It might look boring, but in this segment, a dramatic exterior isn't a selling point.

2014 Lexus ES 300h

Camry, by Lexus.

By: Andrew Krok

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: January 9th, 2014

We'll get this out of the way first: Yes, the 2014 Lexus ES 300h is basically a tarted-up Toyota Camry Hybrid. It uses the same hybrid drivetrain, including the CVT. It sticks to roughly the same physical proportions, and they have somewhat similar body lines, as well. You even get the same drive-mode choices as the Camry - Eco, Normal, and Sport.

Of course, in typical Lexus fashion, there's a heavy smack of luxury that really separates the ES 300h from its sibling. Many of the interior bits feel just as premium as the flagship LS 460's trimmings, despite this car's starting price of just under 40 large.

There's no mistaking that this car is angled at the older set, and that's no more evident in its options. If you buy the bare-bones ES 300h, that's exactly what you get - the bones, bare. You can option it out either piecemeal (as our tester was) or in packages, but if you choose to tack nothing on, you get no backup camera, no heated seats, and a manually-adjustable tilt-and-telescope steering wheel. A small handful of appointments keep the price below $45,000, not bad for an entry-level luxury sedan with almost too much rear legroom.

  • Interior

    This is the ES 300h's greatest differentiation from its Camry underpinnings. The layout is quite posh, with thin strips of wood trim slicing through leatherette-trimmed dash pieces. As with other cars under the same marque, there are far more controls relegated to buttons than to infotainment menus, which will earn points with the older set. There's ample space in the rear for fully-grown adults, and while some of the trunk space is lost to the hybrid system's electrical components, it's still large enough for three or more golf bags, or a household's worth of groceries.

  • Exterior

    It's unmistakably Lexus. The tail lights flow onto the side of the car, and there's that giant bowtie-shaped grill out front. The grill's overhang gives the car a look bordering on ornithological, but only from certain angles. The shape is vaguely reminiscent of the Camry Hybrid off which the ES's drivetrain is based, but the lower roofline makes the car look more streamlined and less boxy. That said, there really isn't a whole lot to look at - the car wasn't built to stand out.

  • On the Road

    At first, I had to wonder whether or not this car came with air suspension, because the around-town driving felt like it took place on a cloud. The car just soaks up bumps and undulations in the pavement, and it does so nearly silently. Thankfully, it's not so soft that you can't tell what's going on, otherwise Sport mode would be a total nightmare for handling; Toyota struck a good balance between comfort and agility.

    Eco mode can be frustrating at times, especially with the level of gas-pedal resistance applied to the system, but it's truly the best for fuel-sipping. Even slipping the drive mode into Normal gives you a gas pedal that's all too eager to throw you past the "Eco" level of acceleration and into the "Power" segment.

    However, if you want the car to feel like it's capable of accelerating at more than a snail's pace, Normal is just fine and dandy. Sport, on the other hand, seems to tighten up the throttle response in a way that will do little more than waste gas - you're not about to be thrashing around in a full-size sedan with 200 horsepower going through the front wheels.

    The ES 300h does its best when it's being driven with efficiency (read: slowly). The steering is incredibly light but not completely disconnected from the driving experience - it personally reminded me of my great aunt's old Buick, which required about 15 rotations of the wheel to hit full lock. When you're just putting around town and want a nice, compliant ride, you'll have a hard time finding something that beats the ES.

  • Final Thoughts

    It hits all its appropriate points - it's luxurious, it's dormouse quiet, it's efficient. Yeah, Sport mode really didn't do much for this author, but bear in mind, most owners will likely leave the ES in Eco or Normal, so it has its purpose as more of a novelty than anything. Once you add a couple cold-weather-mandatory items, such as heated seats, you have all-weather entry-level luxury at an aggressive price point. It's not for everybody, but it's not supposed to be.

  • Specs & Price

    Engine: 2.5-liter naturally-aspirated I-4 with 1.6-kWh nickel-metal hydride battery pack

    Transmission: Continuously-variable

    Power Output: 200 hp (net)

    Fuel Economy: 40 city / 39 highway

    Base Price: $39,350

    As Tested: $43,800 (not incl. $910 destination)

    Optional Features: Power-seat memory, power tilt-and-telescope steering column, remote-linked seat-position memory, backup camera, navigation system with center-console controller, eight-speaker audio system, heated steering wheel, heated and/or ventilated front seats, blind-spot monitor, parking sensors, HID headlights, rain-sensing wipers, power rear sunshade, panoramic glass roof, ambient interior lighting, power trunk open/close, manual rear-door sunshades, remote engine starter

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