Chrysler 300 VS Lexus ES
- 6.4 litres of scream
- Well equipped
- Standard safety
- Thirst like a dredger
- So-so dynamics
- Poor ownership package
- Comfortable ride
- Great fit and finish
- Good value
- Apart from grille, styling is plain
- No seat-back screens
- Obvious Toyota elements
You may be sensing an increasing level of hype around hybrid and full battery-electric vehicles. In fact, it feels like the automotive world has gone full-fat bananas over ‘electro-mobility’.
At least car manufacturers have, with Tesla’s entertaining antics disrupting the status quo, and causing virtually every mainstream brand to get on board the zero-emissions express.
But of course, the other side of that equation is demand. The rush to meet ever tightening emissions regulations (and save the planet in the process) fails to recognise the fact that not everybody wants a ZEV… yet.
The days of big-bore, more is good, internal combustion propulsion aren’t over yet, and Chrysler, like the rest of the ‘Murican Big Three’ is keeping traditional muscle car enthusiasts happy.
In fact, we’re in the midst of a US horsepower arms race not seen since the late 1960s and early ‘70s, and Chrysler’s SRT (Street & Racing Technology) performance subsidiary is leading from the front with a variety of over-the-top Hellcats, Demons and Red Eyes.
Australia has recently picked up a whiff of that action with the utterly mad 522kW Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, but the only slightly unhinged SRT version, and this car, the Chrysler 300 SRT, have been around for some time.
Launched here in 2012, the second-generation version of the 6.4-litre naturally aspirated sedan was discontinued in the USA in 2014. But sensing a large sedan-sized opportunity as local manufacturing from Ford, Holden and Toyota went the way of the Dodo, the local FCA team negotiated a continuation deal.
Think of the 300 SRT as America’s M5 or E63. A full-size performance sedan with a thick layer of luxury laid over the top, but at around one third the price.
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CT, IS, GS, LS, RC, LC. Yes, that list of letters looks like something you’d read when getting your eyes tested at an optometrist, but they are actually all Lexus models.
Ok, you may have known that already, but did you know that those are just their initials? They actually have full names, too; Compact Touring, Intelligent Sport, Grand Sport, Luxury Saloon, Racing Coupe, Luxury Coupe.
And so this review isn’t just on the new-generation ES, but on the Elegant Sedan, which made it to Australia in 2018. And, as if hinting at things to come, it’s available in ES300h petrol-electric hybrid guise only.
This is the seventh-generation of a model that has been part of the Lexus line-up since the very beginning, way back when the luxury arm of Toyota first stepped onto the world stage in 1989.
So, does the ES300h live up to its Elegant Sedan name? Does being hybrid-only in Australia mean it loses its powerful presence? And is there any reason why you’d get one over a Mercedes-Benz E-Class or BMW 5 Series?
So many questions, but after living with the ES300h in top-of-the-range Sports Luxury guise for a week, we now have all the answers.
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The Chrysler 300 SRT is a big, fast, well-equipped and super-comfortable point-to-point tourer that’s also able to soak up the stresses of a city commute with ease. It’s also showing its age in terms of design, obscenely thirsty, dynamically flawed, and offered with a bottom-of-the-class ownership package. A fun place to visit but make sure you’re ready for permanent residency.
Thinking about some muscle gain? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The ES300h is outstanding in terms of ride comfort, refinement and value. If you’re looking for a true driver’s car then a Lexus RCF is probably a better tree to bark up, but if you’re looking to ferry passengers in a serene, prestigious and fuel-efficient way, then look no further.
Is the Lexus ES300h in the same league as a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The NSW Highway Patrol has adopted the 300 SRT as its weapon of choice, and psychologically I reckon they’re onto a winner.
A high waistline, small glasshouse and big 20-inch rims combine to give the 300 a chunky, take-no-prisoners stance. And this intimidating beast filling the mirrors is enough to make even the most determined speedster drop their bundle.
Except for the SRT badge at the back, the exterior is a chrome-free zone, with black finish on the big honeycomb grille, window frames, and dark chrome wheels dialing up the overall air of menace.
