Audi A4 2021 review
The new Audi A4 ups both the style and the substance on the model it replaces, but the battle for the premium shopper's dollar has never been more heated. Has it done enough to lure buyers from Benz and BMW? Let's find out.
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It may be shrinking but sizable fish still swim in the mid-size luxury sedan pool, with the German ‘Big Three’ (Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class) joined by the likes of Alfa's Giulia, the Jaguar XE, Volvo S60, and... the Lexus ES.
Once the brand's low-key, relatively conservative option, in its seventh-generation the ES blossomed into a full-blown design showpiece. And now it's received a mid-life update with an additional engine choice, upgraded tech, and a refreshed look inside and out.
Has Lexus done enough to bump the ES up the premium sedan ladder? We joined the local launch drive to find out.
The existing ES 300h (the ‘h’ denoting hybrid) is now joined by a non-hybrid model using the same petrol engine, tuned specifically to run without the support of an electric motor.
The pre-update, hybrid-only ES line-up spanned six model variations across a roughly $15K price spread from the ES 300h Luxury ($62,525) to the ES 300h Sports Luxury ($77,000).
Now there are five models with an ‘Enhancement Pack’ (EP) available on three of them, for an effective range of eight grades. Again, it's a $15K spread, stretching from the ES 250 Luxury ($61,620, before on-road costs) to the ES 300h Sports Luxury ($76,530).
Let's kick-off with the ES 250 Luxury. Aside from the safety and powertrain tech covered later in the review, the ‘entry-level’ grade is loaded with standard features including, 10-way power-adjustable and heated front seats, dual-zone climate control air, active cruise control, a new 12.3-inch multimedia touchscreen, satellite navigation (with voice control), keyless entry and start, 17-inch alloy wheels, a glass sunroof, auto rain-sensing wipers, plus 10-speaker audio with digital radio, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The steering wheel and gearshift are leather-trimmed, while the seat trim is synthetic leather.
An Enhancement Pack adds wireless phone charging, privacy glass, a colour head-up display, and $1500 to the price tag (total $63,120).
The next rung up the price ladder brings the hybrid powertrain into play, so the ES 300h Luxury ($63,550) retains all the features of the ES 250 Luxury EP and adds a rear spoiler and power adjustable steering column.
Opting for the ES 300h Luxury EP then adds a power boot lid (with kick sensor), leather-accented trim, 18-inch rims, panoramic view monitor (overhead and 360-degree), 14-way power driver's seat (with memory settings), ventilated front seats, side blinds and a power rear sunshade, as well as $8260 to the price (total $71,810).
Next, as the name implies, two ES F Sport models dial up the performance personality.
The ES 250 F Sport ($70,860) retains the features of the ES 300h Luxury EP (except side blinds) while adding LED headlights with adaptive high-beam, a ‘wire-mesh’ grille, sports body kit, 19-inch wheels, performance dampers, an 8.0-inch driver display, alloy interior accents and grippier F Sport seats.
Stump up for the ES 300h F Sport ($72,930) and you'll ride on an adaptive suspension system with two driver-selectable settings, Go one step further and select the ES 300h F Sport EP ($76,530) and you'll also be cranking up a 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system and warming your hands on a heated steering wheel.
Then, the top-of-the ES pyramid, the 300h Sports Luxury ($78,180), puts it all on the table adding top-shelf semi-aniline leather-accented trim, power adjustable, reclining, and heated rear outboard seats, tri-zone climate control, as well as side door blinds and a power rear sunshade. The rear centre armrest also features controls for the sunshade, seat heating (and angle), as well as audio and climate settings.
That's a lot to take in, so here's a table to help clarify the model walk-up. But suffice it to say this ES maintains Lexus’ reputation for value, testing its competitors in the luxury sedan space.
|Lexus ES 2022 pricing|
|ES 250 Luxury||$61,620|
|ES 250 Luxury with Enhancement Pack||$63,120|
|ES 300h Luxury||$63,550|
|ES 300h Luxury with Enhancement Pack||$71,810|
|ES 250 F Sport||$70,860|
|ES 300h F Sport||$72,930|
|ES 300h F Sport with Enhancement Pack||$76,530|
|ES 300h Sports Luxury||$78,180|
From shy wallflower to life of the party, the Lexus ES was given a comprehensive design makeover for its seventh generation.
A dramatic, angular exterior incorporates signature elements of the Lexus brand's distinctive design language including an unmissable ‘spindle grille’, but is still clearly recognisable as a conventional 'three-box’ sedan.
The jagged headlights now feature ‘tri-beam’ LEDs on F Sport and Sports Luxury grades, adding an extra air of purpose to an already bold face. And the grille on Luxury and Sports Luxury models is now made up of multiple L-shaped elements, mirrored across the top and bottom sections, then finished in gunmetal grey for a close to 3D effect.
The ES is offered in 10 colours - ‘Sonic Iridium’, ‘Sonic Chrome’, ‘Sonic Quartz’, ‘Onyx’, ‘Graphite Black’, ‘Titanium’, ‘Glacial Ecru’, ‘Radiata Green’, ‘Vermillion’ and ‘Deep Blue’ with two other shades reserved for the F Sport only - ‘White Nova’ and ‘Cobalt Mica.’
