Silver 2013 Lexus ES300h covered in winter schmutz

The Lexus ES lineup, the brand's bread-and-butter sedan, has been completely redone for 2013. With that tip-to-tail rework comes the model's first hybrid. We think the ES350 is better in every way than its predecessor, so a spin in the ES300h is warranted to see what it's like to live with the model sure to become the best-selling Lexus hybrid sedan. In particular, we wanted to see how the gas-electric luxury cruiser handled the battery-sapping realities of winter, so we ventured out into the slush and snow to file this report.

Driving Notes:
  • Peel away the slush, and this car sure is sharp-looking. It strongly resembles the excellent new GS, no bad thing. With the move to the longer Toyota Avalon underpinnings, the ES300h is long and elegant. Lexus has really upped its styling game lately.
  • The Hybrid Synergy Drive system for the ES300h is the same setup you'll find in the Camry Hybrid. That means a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle engine and electric motor that are combined for 200 total horsepower and 40 miles per gallon city, 39 mpg highway. It's a generally well-behaved combo, but the thrum and drone of the four seems kind of unrefined for a Lexus.
  • Usually hybrids feel punchy when you put the spurs to them thanks to the torque characteristics of the electric motors, and the ES300h is only that way to a point. It can feel breathless when trying to merge into traffic, for instance. I often found my foot pressing the accelerator flat to the carpet a lot sooner than expected.
  • Hybrids are generally not great in the snow, with their harder, low-rolling-resistance tire compounds and high-torque electric motors. The ES300h performed admirably in the storm that made our pictures filthy, with power delivery that can be easily modulated to use the available traction. With a set of winter tires, you'd have no worries at all.
  • The trunk is useful, even with the hybrid gear. You get a whole mess of useable space, and the rear seat legroom is enormous, too, thanks to the longer wheelbase the ES now rides on.
  • The interior is quite handsome and well-trimmed, not to mention comfortable. Just like the exterior shows signs of the new mojo working at Lexus, the interior feels luxurious enough to fend off the rest of its competitors. Unfortunately, the tech is a little clunky and there are a whole bunch of cutlines that show how the center console is assembled.
  • There's a Drive Mode selector so you can pick between Normal, Eco or Sport modes. Naturally, Sport is the least annoying mode, acting most like a non-hybrid car. One nice feature is you can customize the instrument cluster to display the tachometer in any mode (among other little personalizations) instead of having to look at the hybrid power meter, that's way less entertaining.
  • Hybrid brakes still feel like they're slowing the car more than they really are, something you realize halfway before a collision.
  • Observed fuel economy was 34 mpg combined. That's in winter, running E10, mostly highway. Not terrible, but given the EPA numbers, you might reasonably expect more.
  • While the ES300h is quiet and refined (and not super-floaty, yay!) most of the time, on the highway, there's more tire noise than you'd expect.