The rear view is similarly imposing, with a large slab of almost right-angular boot lid topped by a pronounced body-colour spoiler.
At this point, we have to call out less than perfect panel fit. On our test car for example the intersection of the bonnet and front clip above the headlights was messy with inconsistent shut lines and poor alignment.
Inside not much has changed over the current 300’s seven years on sale, and the design lacks the integrated approach of more modern competitors.
An 8.4-inch colour media touchscreen sits in the centre of a squared oval panel between the central air vents and under an analogue clock, that shape bearing no resemblance to the form of the heating and ventilation control panel below it or the instrument binnacle alongside.
A mass of buttons confronts the driver across the centre stack, steering wheel and door, while genuine carbon fibre inserts add a racy if slightly ironic touch in a close to 2.0-tonne car.
Leather and suede sports front seats look (and feel) the business, and the strongly illuminated gauges are divided by a 7.0-inch multifunction display including a clear digital speed read-out. Which is just as well, because the fussy increments on the analogue dial are hard to read.
If you think all Lexus models look the same, then pop on over to the Audi, BMW or Benz websites and take a peek at their line-ups. Compared to the ranges from those prestige car makers, Lexus models look wildly different from each other.
Opinions on that ‘Spindle Grille’ are as polarising as views on politics or religion. Personally, I like how upfront and brave the grille design is, but what seems odd to me is that it’s almost as if this was the only place on the exterior where designers were allowed to be a bit adventurous. The rear, while cleanly styled is a bit plain. The bottom just doesn’t match the face.
The ES300h’s roofline in side profile is beautiful as it sweeps almost fastback-style to the boot lid. Again, not the most dramatic styling, but it’s still pleasing in the sense that the design flows well together. The same can be said for the fit and finish – the panel gaps are near-perfect.
This perfection continues into the cabin, where the materials and craftsmanship matches German prestige rivals in places (the door handles, leather and digital instrument cluster, for example), only to be let down in other areas which disclose its budget Toyota family connection (the air vents, steering wheel and display screen).
The ES300h’s interior design isn’t going to set everybody’s world on fire, but there will be those who adore its asymmetrical styling with different textured surfaces that fold, swoop and jut up against each other’s space. Have a look at the images, they’re of the Sports Luxury which sits above the Luxury in the two grade line-up.
The differences visually between the grades is minimal. The Luxury has 17-inch alloys, while the Sport Luxury has 18-inch.
New colours for this generation include Glacial Ecru (the sandy hue of our test car in the images) and Radiata Green. Both grades’ interiors come in a variety of colour schemes, including Black, Chateau, and Topaz. Exclusively for the Sport Luxury cabin is Rich Cream, too. The Sports Luxury steering wheel has wood trim.
One of the more peculiar design elements of the ES300h’s cabin design, and there are a few, are the controls for the drive modes and traction control. They sit like horns on the instrument cluster hood, as though these are things the driver will constantly be reaching for, when in reality most people will never touch the traction control button.
A new-generation car means new foundations, and the ES300h is built on the GA-K platform which underpins the Camry. The platform is part of the latest global architecture which Toyota and Lexus are now using to build its vehicles.
The dimensions of the ES300h, if you’re wondering if it will fit in your garage, are just under 5.0m long, 1.9m wide and 1.4m tall.
At just under 5.1m long, 1.9m wide and close to 1.5m tall the 300 SRT is a sizeable machine, so it’s no surprise there’s plenty of room inside.
Those up front are provided with a pair of cupholders in the centre console (complete with heating or cooling at the press of a button), storage bins and medium-size bottle holders in the doors, a long oddments tray and a small storage cubby (with 12-volt outlet) near the gear shifter, as well as a sunglasses holder in the overhead console and a big glove box.
There’s also a lidded storage box between the seats, complete with sliding tray, two USB ports, an ‘aux-in’ jack and a 12-volt outlet. Even old school nicotine enthusiasts are catered for with an ashtray insert ready to slip into one of the cupholders and a cigarette lighter to drop into the main 12-volt socket.
