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Late last year, I had the chance to pilot the 2014 Lexus ES 350. In my review I said that while the new ES is a noticeable improvement over the old one, competitors such as the Buick LaCrosse have surpassed it. But Lexus has an possible ace up their sleeve and it happens to be the hybrid version of ES. Not many competitors offer a fuel efficient version, so does it give the ES an edge?

 

What differentiates the ES 300h from the ES 350? Not much from the exterior aside from blue tint on the badge, hybrid badges on the door sills, and the"h" on the rear badge. The interior is the same aside from a new instrument cluster with an eco/power gauge and a EV mode button. One item I do have to call out on the ES 300h’s interior is the optional Bamboo trim. Not only is it sharp looking, but adds a nice touch of class to the interior.

 

Power comes from Lexus’ Hybrid Drive system which pairs a 2.0L four-cylinder and a electric motor producing a total output of 200 horsepower. A CVT sends power to the front wheels. This powertrain seems more attune the ES’ mission of providing a smooth and quiet ride. The powertrain is able to get the vehicle moving without much stress or noise in city traffic. Merging onto freeway or trying to make a pass does reveal some noisy clatter from the engine. The CVT doesn’t help matters as the drone that plagues many CVTs when you push further down on the accelerator pedal comes in. Fuel economy for the ES 300h is rated 40 City/39 Highway/40 Combined. My week saw an average of 37 MPG. This was slightly disappointing, but at the time I was driving the ES Hybrid, temps were below freezing which would explain the drop.

 

As for ride and handling, the ES 300h follows in the footsteps of the standard ES 350. The suspension provides a smooth ride. Any imperfections on the road are dealt with and don’t make they way into the cabin. Also not making an appearance inside the cabin is road and wind noise, Thanks to thicker windows and added insulation, the ES is a very quiet car. Helping matters is one of the smoothest transitions from hybrid power to electric power. The only way to know that the hybrid system has kicked on or off is a EV Mode light in the instrument cluster. If your planning to tackle the winding roads, then leave the ES Hybrid at home. Like the standard ES, the hybrid shows a bit of body roll and steering doesn’t have any sign of feel.

 

If I was considering an ES, I would go for the 300h since it fits the ideals of the model - a quiet and comfortable ride paired with a somewhat upscale cabin. Add in the fuel economy and the ES 300h might be a compelling choice for those who just want something luxurious. But for almost the same price as this ES 300h, you can get into a fully loaded Toyota Avalon Hybrid which offers most of the same features as the ES, along with a much better look and a more sporty drive if you are interested in that. So while the ES 300h does give a slight edge to ES, it gets undercut by another member of the family.

 

Disclaimer: Lexus Provided the ES300h, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas

 

 

Year: 2015
Make: ES
Model: 300h
Trim: N/A
Engine: 2.5L DOHC, 16-Valve with VVT-i Four-Cylinder, Electric Motor
Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, CVT
Horsepower @ RPM: (Gas) 156 @ 5,700, (Total) 200
Torque @ RPM: (Gas) 156 @ 4,500
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 40/39/40
Curb Weight: 3,660 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Miyawaka, Fukuoka
Base Price: $40,430
As Tested Price: $46,995 (Includes $925.00 Destination Charge)

 

Options:
Hard Disk Drive Navigation system with Backup Camera - $1,795
Luxury Package - $1,370
HID Headlamps - $565.00
Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert - $500.00
Intuitive Parking Assist - $500.00
Power Trunk Closer - $400.00
Bamboo & Leather Trimmed Steering Wheel - $300.00
Power Rear Sunshade - $210.00


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Interesting, sounds like a tad better than the ES350 but not by much.Such a bland exterior / Interior even with the wood accents, still looks 1980's to me.

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Interesting, sounds like a tad better than the ES350 but not by much.Such a bland exterior / Interior even with the wood accents, still looks 1980's to me.

