2013 Lexus ES Rolls in Oregon

It’s a busy year for Lexus.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

They already rolled out the 2013 GS this past winter with the company’s first ever Super Bowl commercial. Later this year, they’re looking to unveil the new IS (and hopefully an updated IS F – as I really enjoy that car and a fresh one would give me an excuse to drive one for a week).

Most recently, Toyota’s fancier sister company debuted the 2013 ES Sedan. Journalists gathered at a rural resort nestled in the woods-line wine country outside Portland for a day of test driving on wriggly country roads.

The ES is built on the frame of Toyota’s luxury sedan, the Avalon. But Lexus ups the ante as you knew they would.

The 2013 model doesn’t have the sweeping, tapered body shape of the GS, but it shares the new, sporty grill found on the Super Bowl star. The overall visual design is not a huge step forward for Lexus, however. The GS changed the game a big and offered a much more aggressive look to the automaker’s line. But the ES bares that more traditional, mild-mannered and smoothly polished aesthetic from Lexus of old.

But, it doesn’t drive like an older Lexus. I took it on a mountain path that offered views of both Mount Hood and the cratered Mount St. Helens – biting off every apex at speed with confidence.  With a 3.5 liter V6 generating 306 horsepower, I found the car’s acceleration to be a pleasant surprise. Maybe buyers of this $38,000 sedan (give or take, based on options – not outrageous for a Lexus) will never push it as hard as I did, but it’s good to know the capability is there.

When the two lane highway demanded braking, I was able to both stab the brakes and ride them hard without loss of front or rear control. An extended wheel base and larger wheel than previous models both do their part.

Inside, the ES offers all of the refinements found in the year’s GS model. The wide multi-function dashboard monitor (for GPS, radio function, climate control, etc.) is raised up to easy eye level. It can be controlled via voice or by the flat joystick control found in the central column. Some reviewers hate that mouse for reasons unclear to me. I’d much rather guide a cursor quickly and easy from a position near the steering wheel – rather than have to lean forward and punch my way through menus.

I suppose it was unavoidable, so this is the first year the ES comes available in a hybrid model. The ES 300h carries a 2.5 liter, four cylinder engine aided by an electric motor. It’s a very similar set-up found in everything from the Camry hybrid to the Lexus 200h to the GS hybrid. The mated version will feature a purely electric mode allowing the driver to cruise around 20 mph for emergency travel if the gas have up the ghost.

I took the h version out on a similar run and found it adequate, but not as much fun as the gas version. I hit that proverbial wall again as I am not the best test driver to tackle a hybrid model. I tend to push the vehicle past the electric aid’s ability – rendering the vehicle just  gas machine. I’m sure I’ll pay for that misbehavior karmically someday.

Once you get passed its understated look, the 2013 ES can get out there and run. Here’s hoping some of its buyers learn that first hand.