Put the hammer down and the four-cylinder can feel wanting.
The V6 is more hairy-chested in this department, along with a stronger feel under brakes.
Some challenging twisty terrain saw the ES handle surprisingly well through some sharp bends at speed and only on a few occasions could you feel it scrambling for traction with some minor torque steer.
But that is not the intention of the saloon. Its buyers are not looking for a sports car.
Although conservative, the styling has ample premium presence.
It has a wonderfully supple ride which also manages to be compliant in the bends.
What do you get?
Standard kit is outstanding. The Luxury models have satellite navigation, blind-spot monitor, sunroof, eight-speaker Lexus premium audio, smart entry with push-button start, dual zone climate control air-con which has moisturising properties so it doesn't dry the skin, digital radio and leather accented trim.
Sports Luxury models get tri-zone climate control, HID headlamps, 15-speaker Mark Levinson Audio, heated and ventilated front seats, power boot lid, manual side sun shades, rear centre armrest-mounted controls and semi-aniline leather accented interior.
Lexus expects to gain a five-star safety rating, with 10 airbags, reversing camera, eight-head parking sonar, stability control and anti-lock brakes standard.
All models other than the entry-level hybrid also get radar cruise control, and a pre-collision safety system which can help avoid an accident by applying additional braking pressure if an obstacle ahead is detected.
Boot space is 490 litres in the V6, and 425 in the hybrid because of battery storage behind the seat.
That's a handy space, although the rear seats don't fold so flat-pack furniture is out of the question.
While conservative, the styling has ample premium presence. There's the trademark spindle grille, which looks like an elongated hourglass, but it really is inside where you find the most "wow factor".
For those who don't step into the premium genre often, this is the ride you expect from a luxury car.
Soft, ultra-quiet and lavishly appointed, Lexus trumps the Europeans in this genre and thrashes them for value with standard appointments.
Mature people will love this car. Families will also appreciate its many virtues. Lexus has delivered an extremely likeable car.
Eternal pessimists will jibe that it's just a flash Toyota Aurion. But they're wrong. This is a class above, and it is premium without an exorbitant price tag.
Taxi version likely soon
By Liz Dobson
It was fitting that I was driven to the Lexus ES launch in Auckland in a Toyota Camry i-tech hybrid taxi - not just because they technically are ''family'' but because the large
luxury sedan is being pushed into the corporate fleet market.
Re-introduced to the market after a six-year absence, the sedan is being promoted here as ''entry luxury'' with the ES300 hybrid the pick of the pair when it comes to sales, reckons Steve Pragnell, Toyota's general manager of sales.
''We're confident about the reintroduction of the ES to our line-up,'' said Pragnell at the launch.
That line-up starts size-wise with the CT, the newly launched IS sedan, then the new ES. Next is the GS sedan and the limo-like LS plus the SUVs of the family - the RX and LX.
But by the end of 2014 Lexus NZ's model line-up will nearly double with such highlights as the introduction of the RC sports coupe, to be revealed at the Tokyo motorshow today, and the mid-sized SUV, the NX.
With the starting price of the ES (see story) similar to the IS, and with the sales of medium-to-large sedans on the decline - just ask Ford and Holden - there was some
criticism about why parent company Toyota NZ was introducing the sedan.
But the company said it had customer feedback that they wanted more rear-seat comfort and space, what the ES delivers, with the aim at 40 sales by end of the year and 110 in 2014.
The ES hybrid has similar luxury specs and technology to the Camry i-tech hybrid and with the size of the ES, especially the rear passenger space, combined with the hybrid's
fuel economy of 5.5 litres/100km, I can expect to be driven in the ES taxi soon.