I hinted at it earlier, but now I’ll just come right out and say it: I vastly prefer the Lexus ES300h and its hybrid powertrain over the ES350′s gasoline V6. I’ll remit my autojournalist credentials to the authorities post-haste.
While it’s usually not “cool” for automotive journalists to make such a pronouncement, my reason for preferring the hybrid is simple: Fuel economy vs. usability.
While the ES350′s engine was more powerful, I found no occasion that demanded the 3.5-liter V6′s full 268-horsepower grunt during our week-long test of the car. The ES300h’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder mated with the hybrid powertrain made 200 horsepower– admittedly, I didn’t have an occasion that demanded 200 horses be turned loose, either– but offered way better fuel economy. Whereas the ES350 struggled to break 25 MPG on my commute of mostly sub-55 MPH highways, the ES300h made full use of those hybrid components to deliver a 38.3-MPG week, and I didn’t even have to try that hard to hit that number.
In fact, I did my best to ruin my fuel economy on the last day of the test week, spending most of my time running around in “Sport” mode and driving like a bank VP late for a loan closing. The “Sport” mode increases throttle and transmission response at the expense of economy. Driven in “Eco” mode with a prudent right foot earlier in the test week, I was able to set a one-day record of 43 MPG, according to the on-board fuel economy tracker that was part of the car’s Enform infotainment and telematics system.
Another cool thing to consider is how the hybrid drive system removes nearly all the guilt from using drive-thru service. As a devout fuel miser in my daily drivers, I’ve always made it a practice to park the vehicle and go in the building, whether I’m at the bank or the local burger joint, to avoid needless idling of the engine that lowers fuel economy numbers. The hybrid powertrain of the ES300h would kick over to EV mode almost as soon as I stopped in a drive-through or pulled into a low-speed parking lot. After commuting in my Magnaflow’d Ford Ranger the last couple of months, a couple of coworkers at the newspaper said the ES300h made it impossible to know when I pulled into the parking lot next to our metal building– something they knew almost instantly when I would back into my space next to the building and rattle the walls with my truck exhaust. Thank that EV mode for the stealthiness.
Looking at the build sheets of both the ES350 and the ES300h, the price difference is minimal. Our ES350 had the same $2,625 infotainment system as the ES300h. Both had light-colored leather interior with wood trim and a sunroof. Option-by-option, the Monroney labels read the same except for the wheels, where our ES350 had 18-inch aluminum rims and the ES300h had 17-inchers.
Here’s the part that makes me say unequivocally I would choose the hybrid over the ES350: The hybrid cost just $840 more when so similarly equipped. At its significant fuel savings on my commute, that optional powertrain would quickly pay for itself– and in some ways is a lot more pleasant to live with day-to-day. Unlike a lot of hybrid specialty models, it makes financial sense to spring for the hybrid in this case if comparing it against its non-hybrid sister. And we all know the Lexus ES is popular among folks who dig finances.
Disclosure: Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas– which, try as I might, I could not consume more than half of during my test week.