2014 Lexus ES 300h

The ES 300h is the hybrid version of Lexus' sixth-generation ES entry-luxury sedan. It combines the cushy ride and comfortable interior of the standard ES 350 model with a gas-electric powertrain that returns a combined 40 mpg.

Recent Changes
An all-new design for the previous model year, the ES 300h receives only minor equipment tweaks this year, including the addition of Apple's Siri Eyes Free system.

Under the ES 300h's hood is a pair of electric motors, one that handles propulsion duties and another engine-driven unit that powers the batteries, teams with a 1.6-kWh battery pack and a 156 horsepower 2.5-liter inline-four in the ES 300h. The gearbox is a continuously variable unit.

Four driving modes are available: Normal, Sport, Eco and EV. The Sport setting calibrates the powertrain for maximum responsiveness, while EV mode allows for electric-only operation for about half a mile at speeds of up to 25 mph.

Total system output is 200 horsepower, and mileage is estimated at 40 mpg in the city and 39 mpg in the highway compared to the ES 350's 21/31 mpg ratings. The drawbacks to the efficient hybrid system include increased weight and diminished stowage space due to the batteries, which eat up 3.1 cubic feet of the trunk.

Save for its green powertrain, the ES 300h is essentially identical to the ES350. That means it features Lexus' corporate spindle grille and a slightly sportier look than past ES models thanks to a lower and wider shape not unlike that of the rear-wheel-drive GS sedan. Mildly flared wheel arches hint at performance potential, although the car's front-wheel-drive Avalon-based architecture is tuned for comfort rather than agility. Lexus will continue to rely on the smaller rear-drive IS sedan to court sedan buyers focused on sharp handling.

Inside, the ES 300h features a horizontally-oriented dashboard derived stylistically from both the CT and the GS. Interior space is generous, especially for rear-seat passengers, and overall levels of fit-and-finish and material quality are high.

Luxury Trimmings
The ES 300h comes standard with environmentally-friendly NuLuxe seating surfaces, while genuine leather and coddling semi-analine leather are available as options.

Also optional is a HDD Navigation System with voice recognition, an integrated backup camera, an eight-inch screen, and Lexus' Enform infotainment system. Enform provides access to Bing search, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, Pandora, Yelp and Facebook Places through compatible smart phones.

The standard eight-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system features an iPod/aux input jack along with Sirius XM satellite radio. The available Display Audio package adds a seven-inch screen, HD Radio with iTunes tagging, Bluetooth audio, phone transfer, a vehicle information display and a rear backup camera.

Audiophiles will want to spring for the optional 15-speaker, 835-watt Mark Levinson audio system. This setup includes an eight-inch display screen, HD Radio with iTunes tagging and DVD audio/video. GreenEdge technology from Mark Levinson doubles the output of the amplifier while reducing energy consumption by 50 percent.

Other standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power adjustable front seats, push-button start, Bluetooth connectivity and 17-inch alloy wheels.

New for the latest model year is Apple's Siri Eyes Free system, which uses the ES 300h's steering wheel-mounted controls to access the Siri function of any iPhone equipped with iOS 6. Once linked, drivers can use voice commands to perform actions like make phone calls, play songs from iTunes, listen to and compose text messages and add appointments to their calendars.

Occupant Safety
The ES 300h comes standard with driver and front passenger knee airbags, front and seat-mounted airbags, rear seat-mounted side airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and Whiplash Injury Lessening front seats, which are designed to limit excessive head movement in rear-end collisions.

Optional safety systems include Blind Spot Monitor, Lane Departure Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which alerts the driver to rear cross traffic when backing out of a parking spot. The available Pre-Collision System uses sub-millimeter wave radar to detect obstructions traveling ahead and prepare the vehicle for a potential collision.

Key Competitors
As a midsized entry-luxury hybrid sedan, the ES 300h competes against rivals such as the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and the Buick LaCrosse eAssist. Other options include costlier (but better-handling) rides like the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 and the Infiniti M Hybrid as well as smaller, less-expensive machines such as the Acura ILX Hybrid and the Audi A3 TDI.