Back in 1989, Lexus went from theory to reality with the utter perfection that was the LS 400. It's easy to forget there was also another four-door offered at launch: the ES 250, a rebadged version of the Camry with a nicer interior, something less expensive than the $36,000 LS to tide over luxury buyers on a budget.
Today, the ES is priced at or above that figure, and it's being revamped yet again, for the fourth time in two decades, a year after its related Camry was thoroughly reworked. The new 2013 Lexus ES 350 earns some significant kudos for its styling departures and some of its new technologies, but it's bound to get noticed mainly for its new hybrid edition--the first in its long history.
Abandoning the "L-finesse" styling theme that made the last generation of Lexuses pretty but pretty undistinguished, the new ES 350 and companion ES 300h wear some more muscular sheetmetal, graced by the hourglass grille that's become the calling card of the Japanese brand. It's instantly recognizable, and probably works here better than on any of its vehicles save for the LFA supercar. The body's grown up and out nicely, and the interior's adopted the horizontal styling cues found in the 2013 GS 350 and GS 450h sedans to great effect.
The drivetrain in the ES 350 is a carryover, a 268-hp V-6 teamed with a six-speed automatic. Lexus claims handling improvements with quicker steering and retuned front and rear suspensions. The hybrid model hasn't been detailed exhaustively yet (see what we did there?) but it's a sure bet that it'll be very close to the Camry Hybrid's specs, with a hybrid pack mated to a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four, all earning a 40-mpg combined EPA rating.
Some concessions to cost have been made in the new ES range: artificial leather is now standard, with real leather an option. But safety and technology have been amped up, with everything from lane-departure warning systems to mobile-app connectivity bundled into the new luxury sedan.
We'll be driving both sedans before long, so stay tuned for our first drives. Until then, take a look at the new sedan in this video, and get a full preview of the 2013 Lexus ES 350 and 300h at TheCarConnection.