Lexus USA vice president and general manager Mark Templin took the wraps off the ES350 and ES300h hybrid models at the 2012 New York auto show, and confirmed right-hand-drive variants would go into production “later next year”.
The announcement is welcome news for local fans of the entry-luxury mid-sizer. Just last week, Lexus Australia’s Peter Evans told CarAdvice the brand would “strongly support a business case to bring the model to Australia, if and when it is produced as a right-hand drive vehicle”.
The ES nameplate has not featured in Lexus Australia’s line-up since 2006. At the time, the fourth-generation model was a slow seller locally, and was widely criticised for being too similar to the Toyota Camry on which it was based. The subsequent fifth-generation model was only produced in left-hand drive, forcing its exit from the local marketplace.
If the ES is confirmed for a return to Australia, it would be expected to be positioned between the IS and GS lines.
Templin believes there will be no quality concerns about the sixth-generation ES, however, insisting that it can go “toe-to-toe with cars in more expensive segments”, specifically picking out the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which he says is the same size as the ES but offers less interior space.
The ES350 will be powered by a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission that sends power to the front wheels. The ES300h gets a hybrid system with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor – likely to be similar to the powertrain found in the new Toyota Camry Hybrid.
Lexus is yet to reveal powertrain specifications or performance data, but says the ES300h is expected to return combined cycle fuel consumption figures of 5.9 litres per 100km.
Both variants can be driven in Normal, Sport and Eco modes, while the hybrid can also be set to EV mode for short, battery-powered stints.
The signature Lexus spindle grille takes pride of place at the front along with standard daytime running lights, while the ES350 gets sporty dual exhausts at the rear.
Lexus focused on creating a classier cabin for the new ES, and has achieved that through the use of soft-touch plastics, numerous colours and textures, and new technology features.
The ES inherits the second-generation Remote Touch Interface system from the new GS to aid operation of climate, audio, phone and navigation controls.
The ES is also equipped with 10 airbags as standard and can be optioned with rear cross traffic alert, lane departure alert and pre-collision system.
With the reintroduction of right-hand drive production, Templin says ES is now “an important global vehicle for Lexus [that] will contribute greatly to the expansion of our brand in both mature and emerging markets all over the world”.