Inside, the dash is a mix of simple sweeping surfaces contrasted by a flurry of activity around the centre stack and instrument cluster.
Located roughly 10cm closer to the driver, the new multimedia screen is a 12.3-inch unit with touch functionality, a welcome alternative to the laggy and inaccurate Lexus ‘Remote Touch’ trackpad set-up. Remote Touch remains, but my advice is to ignore it and use the touchscreen.
The instruments sit in a deeply hooded binnacle with buttons and dials on and around it. Not the sleekest design in the segment and passable only from an ergonomic point-of-view, but the overall feel is suitably premium.
An overall length just under 5.0m long shows how much the ES and its competitors have crept up in size over recent generations. The Merc C-Class is more a mid-size car than the compact sedan it once was, and at nearly 1.9m wide and standing a bit over 1.4m tall the ES more than matches it for space.
There's plenty of room up front, the car feeling open and spacious from behind the wheel, thanks in part to the low sweep of the dash. And the rear is just as commodious.
Sitting behind the driver's seat set for my 183cm (6'0”) position I enjoyed good leg and toe room, with more than enough headroom, despite inclusion of a tilt and slide glass sunroof on all models.
Not only that, entry to and egress from the rear is a breeze thanks to a large aperture and wide opening doors. And while the back seat is best for two, three adults across is do-able without too much pain and suffering for short to medium journeys.
Connectivity and power options are plentiful with twin USB ports and a 12-volt socket front and rear. And storage starts with two cupholders in the front centre console, and another pair in the fold-down rear centre armrest.
If the remote touch system was (deservedly) given the boot, there would be room for extra oddments space in the front console.
The front door pockets are adequate rather than large (smaller bottles only), the glove box is modest, but the storage box (with padded armrest lid) between the front seats is more generous.
There are adjustable air vents for rear passengers, which you'd expect in this category, but are always a plus none-the-less.
The rear door pockets are okay, except the opening is relatively slim so bottles are a struggle, but there are map pockets on the back of both front seats as another bottle option.
Important to note that while boot space is decent at 454 litres (VDA) the rear seat doesn't fold. At all. A lockable ski port door sits behind the rear armrest, but the lack of a split-folding back seat is a significant practicality compromise.
A reasonably high loading lip into the boot isn't great, either, but there are tie-down hooks to help secure loose loads.
The Lexus ES is a no-tow zone and a space-saver spare is your only flat tyre option.
The ES 250 is powered by an all-alloy, 2.5-litre, naturally aspirated (A25A-FKS) four-cylinder engine featuring DVVT (Dual Variable Valve Timing) - electrically actuated on the intake side, and hydraulically on the exhaust side. It also uses a combination of direct and multi-point fuel-injection (D-4S).
Maximum power is a handy 152kW at 6600rpm and peak torque of 243Nm is available between 4000-5000rpm, with drive going to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The 300h features a modified (A25A-FXS) version of the same engine using the Atkinson combustion cycle which plays with valve timing to effectively shorten the intake stroke and lengthen the expansion stroke.
The down-side of this set-up is a loss of low-end power, while the up-side is improved fuel efficiency. Which makes it perfect for a hybrid application where an electric motor can make up for the low-end shortfall.
Here, the result is a combined output of 160kW, with the petrol engine producing its peak power (131kW) at 5700rpm.
The 300h's motor is a permanent magnet synchronous type producing 88kW/202Nm, and the battery is a 204-cell nickel-metal hydride type with a capacity of 244.8 volts.
Drive again goes to the front wheels, this time via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Hyundai's official fuel economy figure for the ES 250, on the ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban cycle, is 6.6L/100km for the Luxury and 6.8L/100km for the F-Sport, the 2.5-litre four emitting 150 and 156g/km of C02 (respectively) in the process.
The official combined cycle fuel economy figure for the ES 350h, is just 4.8L/100km, the hybrid powertrain emitting only 109g/km of C02.
While the launch program didn't allow us to capture real-world (at the bowser) figures we did see a dash-indicated average of 5.5L/100km in the 300h, which is brilliant for a car in this class, weighing in at 1.7 tonnes.
You'll need 60 litres of 95RON premium unleaded to fill ES 250's tank and 50 litres to brim the ES 300h. Using Lexus figures that equates to a range of a little less than 900km in the 250 and just over 1000km in the 350h (900km using our dash-indicated number).
To further sweeten the fuel economy equation Lexus provides an Ampol/Caltex five-cents-per-litre discount as a permanent offer via the Lexus app. Nice.
The Lexus ES scores a maximum five-star ANCAP rating, the car first assessed in 2018, with updates in 2019 and September 2021.
It received high ratings against all four key criteria (adult occupant protection, child occupant protection, vulnerable road user protection, and safety assist systems).
Active crash-avoidance technology on all ES models includes, a pre-collision safety system (Lexus-speak for AEB) active from 10-180km/h, with pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection, dynamic radar cruise control, road sign assist, lane tracing assist, fatigue detection and reminder, tyre pressure monitoring, a reversing camera, as well as rear cross-traffic alert and parking support brake (including an intelligent clearance sonar).