Rear seat passengers pick up a fold-down centre armrest with two cupholders and a lidded oddments box, decent door bins with bottle holders, as well adjustable vents at the back of the centre console, two USB ports, and switches for the standard heated rear seats.
Sitting behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position I had ample legroom but only adequate headroom. There’s enough shoulder room for three adults across the rear, but the broad transmission tunnel throws a spanner in the works when it comes to centre foot room.
The fully-lined boot is nicely trimmed, with a pair of flip-out bag hooks (22kg capacity), load tie-down anchors, and useful lighting included.
Volume is 462 litres, enough to fit our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres) lying flat on the floor, or the CarsGuide pram, with heaps of room to spare. A 60/40 split-folding rear seat adds extra space and flexibility.
In the case of a flat tyre your only option is a repair/inflator kit, and it’s worth noting towing capacity for the SRT is the same 450kg for a braked or unbraked trailer, where the standard V6-powered 300C can tow a 1724kg braked trailer.
The Lexus ES300h is a five-seater sedan, but it’s really designed to sit two comfortably in the back, given there’s a large driveshaft hump in the floor and that the outboard seats are divided by a fold-down control panel/armrest.
Legroom in the second row is ample. I’m 191cm tall, and I had about 20mm of space between my knees and the seat back when it was in my driving position. Headroom gets tight with that sloping roofline, but there’s just enough space thanks to the low hip point of the rear seats.
Cabin storage is excellent. The fold-down armrest for the rear seats has a storage tray and two cup holders, while the large centre console bin has a lid which can open towards the driver and also to the front passenger (I spent way too long marvelling at how it worked). There are two cup holders up front and decent-sized door pockets, too. Those rear doors open wide for easy exit and entry.
Boot space in the ES300h is 454 litres (VDA), beating the 410-litre cargo capacity of the BMW 530e.
As far as power outlets, you’ll find two USB chargers in the centre console storage bin and a Qi wireless charging pad, which is awkwardly situated making it hard to place larger phones onto it.
Price and features
A list price of $74,950 (before on-road costs) buys a whole lot of car, equipment, and performance, with that figure only gaining entry to a pack of next-size-down options from Europe and Japan.
A $5k spread from $71-76,000 covers the Alfa Giulia Veloce ($72,900), Audi A4 45 TFSI Quattro ($73,300), BMW330i M-Sport ($70,900), Infiniti Q50 Red Sport ($74,900), Jaguar XE P300 HSE R Dynamic ($71,940), Lexus GS300 Luxury ($75,931), and Merc C 300 ($71,800).
And aside from the extra cubic inches under the hood and sheetmetal in the body, the 300 SRT’s standard features list is long, including dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start (plus remote start), heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated leather-trimmed SRT flat-bottom steering wheel, heated/cooled front cupholders, power boot lid release, electric steering column adjust (height and reach), plus eight-way electrically-adjustable driver and front passenger seats (with four-way power lumbar adjust on both and radio/seat/mirror memory on the driver’s side).
Also standard are auto headlights (with auto level and auto high beam), rain-sensing wipers, power-folding exterior mirrors (with defrost), nappa leather and suede seat trim, 825-watt, 19-speaker harman/kardon audio (including digital radio), sat nav, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a 7.0-inch instrument cluster display, the 8.4-inch colour media touchscreen, and 20-inch forged alloy wheels.
There are plenty of other safety and performance features, which we’ll cover in later sections, wrapping into an impressive standard package at this price point. And ‘our’ test car featured the ‘SRT Luxury Package’ ($4750) adding a monster dual-pane glass sunroof, premium leather trim on the instrument panel, centre console and door trims, as well as premium floor mats front and rear.
The standard colour choice is black and white… ‘Gloss Black’ or ‘Bright White’, with ‘Silver Mist’, ‘Ceramic Grey’, ‘Granite Crystal’, ‘Maximum Steel’ and ‘Velvet Red’ optional, and ‘Ocean Blue’ available to specific customer order.
Yes, and don’t let anybody tell you any differently. The Luxury lists for $59,888 and the Sports Luxury is $74,888. Both are bargains when you consider the quality and features.
