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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Is this the most important hybrid ever to be sold in the UAE?

The new Lexus ES represents big news for drivers and passengers alike

Seven of my past 10 trips in either a Careem or Uber car in the UAE were provided by drivers in a Lexus ES. Almost three decades on from the model’s birth, it remains a popular purchase, with a total of more than 20,000 sold here to date. It’s safe to say that there are a fair few of them on the tarmac in these parts. Thanks to its status as a luxury-fleet staple, even if you don’t drive, you have probably only spent more time in Toyota Camrys, the country’s chief taxi model of choice. So even though it might not appear to be the most eye-opening of four-wheeled propositions, the unveiling of the latest, seventh-­generation ES, built on a new chassis, is actually more of an event than most cars sold here.

The headline news, though, is that with a hybrid variant for the first time in the Emirates, it is one of the most important dual-power-train vehicles ever to be launched in these parts, from a carmaker that has already sold a million hybrids globally. The 2019 ES 300h becomes the sixth Lexus hybrid in our market, a strategy that the Japanese company says is in co-ordination with the UAE’s Vision 2021 environmental goals.

Lexus will continue those values in to the next decade: by 2025, every one of its models will be either electric or have an electrified option. It follows, then, that the most notable statistics of the new ES aren’t based on performance and raw speed – although for the first time, there is an E350 F-Sport variant. The hybrid has a claimed fuel economy of 4.1 litres per 100 kilometres, which Lexus says is 100 per cent better than the ES’s equivalent petrol engine. That is only a mite less efficient than hybrid bestseller the Toyota Prius's current figure of 3.8L per 100km, which is an impressive comparison for a much larger, more luxurious car. That this equates to a maximum full-tank range of 1,205km, which would get you from Abu Dhabi to Kuwait with some petrol to spare.

The looks aren’t going to have any supercar buyers binning their Ferraris, but with a lower, wider stance, and Lexus’s trademark grille devouring half of the ES’s snout, it does wield a certain classy modernity. It is 65 millimetres longer than the outgoing ES, which allows for a longer wheelbase, pushing the wheels farther towards the car’s four corners and creating more interior space.

Comfort is high on the agenda, and if the ventilated seats and an array of toys from the front seem the height of such cosseting, wait until you clamber into the back – from where most of us will probably experience the car. With fold-down central armrest in place, the two main back (reclinable) seats are supremely luxurious and, frankly, almost as comfortable as sitting in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the benchmark for luxury limos.

Depending on your personal passenger position in the ES, the stereo controls on the rear armrest have the potential to facilitate hours of journey-­softening fun/cause future minor mental breakdowns for parents and/or Uber drivers.

Back up front, the driving position is designed to, Lexus says, reduce eyeball movement, which it has identified as a major cause of driver fatigue. The cabin insulation is carefully curated, too, aiming to allow in enough noise to avoid morgue-level quietness, yet also shield occupants from the majority of road roar.

There are multiple driver aids, including but not limited to a pre-crash system with pedestrian detection that intervenes if it senses danger of a collision, lane-departure warnings, adaptive cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert. The upshot of all that is that you find yourself as relaxed as is humanly possible on the UAE’s roads, and rarely feel the need to do anything beyond sedately cruising around. Selecting the Sport setting can wake the ES from its relative slumber, but Eco and full EV mode return the best economy.

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Will anything irk you out of this state of motoring bliss? Well, the EV mode poleaxes the idea of electric acceleration – it reverts to hybrid power should you hit the right-hand pedal too hard. And while in the Dh250,000 ES 300h Platinum that I am driving, the expansive 12.3-inch multimedia display is a delight to look at, inset with real-life analogue clock, the navigation touchpad is tricky.

If you are buying an ES for your own use, the F-Sport is undoubtedly the most fun-catalysing option, with suspension similar to the swish LC coupe, spoilered-up and with manly interior trim inspired by traditional Japanese swords. Both that and the regular petrol ES 350 are powered by 3.5-litre V6s with 300hp, as opposed to the 2.5-litre unit in the ES 300h (the latter is the same size as the Dh195,000 entry-level ES 250) with a combined 215hp.

But Lexus has plenty of other models should you want to indulge the speedier side of life on the road. As the third vehicle in the carmaker’s self-proclaimed “Future Chapter”, following in the tyre marks of the LC coupe and LS saloon, the new ES seems set to contribute the most towards actually safeguarding that future. It won’t get your pulse racing above resting pace, but it will definitely help to keep the world from experiencing an imminent environmental cardiac arrest.