Other features like blind-spot monitoring, adaptive high-beam and a panoramic view monitor are included on F Sport and Sport Luxury grades.
If a crash is unavoidable there are 10 airbags on-board - dual front, driver and front passenger knee, front and rear side airbags and side curtain airbags covering both rows.
There's also an active bonnet to minimise pedestrian impact injuries, and ‘Lexus Connected Services’ includes an SOS call (driver-activated and/or automatic), and stolen vehicle tracking.
For child seats there are top tethers for all three rear positions with ISOFIX anchors on the outer two.
3 years / 100,000 km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
From the time it arrived in the Australian market just over 30 years ago Lexus has made the ownership experience a key differentiator for the brand.
Its focus on post-purchase benefits and ease of servicing shook the established luxury players out of their button-backed leather lounge slumber and into a new aftersales mindset.
That said, the Lexus standard four-year/100,000km warranty is some way off luxury newcomer, Genesis, as well as traditional heavyweights Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, all at five years/unlimited km.
Yes, Audi, BMW and others are at three years/unlimited km, but the game has moved on for them, too. Plus, the mainstream market standard is now five years/unlimited km, with some at seven, even 10 years.
On the other hand, the ‘Lexus Encore Privileges’ program provides 24-hour roadside assistance for the duration of the warranty, as well as, “dining, hotel partnership and luxury lifestyle experience offers exclusive to owners of new Lexus vehicles.”
The Lexus Enform smartphone app also offers access to everything from real-time advice on events and the weather to nav destinations (restaurants, businesses, etc), and more.
Service is scheduled every 12 months/15,000km (whichever comes first), and the first three (capped price) services for the ES are $495 each.
A Lexus loan car is provided while your pride and joy is in the workshop, or a pick-up and return option (from home or office) is available. You'll also receive a complimentary wash and interior vacuum.
The first thing you notice behind the wheel of this ES is how extraordinarily quiet it is. Sound absorption materials are stuffed all around the body. Even the engine cover has been designed to keep the decibels down.
And ‘Active Noise Control’ (ANC) uses the audio system to generate “noise-cancelling waves” to suppress mechanical clatter from the engine and transmission. The car is eerily EV-like in it's pin-drop interior tranquility.
We focused on the ES 300h for the launch drive, and Lexus claims 0-100km/h 8.9sec for this version of the car. It feels every bit that quick, but the engine ‘noise’ and exhaust note are like the humming of a distant bee hive. With thanks to Daryl Kerrigan, how's the serenity?
Around town the ES is composed and supple, absorbing pock-marked urban irregularities with ease, and on the freeway it feels like a hovercraft.
Lexus makes a lot of noise about the torsional stiffness of the ‘Global Architecture-K’ (GA-K) platform sitting under the ES, and it's clearly more than hot air. Through twisting B-roads it remains balanced and predictable.
Even in non-F-Sport variants the car points nicely and will steer accurately on the throttle through constant radius corners, with only modest body roll. The ES doesn't feel like a front-wheel drive car, with neutral handling up to an impressively high limit.
Luxury and Sports Luxury grades are offered with three drive modes - ‘Normal’, ‘Eco’ and ‘Sport’, tweaking engine and transmission settings for economy or a more spirited drive.
ES 300h F Sport variants add three more modes - ‘Sport S’, ‘Sport S+’ and ‘Custom’, further revising engine, steering, suspension and transmission characteristics.
Despite all the tuning options, road feel is not the ES's strongest suit. Dialing in sportier modes will add steering weight but no matter what the setting, the connection between the front wheels and the driver's hands is less than intimate.
The CVT auto suffers some of that disconnect between road speed and revs, the engine moving up and down the rev range in search of the power/efficiency sweet spot. But wheel-mounted paddles allow for manual shifting through pre-set ‘ratio’ points, and that option works nicely if you prefer to take the reins.
And when it comes to slowing down the ‘Auto Glide Control’ (ACG) system smooths out regenerative braking when you're coasting to a stop.
The conventional brakes are ventilated (305mm) discs at the front and a solid (281mm) rotor set-up at the rear. Pedal feel is progressive and outright stopping power is strong.
Random notes: The front seats are great. Super-comfortable yet neatly bolstered for secure location. The F Sport's chairs, even more so. The new multimedia touchscreen is a winner. It looks good and menu navigation is agreeably straight forward. And the digital instrument cluster is similarly clean and clear.
Since day one Lexus has aimed to prise buyers away from the limpet-like grip of traditional luxury car players. Conventional marketing wisdom says consumers buy brands, with the actual product a secondary consideration.
The updated ES has the value, efficiency, safety, and driving refinement to again challenge the establishment. Amazingly, the ownership package, specifically the warranty, is starting to lag the market.
But for open-minded premium buyers this product is worth a look before following a well-worn brand path. And if it was my money, the ES 300h Luxury with Enhancement Pack is the range sweet spot for value and performance.
|Price and features||9|
|Engine & trans||8|
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