The recently redesigned ES could become the next model in the Lexus lineup to get an all-wheel drive option, Japanese reports suggest.
Japanese media were invited to drive a prototype ES 300h (hat tip to Lexus Enthusiast) fitted with what Lexus is calling E-axle—an additional electric motor connected to the rear axle to enable a second set of driven wheels.
Toyota and Lexus have utilized similar setups on other front-wheel drive vehicles. The Lexus UX, which is based on the front-wheel drive Toyota C-HR, has an optional all-wheel-drive system implemented the same way. The system employed in the UX has its limitations—it delivers little power to the rear axle and only works at speeds up to 43 mph—but gets the job done in low-grip scenarios. Similarly, the RAV4 Hybrid has an E-axle that delivers 54 horsepower and 89 pound-feet of torque to the rear end. It's much more powerful than the UX system and would be more likely to appear in a Lexus. However, an even more-aggressive version could be in the works with a greater performance envelope. Both Bosch and Aisin are beginning to produce ready-made E-axles that could give this generation of ES, which is much sportier than previous generations, greater performance.
Automakers have begun pivoting to all-wheel drive as a means to keep prospective buyers in sedans. As customers shift toward trucks, SUVs and crossovers, providing some of those larger vehicles' conveniences in existing four-door models is seen as a way to retain customers who might otherwise defect to similarly priced utility vehicles.
Lexus also has an opportunity to market an all-wheel drive Lexus ES 300h under its F-Sport performance brand. So far, Lexus has shied away from offering its electrified ES with that sport package, leaving that honor to the V-6 model instead. A performance-oriented implementation of the E-axle system could aid Lexus in its efforts to market the traditionally stodgy ES to younger buyers.
Motor Authority reached out to Lexus to ask whether an all-wheel drive ES Hybrid might come stateside. Lexus spokesman Maurice Durand only said, "No comment on future ES models." When asked about what was tested, he said it was a platform mule testing future drivetrain technology and was not an indicator of future ES models.
Update: This story has been updated to include commentary from Lexus.