If it was my money, I’d go for the Luxury which is almost indistinguishable visually but doesn’t come with as many tech and convenience features as the Sport Luxury.
Still, the Luxury gets the 12.3-inch screen with sat nav, a 10-speaker Pioneer stereo system with digital radio, a head-up display, dual-zone climate control, wireless charging, 10-way power adjustable front seats, privacy rear windows, a moonroof, proximity key and LED headlights.
The Sports Luxury takes all of that and adds a Mark Levinson 17-speaker sound system, leather seats, heated and ventilated 12-way power adjustable front seats, heated and power reclining rear seats, three-zone climate control, heated steering wheel, power rear sunshade and manual side rear window shades, gesture-open boot and cornering LED headlights.
The Sports Luxury also comes with noise reducing 18-inch wheels – they contain what’s called a Helmholtz resonator which cancels out the drone that can be produced when driving.
Is there anything missing? When I saw the rear fold-down armrest with the control panel I instantly thought the ES300h must have had seat-back screens, but nope. Also, it’s annoying that Lexus still doesn’t have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as part of its package. This will change we hear, but it has been slow on the uptake.
The Lexus ES300h’s direct rival is the Infiniti Q70 Hybrid GT Premium for $82,900, but it also challenges the likes of Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which starts at $91,900, BMW’s 5 Series, which begins at $92,990, and the Audi A6, which kicks off at $81,900.
Engine & trans
Forget hybrid, forget turbos, the Chrysler 300 SRT is powered by 392 cubic-inches of Detroit iron… although the 6.4-litre ‘Apache’ V8 is actually built in Mexico.
The engine’s block is indeed cast iron although the heads are aluminium, with the ‘Hemi’ name derived from its hemispherical combustion chamber design.
It’s naturally aspirated, direct fuel-injected and produces 350kW (470hp) at 6150rpm and no less than 637Nm of torque at 4250rpm.
Drive goes through an eight-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels with a limited-slip diff standard.
This combines a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine making 131kW and 221Nm, with an electric motor that has an output of 88kW and 202Nm. The 244.8V nickel-metal hydride battery has been moved from under the boot floor in the previous generation car to under the rear seats, so it no longer eats into the cargo space.
The ES300h isn’t a plug-in hybrid, so battery recharging is done through regenerative braking.
A continuously variable transmission means seamless and smooth low-speed driving using just the motor, but under heavy acceleration the engine activates and you’ll hear that drone associated with CVTs.
A model of fuel efficiency this car is not. Claimed economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 13.0L/100km, the 300 SRT emitting 303g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over roughly 300km of city, suburban and freeway running we recorded 18.5L/100km (at the bowser), and the on-board computer threw up some horrifying short-term numbers as we explored the car’s performance potential.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded and you’ll need 70 litres of it to fill the tank… regularly.
This is the point of a hybrid, right? To save fuel? The electric motor can power the car at low speeds around car parks or in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and I found that after 104km of both urban and open road usage my fuel economy in the Sport Luxury was 5.4L/100km.
Lexus’ official combined fuel economy figure for both the Luxury and Sports Luxury is 4.6L/100km.
Roll onto a smooth, dry surface, engage the SRT’s standard launch control function and you’ve dialled in the ability to storm from 0-100km/h in a ludicrously rapid 4.5sec.
Unlike smaller capacity turbo engines, the big atmo Hemi takes a while to develop maximum torque (637Nm), hitting peak pulling power at 4250rpm. Keep the throttle pinned and full power (350kW) is achieved on the cusp of the rev limiter at 6150rpm.
All this fire and fury is accompanied by a beautifully brutal V8 roar courtesy of an active exhaust which tweaks the pulsing note it produces according to drive mode and throttle position. It’s hard not to love it, complete with rude pops and crackles on the over-run.
Beware though, this car is relatively loud all the time, so you’ve got to hope the love affair is a long-term one.
Suspension is by a short and long arm (SLA) and upper A-arms at the front, with a five-link set-up at the rear, and Bilstein adaptive dampers all around.
