First Look: 2013 Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h

The ES may not be the most exciting Lexus, but it's one of the most successful. In 2011, the ES was the brand's second-best seller right behind the popular RX crossover, with some 40,873 ES sedans sold compared to just 29,669 for the more exciting IS. Not surprisingly, the updated 2013 Lexus ES making its world debut at the 2012 New York auto show doesn't veer far from its successful formula of offering customers a value-packed, comfortable luxury sedan.

As expected, the 2013 ES gets a take on the new Lexus spindle grille and front fascia the first seen on the updated GS. The bold new look includes larger headlights that incorporate L-shaped LED daytime running lamps along the lower edge. The side profile isn't particularly groundbreaking, although the hair-thin door panel gaps demonstrate the impressive build quality that's become a Lexus hallmark. Taillights also mimic the new GS, while the lower bumper is much more visually interesting compared to the previous model thanks to the subtle L-finesse design cues.

The biggest news for the ES is that first time ever the sedan will be offered with a hybrid powertrain in the form of the 2013 Lexus ES 300h. Lexus says the 300h will feature a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine aided by an electric motor mated to a continuously variable transmission. Power figures aren't available yet, but expect numbers similar to the new Camry Hybrid's 200-hp combined output, which employs a similar setup. Lexus estimates the ES 300h should hit 40 mpg combined city/highway. Drivers will be able to select four modes: Normal, Sport, Eco, and an EV setting that allows for short drives at reduced speed powered only by the battery pack.

As for the gas-powered 2013 ES 350, it will continue to be powered by an updated version of Toyota's 3.5-liter V-6 (in the GS the massaged engine outputs 306-hp/277-lb-ft) driving the front wheels via a six-speed automatic. The automaker claims the ES has been engineered with more precise handling and a smoother ride thanks to a stiffer body, new steering ratios, and revised suspension geometry and hardware. The ES will come standard with 17-inch wheels, with 18s available for the first time as an option.

Speaking of the wheels, Lexus has stretched the wheelbase by 1.8 inches, with overall length growing an inch to 192.7. Thanks to these small gains, passengers can stretch out their legs a bit more with 2.8 inches more knee room and 0.6 inches more leg room.

The interior features a simple, yet modern take on a design we first saw in the GS. The teardrop-shaped center stack in the previous ES gives way to a horizontal, multi-layered layout. The infotainment screen is larger and sits higher up on the dashboard. Just below HVAC vents flank an analog clock, followed by the audio and climate controls. The infotainment system can be controlled with the Lexus Remote Touch Interface (RTI), which is essentially a joystick with haptic feedback located to the right of the gearshift gate. Bluetooth, USB/iPod connectivity, and an eight-speaker sound system are standard. Navigation is optional as is the Display Audio package, which includes a seven-inch screen, HD Radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, and vehicle information display. A 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system with an even larger eight-inch display screen is also available.

The 2013 ES will come standard with NuLuxe seating surfaces, an environmentally friendly material that also offered in the CT 200h hybrid hatchback. Genuine and semi-aniline leather are available. Interior colors include black, light gray, and parchment, while accents choices include piano black, espresso Bird's eye maple, and bamboo. Optional interior upgrades include a power rear sun shade, manual sun shades for the rear windows, and ambient lighting. Lexus has added more sound deadening material, which should ensure a library-quiet ride to please Lexus loyalists.

As for safety, the 2013 ES will come standard with Whiplash Injury Lessening (WIL) front seats and 10 airbags for front, side, curtain, and front passenger knee protection. Also standard is a one-year trial of Lexus Safety Connect, which includes roadside assistance, emergency assistance, collision notification, and stolen vehicle location. Optional safety items included a blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, lane departure alert, an automatic high beam system, and a radar-based pre-collision alert system.

An on-sale date and pricing have yet to be announced, but expect a base price of about $38,000 including destination, which is slightly higher than the current MSRP of the 2012 ES 350.

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