Nice review.  We don't see a lot of Lexus around here (or any luxury brands other than  Cadillac and Lincoln), so it's nice to now how some of them compare to non luxury options like the Avalon, too.  I'm not going to lie, this sounds like a great tool to help me sell an Avalon if it is equal to or better than it's luxury sibling.  Unfortunately we just don't sell too many of those, anyway.  When we do they definitely trend towards an older crowd.  In fact I would say the current Avalon customer is basically the old image of a Buick customer, since the ES has an even homelier visage I would imagine that it would invite an even older crowd yet.  Sounds like Lexus needs to work a bit on their styling with this one.  I don't worry so much about the handling bit, this wasn't meant to be a canyon carver and I'm sure it is plenty adequate for what it's meant to be (though I would be interested in how those bits compare to it's main rivals), so from reading this and looking at pictures it seems like the visuals are the biggest knock on this car, besides the way it is undercut by the Avalon.  Great review, thanks!

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Bamboo trim has another advantage - It is ecologically friendly because it is a highly renewable resource. Probably a big reason it is on the hybrid car.... the green conscious drivers don't have to feel bad about chopping down old-growth trees just to have wood trim in their hybrid.   I wish more auto makers would use bamboo. 

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I really like the wood-trim used in the top of the line GS and LS models. It's some really nice stuff. I think either C/D or MT said that the wood portion of the steering wheel was the most smoothly polished wood grain they'd ever grasped with their hands. 

 

The wood is like treated 5-6 times to get that finish. It's really an excellent trim choice for a car south of a S550 S-Class.

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And it comes in exciting beige!

 

Bamboo can be stained any color you might like.

 

I meant the outside of the car.  Seems like every Camry, Avalon and ES is sold in wallpaper paste beige.   I guess to match the hearing aides of their owners.

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Lexus owners must be a happy bunch. The reason why. There cars still looks basically the same 10 years in a row with changes so small and subtle most owners will never notice them. As is the case with this car. Pull off a little chrome, give is a semi  predator  grille and make it as plain boring and generic as ever and literally no one will ever notice. Ditto the beige exterior. That says it all!

