JOHANNESBURG – As a large sedan employing a hybrid powertrain, the Lexus ES300h EX represents a niche within a niche in South Africa. And with the wider market increasingly favouring crossovers, that means this saloon is facing as tough a time as ever.

Indeed, if you’re looking for a front-driven executive sedan with a hybrid powertrain, you don’t have any other option in South Africa (globally, of course, such variants exist, including in the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima line-ups).

Despite the ES range achieving modest average monthly sales locally (around 17 units a month based on the past six months), Lexus South Africa is pressing on by adding a new trim level: this ES300h EX slots in below the current ES300h SE flagship but above the non-hybrid ES250 EX.

Priced at R774 300 (that's some R136 600 less than the range-topping SE), the EX sacrifices luxuries such as the 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system and does without some driver assistance features, including adaptive cruise control, front collision detection and lane-keep and blindspot assist, among other amenities.

But it features the same 131 kW/221 N.m 2,5-litre four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels. Combined with the battery pack, the total power output peaks at 160 kW. Although that’s a figure just nine units shy of the outgoing Golf GTI, the ES300h is not a car that begs to be driven hard. In fact, my experience behind the wheel turned out to be largely soothing.

During highway driving, though, I found the ES300h's power delivery a little slow, likely thanks to car’s mass and transmission. The eCVT has, of course, been set up to favour comfort over performance, which works well in urban settings but less so on highways when brisk acceleration is required to merge or overtake.

Still, from the bustling roads of Sandton to long stretches of the N1, the ES300h proves to be a calm and collected chariot. It boasts impressive levels of refinement and a ride that’s neither too rigid nor too floaty (thanks in part to that rear wishbone suspension setup). This, of course, combined with the fact it’s front-wheel driven, detracts from the sedan's dynamic ability somewhat but that certainly isn't cause for concern for the average ES buyer.

More importantly, the saloon's hybrid system noticeably improves overall fuel consumption, helping us achieve an indicated figure of 5,6 L/100 km over the day's 300 km route (despite the vehicle carrying four people, with its luggage compartment fully loaded).

There's no denying the market for a hybrid sedan in South Africa is tiny, with many buyers instead opting for more conventional German sedans (or, indeed, crossovers). But if you have your eye on the ES, slipping in behind the wheel of this new variant will feel like money well spent. You'll get comfort, refinement, luxury and even a dash of exclusivity...



FAST FACTS

Model: Lexus ES300h EX
Price: R774 300
Engine: 2,5-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power:  160 kW
Torque:  221 N.m +e
0-100 km/h: 8,9 seconds
Top Speed:  180 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 4,6 L/100 km
CO2: 180 g/km
Transmission: eCVT
Maintenance Plan: 7-year/105 000 km

See Full Lexus ES price and specs here