The Lexus ES gets a bigger cabin, in-vehicle apps, and a hybrid version for 2013.

Lexus’ beginnings are usually associated with the Lexus LS, when, back in 1989, the LS 400 entered the world stage at the Detroit auto show. But it’s important to remember that there was another pillar of luxury on display that day—the first Lexus ES.

Through the years, the model has been refined over five generations, become hugely popular among premium-minded drivers in the U.S. and taking an array of awards for quality and dependability.

All this sets the stage for the latest model, the sixth-generation ES recently unveiled at the 2012 New York International Auto Show—the vehicle is a pinnacle of more than 20 years of Lexus engineering refinement.

First of all, the big news: the ES now comes in both gas and hybrid models. The ES Hybrid, aka the ES 300h, is, of course, equipped with the Lexus Hybrid Drive system—the electric motor is paired with an efficient 2.5-liter, four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine, and the hybrid version is expected to earn a nearly 40 mpg combined EPA rating.[1]

The hybrid’s engine also features a new beltless design, as well as Lexus’ Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i) system, both of which help improve fuel economy.

And then there’s the new body design. Like all new or updated Lexus vehicles, the 2013 ES sports the new spindle grille front end, along with arrowhead-shaped LED daytime running lights and a broad, crouching, ready-for-anything stance.

ES Chief Engineer Toshio Asahi and his team have purposely given the car a more aggressive look, thanks in part to a lower profile; clean, crisp lines from front to rear; and, of course, that spindle-grille front end. Plus, if you look closely at the LED daytime running lamps (and rear combination lamps), you’ll see a distinct “L” motif.

Adding to the vehicle’s athletic look: Asahi lengthened the wheelbase 1.8 inches, gave the rear bumper hidden exhausts, and added a rear spoiler.

As for the body in general, there’s an intriguing extra touch: as you walk around the new ES, it can almost appear like it’s moving, thanks to three-dimensional effects in the bodywork.

Current ES owners, the model’s true experts, will likely first notice the vehicle’s extra space. The model’s overall size adjustments have given the driver and front passenger more footroom, and the rear-space legroom and headroom have been increased.

Just as important is that the vehicle reflects Lexus desire to fuse its models with the “human” element. The switches and buttons are thoughtfully placed to account for how occupants will naturally access them, and the interior has been designed to feel both secure and open.

There’s also added comfort for the driver, thanks to a redesigned seat, plus the steering wheel angle has been reduced from 24 to 22 degrees for a more comfortable control position.

And if you end up taking a test drive, pay close attention to the cabin’s unmistakable quietness—Asahi’s team went to great lengths to reduce interior noise via fluid-filled engine mounts and new sound-insulation and sound-absorbing materials.

In addition to suspension upgrades and a stiffer body, the 2013 ES is made with a new high-tensile-strength steel that reduces the model’s weight by about 90 pounds—all of which noticeably amplify the vehicle’s handling capabilities.

And like other Lexus hybrids, the ES 300h comes with driving modes: Normal mode; EV, for electric only power for short distances at reduced speeds; Eco mode for overall fuel economy; and Sport, which harnesses the vehicle’s more performance-oriented features.

For both the gas and hybrid models, the front and rear suspension have been enhanced, and there’s added bracing and spot welds (an innovation also employed in the new GS), which helps improve straight-line stability and ride comfort.

The 2013 ES also gets several of the high-tech innovations that Lexus has been integrating into the 2013 vehicles, including the available next-generation Lexus Enform[2][3] system, which comes with an in-vehicle app suite[4]—Bing web searching, Facebook Place check-ins, MovieTickets.com, Pandora[5], iHeartRadio, OpenTable.com, and Yelp.

The vehicle also offers Lexus’ HDD Navigation System[6] with voice command and a rear backup camera, both of which are controlled by the available second-generation Remote Touch system—the computer-mouse-like hand controller for operating several vehicle features. There’s also an available navigation package with a 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system that comes with HD Radio with iTunes® tagging, as well as a DVD audio and video player.

Legal Disclaimer

[1] 2013 ES 300h preliminary 39/40/39 mpg (city/highway/combined) estimates determined by Lexus. EPA rating not available at time of publishing. Actual mileage will vary.

[2] Contact with the Lexus Enform® response center is dependent upon the telematics device being in operative condition, cellular connection availability, navigation map data and GPS satellite signal reception, which can limit the ability to reach the response center or receive support. Enrollment and Telematics Subscription Service Agreement required. One-year trial subscription included only with new vehicle purchase of Lexus Enform-equipped vehicles. Additional subscription terms available; charges vary by subscription term selected.

[3] Lexus Enform® premium services Destination Assist and eDestination will function in the contiguous United States and Washington, D.C. These services may also function in Hawaii and limited areas of Alaska for vehicles that contain map data for those states. They will not function outside the United States.

[4] Always be sure to obey traffic regulations, maintain awareness of your surroundings and all road and traffic conditions. Select apps use a large amount of data and you are responsible for all data charges. Apps and services vary by phone and carrier.

[5] Pandora is a registered trademark of Pandora Media, Inc.

[6] Availability and accuracy of the information provided by the Navigation System or any SiriusXM services mentioned (if installed) are dependent upon many factors. Use common sense when relying on information provided. Services not available in every city or roadway. Periodic Navigation updates available at additional cost. Please see your Navigation System Owner’s Manual or contact SiriusXM for details.

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