High end with an economic kicker

By John Maslin

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The term "hybrid", in the motoring sense at least, is the sort of engineering advance that some will embrace and others will snub their noses at.

Those who disregard this interesting mix and match of petrol and electric motors combining under the one bonnet, need to broaden their horizons and accept that hybrids are here and now, they will continue to be, and as the boffins keep tinkering and fine tuning, they will make a difference to our motoring landscape.

Toyota has been doing just that sort of fiddling with hybrids for a while now and the Lexus luxury brand is on board with the technology.

The latest we've been driving is the ES300h with its 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine cosying up to two electric motors, each with their own role to play.

But the bottom line is fuel economy and it's this combination of propulsion that makes the Lexus an appealing package for the fuel-conscious. When the maker can claim 5.5 litres of a fuel used on a combined 100km urban-highway cycle - and remembering this is a bigger than medium-sized car - then economies of scale hit a sweet spot.

Using the same hybrid combo seen in the Camry, the ES300h is heavier largely because of the trim levels. Those two electric motors have different roles to play. One is there largely to power up the batteries and restart the petrol engine which will shut down at intersections when the driver has the car running in Eco mode. The other motor handles the electric portion of propulsion and switches into generator mode when you decelerate, gathering what's called kinetic energy, converting it to electricity and sending it back into the batteries. In normal vehicles, this energy is lost every time you brake.

It uses that electric power source to get the car moving from start-up rather than relying on the petrol engine to do all the work all the time.

The drive characteristics of the ES300 are malleable, letting you select Eco/Normal and Sport modes. Then there's EV which relies solely on the battery power to do the business albeit for short distances before the four-cylinder petrol has to get involved.

The 2.5 litre in-line petrol engine develops 118kW of power but, adding in the extras coming from the electric motors, it's boosted by another 33kW.


To give the car the hurry-up, flick into Sport mode. The electric power gauge disappears, to be replaced by a tachometer and the surge of power unmistakable.

The liquid-cooled nickel-metal hydride battery pack sits just behind the back of the rear seat. It means a little bit of boot space is compromised but it's still spacious.

If anything, the outside styling is understated and belies the whisper quiet interior along with that impressive comfort. There's a regal bearing to the inside with its plush surround and high level of finish.

The eight-inch screen is worked via the Lexus remote touch interface control. It gives very easy access to a raft of functions including sat-nav, audio and climate air functions and both front seats are powered and heated. In fact there is the usual plethora of functions to make the Lexus the luxury brand it is.

This is the sixth generation of the ES model and it appears poised to make up for the fact we missed out on the previous model.

There are four models offered this time around, starting with the $80,995 ES300h we were driving and 300h Limited as the hybrid selection, and the 3.5-litre petrol only ES350 and 350 Limited.

A tad shy of $81,000 will cause some to double take, but this is the luxury end of the Toyota brand.

There are some who can't fathom the rationale of the hybrid. But the ES300h attests to the fact luxury can come with an economic kicker and it shows up in the fuel economy that can be wrung from the car.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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