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      Interior
      There are no frills to be found in the Accent’s interior. Like the outside, Hyundai went for a simple and honest design. Material quality is what you expect in the class - hard plastics on most surfaces. But the plastics have a solid feel. All Accents feature basic front seat adjustments - fore/aft, height (driver only), and recline. I was able to find a position that worked for me quite quickly. One item to be aware of is the SE doesn’t come with a telescoping adjustment for the steering wheel; SEL models and above get that feature. Space in the back is average for the class with a decent amount of headroom, but a limited amount of legroom.
      Kia added some style to the Rio’s interior with a sculpted dash featuring two-tone plastics. Hard plastics make up the majority of interior surfaces with a grain texture pattern. Like the Accent, the plastics have a very solid feel. The layout is simple with most controls in easy reach. Finding a comfortable position took no time with a basic set of seat adjustments and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel. However, I found the seats in the Rio to not be as supportive on long trips. The back seat mirrors the Accent; ok headroom and a small amount of legroom.
      Infotainment
      The Rio EX comes with a 7-inch infotainment system with Kia’s UVO infotainment system. No navigation system is offered, but you won’t need it as support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is standard. It will not take long to familiarize yourself with UVO thanks to a well-thought out interface and dedicated buttons for various features. Performance is impressive with the system responding very quickly to inputs.
      Over at the Accent SE, it comes with a 5-inch touchscreen radio. For the most part, the system was simple to use with redundant buttons for various functions, simple interface, and large touchscreen buttons. I only wished that the screen was slightly larger when I was scrolling through my iPod. One surprise was the SE getting Bluetooth as standard. Kia doesn’t offer Bluetooth on the base Rio LX.
      Powertrain
      Both the Accent and Rio use the same 1.6L inline-four engine producing 130 horsepower and 119 pound-feet of torque. What differs between the two is the transmission; the Accent SE comes with a six-speed manual while the Rio EX makes do with a six-speed automatic. Between the two, the Accent is noticeably quicker. The manual transmission allows the engine to flex what little muscle it has to get the vehicle up to speed. In the Rio, the automatic’s programming smothers the small amount of power to improve fuel economy. There is a Sport mode that holds onto gears longer, but it doesn’t make much of a difference. Neither of the transmissions can help the 1.6L on the freeway as the engine struggles to get up to speed at a decent rate.
      Fuel Economy
      EPA fuel economy figures are almost identical for the two models. Both return 28 mpg in the city and 37 on the highway. The difference is in the combined figure; the Rio returns 32, while the Accent returns 31. I got an average of 34 in the Rio and 33 in the Accent.
      Ride and Handling
      There are more similarities between the Rio and Accent when it comes to the driving experience. Both still employ struts in the front and a torsion-beam rear axle. But the body has been stiffened which helps with ride quality. Both models exhibited excellent isolation of most road imperfections. Handling is another place where the two surprised me. While not exhibiting the sporty characteristics of a Ford Fiesta, both the Accent and Rio show little body roll and feel quite nimble. The steering is light, but provides a decent amount of feedback when pushed. 
      Pricing
      The 2018 Hyundai Accent begins at $14,995 for the base SE with manual transmission and climbs to $18,895 for the Limited. Our test SE with optional floor mats came to an as-tested price of $16,005. While it does cost $1,095 more than the base Rio LX, the Accent SE comes with more features such as Bluetooth, full power accessories, and a rear USB port.
      The 2018 Kia Rio kicks off at $13,900 for the LX sedan and climbs to $18,700 for the EX hatchback. The EX sedan tester came to an as-tested price of $19,425 with carpeted floor mats and destination. It is a bit hard to stomach the price tag when you can into some decently equipped compact sedans such as the Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Cruze for similar money. Even after you factor in the EX getting forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, it’s still a tough sell.
      Verdict
      Trying to decide which of the two subcompacts was the winner in this piece was very difficult as they share so much. Beginning with the Rio EX, it is a very sharp looking subcompact with a fair amount of European influence and it is available as a hatchback. But the automatic transmission suffocates what little performance is on offer from the 1.6L engine. Plus the price tag of the EX is very difficult to swallow when you can step up into a compact for similar money. If it was the midlevel S, this would have been a closer fight.
      This brings us to the Accent SE. It's styling inside and out is a bit plain when pitted against the Rio. The lack of hatchback also makes the Accent a bit of hard sell to some buyers. But the list of standard features on the base model is very surprising. Plus, the manual transmission allows the engine to have some flexibility in most driving situations. 
      Both models are towards the top in the subcompact class. But in this comparison, the base Accent SE nips the top-line Rio EX by a hair.
      Disclaimer: Hyundai and Kia Provided the Vehicles, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
      Year: 2018
      Make: Hyundai
      Model: Accent
      Trim: SE
      Engine: 1.6L DOHC 16-valve GDI Inline-Four
      Driveline: Six-Speed Manual, Front-wheel Drive
      Horsepower @ RPM: 130 @ 6,300
      Torque @ RPM: 119 @ 4,850
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 28/37/31
      Curb Weight: 2,502 lbs
      Location of Manufacture: Nuevo Leon, Mexico
      Base Price: $14,995
      As Tested Price: $16,005 (Includes $885.00 Destination Charge)
      Options:
      Carpeted Floor Mats: $125.00
      Year: 2018
      Make: Kia
      Model: Rio
      Trim: EX
      Engine: 1.6L 16-valve GDI Inline-Four
      Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive
      Horsepower @ RPM: 130 @ 6,300
      Torque @ RPM: 119 @ 4,850
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 28/37/32
      Curb Weight: 2,714 lbs
      Location of Manufacture: Pesqueria, NL, Mexico
      Base Price: $18,400
      As Tested Price: $19,425 (Includes $895.00 Destination Charge)
      Options:
      Carpeted Floor Mats - $130.00
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