Test Drives

Lexus ES 250 2018 review: Pump up the volume

A new engine and gearbox help to boost efficiency for the ES 250, but do little to add excitement.

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE — Much as we like the ES 300h, it’ll be the ES 250 that becomes the volume seller in Singapore. The main differences are down to the two car’s drivetrains, though the ES 250 doesn’t come with the small boot spoiler that so neatly caps off the rear end of its hybrid sister.

When it comes to how the new ES 250 compares to its predecessor, there’s quite a lot to check out under the bonnet. The 2.5-litre engine is actually an all-new design — the engine block is new, and so are the cylinder head, pistons and crankshaft.

Lexus says it reaches a thermal efficiency of 40 percent. Apparently the way the intake charge swooshes into the cylinders enables a very fast combustion that’s highly efficient. It has a new on-demand cooling system (also to boost efficiency) and the fuel economy claim is a sippy 6.6L/100km.

But what you really care about are other numbers: it’s 23hp more powerful than the last engine, with an 8Nm increase in peak torque.

That’s fairly significant, but perhaps not as significant as the change to the transmission. The ES 250 has an eight-speed auto now; it provides a lower first gear (for better acceleration from standstill) and slightly taller top gear that takes around 300rpm off the engine speed at 100km/h.

How does it all feel? The ES 250’s acceleration is nothing special, especially if you’re used to the 2.0-litre turbo format that’s become ubiquitous among the European brands. The new engine revs smoothly, which is just as well because to make it come alive you have to cane it.

As for its voice, the engine emits quite a low, muted growl. Few four cylinder engines sound nice, anyway, and the ES 250’s is no different.

Things are better with the transmission, though. It shifts gears very smoothly, almost imperceptibly, and yet the torque convertor’s lock-up clutch is programmed to engage as often as possible, for a more direct connection between engine and wheels. Normally, you can either have smooth shifts or a locked-up torque convertor, but not both. Somehow the ES 250 manages it.

The amount of equipment you get with your ES depends more on whether you opt for the Executive or Luxury trim, so the choice between an ES 250 and ES 300h is more about what sort of character you want your Lexus to have. The ES 300h is much more the strong, silent type, while the ES 250 has a laid-back and unexciting character.

The basic fluency inherent to the new ES’s chassis is still there, however, so it’s possible to have a good time behind the wheel of the ES 250. Engines make a car thrilling, but handling makes it satisfying.

Engine 2,487cc, 16V, in-line four
Power 207hp at 6,600rpm
Torque 247Nm at 5,000rpm
Gearbox 8-speed auto
Top Speed 210 km/h
0-100km/h 9.1 seconds (estimated)
Fuel efficiency 6.6L/100km
CEVS Band To be announced
Price To be announced
Agent Borneo Motors
Available November

about the author

Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.