Couple in Car Getting Coffee
July 18, 2013—SoCal is a wonderful place to live. As Tupac (and Albert Hammond) said, “it never rains” in Los Angeles and even if you’ve never been here, as a car person you’ve seen photos of the roads (the non-bumper-to-bumper ones), right? Well, Lexus threw us a keyfob, which frankly felt a bit ‘parts-bin’ and told us to run wild. Unfortunately, Wide Open was supposed to go crazy with their ES300 hybrid. Much like the IS250 we drove recently, there is nothing wrong with the ES but, besides a marked improvement in styling, is there anything truly remarkable about it? Wide Open suspected not. So we just took it to get coffee.
I actually don’t drink coffee but my fiancée, Marcia, does and she’s very particular. She
demands prefers Dunkin Donuts, you see, and there aren’t any DD in California (SoCal's ONLY shortcoming), besides one on a Marine Corps base. She loves the coffee but despite my suggestion, draws the line at enlisting. So we jumped in the ES300h on Saturday morning and went for coffee—in Las Vegas.
Yup, we got on the freeway, let the Bluetooth audio do its thing and prepared for a three and half hour cruise. The seats are comfy and the interior is nice although some of the console material seemed a bit too Toyota and not enough Lexus. The piano black surfaces were a nice detail though and the seats were comfortable if not supportive during transitions.
Speaking of which, the ES leans a tad more than we’d like and seems to be tuned to float rather than absorb. Allow me to explain—during a turn the body leans, yet when rough pavement is encountered the bumps can be quite jarring. Somehow, it seems to be the worst of both worlds: poor handling with lots of body-roll yet bumps are still felt. As expected the steering is extremely light and numb.
The drive to Vegas was uneventful and the car kept us cool through the Mojave Desert in spite of hundred-eight degree temperatures. When we finally arrived in Las Vegas, we exited the freeway and waited at a light when I realized that our lane would be ending shortly after the intersection. I switched the transmission to manu-matic mode, held the steering wheel firmly and prepared to launch hard. But... what? The info display showed the car was in fourth gear. Green light! The Accord Coupe next to us floored the throttle. So did I.
The Lexus didn’t downshift, it accelerated from the stop in fourth, electric motor and gas engine struggling to make power. Needless to say, the Accord won and I merged behind. But what had happened? The ES’ transmission had behaved like a CVT. It’s not that the acceleration was terrible, but why was it staying in top gear (especially when it was in sport mode!). At the next couple of lights, I repeated the “experiment,” much to my fiancée’s chagrin, and the results were the same—the ES300h would just start in fourth gear. Only when I downshifted the transmission myself, did it begin from first.
We pulled into the parking lot and Marcia shouted, “Dunkin [expletive] Donuts!” in exultation. She got her coffee and a small donut and sat in air conditioned, coffee induced bliss while I shot photos and sweated. I was rewarded with Wynn’s buffet: shrimp and crab legs and sushi and ice cream and more shrimp! So full...
After our binge, errr lunch, we got on the road and arrived home just after nightfall. The fact that the car was a hybrid certainly helped our fuel economy. We averaged 33.4 mpg, a far cry from the advertised 40 mpg, but I tend to drive in a spirited manner. In spite of its suspension and pretend CVT, the car is decent and would make a good daily driver as it’s comfortable and marginally luxurious. It would also make a very good long distance car so long as you’re only interested in getting there and not in enjoying the journey.
Obviously when talking about this car, zero-to-sixty times don’t matter. Neither do skidpad nor slalom scores. And it didn’t make us want to keep driving but not every car needs to be an amusement park ride. The ES300h is an unpretentious, entry-level luxury, midsize sedan—it’s an appliance and that’s OK. We wanted coffee and got it. [kiWO]