The switch between Comfort and Sport is swift and marked, with the latter best kept for billiard tables and race circuits. Around town ride in the more compliant setting is agreeably smooth.
Push the big 300 along your favourite backroad and you know you’re asking two tonnes of metal, rubber and glass to move against its will.
The eight-speed auto responds well in manual mode (with wheel-mounted paddles), and the grippy sports front seats do decent job of keeping their occupants stable and balanced, but the sheer mass of this car means you’re never going to get a corner-carving hot hatch-like experience.
And despite a chunky, leather-trimmed sports wheel, the hydraulically-assisted ‘SRT Tuned’ steering isn’t exactly the last word in road feel or sharp response.
Having said that, the fat 20-inch (245/45) Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber grips hard with minimal impact on ride quality, and in a more relaxed mode the SRT is a stress-free and comfortable tourer.
Big acceleration is balanced by big brakes, with beefy ventilated rotors (360mm fr / 350mm rr) clamped by Brembo four-piston calipers front and rear.
The system’s outright power is impressive but can be abrupt on initial application at around town speeds, until you get used to greasing the pedal pressure in.
‘SRT Performance Pages’ allows you to scroll through multiple real-time data screens (timers, G-force, engine performance, etc), which is fun, with outputs downloadable to a USB stick or SD card. The 19-speaker harman/kardon audio system absolutely cranks, and the active cruise control works intuitively, without the frustrating conservatism (taking forever to pick up the throttle) of some other systems
Two words: quiet and comfortable. Well that’s three words, but that sums up the ES300h on the road. Yes, rivals may have intelligent adaptive air suspension and leather made from free range cows, and they are supremely tranquil and sumptuous places, but challenging them is this ES300h.
Even with its regular shock absorbers and steel-spring suspension, the ride was outstanding for its comfort and composure on the worst roads Sydney could throw at it over the week we tested the car.
Front and rear seats were supportive and comfortable over long distances, too. From a driver’s perspective the experience was serene – this was an easy and relaxing car to pilot.
I’m not a huge fan of petrol-electric hybrid powertrains, but it suits the seamless personality of the ES perfectly, adding to the smoothness of the ride as it slipped silently through traffic.
Just don’t expect the ES300h to be rewarding from a dynamic driving perspective. The steering was heavy and a little numb, and while the handling was good, I felt disconnected from the road. And whenever I needed to move quickly the combustion engine would splutter to life and the CVT would begin to drone.
The 300 SRT hasn’t been assessed by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, but the NHTSA in North America has given the 2019 Chrysler 300 a four-star safety rating (from a possible five).
In terms of active tech a lot of major boxes are ticked, with AEB a notable exception.
Standard features include, ABS, ‘Ready Alert Braking’ (primes system when driver lifts off the brake pedal quickly), ESC, ‘Electronic Roll Mitigation’, traction control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross path detection, and advanced brake assist.
A ‘Rain Brake Support’ function is triggered by the rain-sensing wiper system to periodically ‘wipe off’ the brake rotors with the brake pads, keeping them as dry as possible in the wet. And Chrysler has cleverly piggy-backed ‘Knock Back Mitigation’ into the arrangement.
In aggressive cornering front wheel assemblies can flex, pushing the brake rotor against the brake pads and ‘knocking’ them back into the caliper, potentially leading to an alarmingly long pedal the next time the brakes are applied. Not a factor in the 300 SRT, with the pads automatically pushed up into their optimum position.
If, despite all that, a crash is unavoidable, the airbag count runs to seven (dual front, dual front side, dual curtain and driver’s knee), and the front head restraints are active.
There are three child seat/baby capsule top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer rear positions.
The Lexus ES300h was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in September 2018. Coming standard on both the Luxury and Sports Luxury grades are 10 airbags, AEB with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control.
By stepping up to the Sports Luxury you’ll also get adaptive high beams which is fair enough, but you’ll also gain equipment which really should be on the base grade, too, such as blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert - which come standard on a Camry SL for half the price.
You’ll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top-tether anchor points across the second row which we used for our four year old and his car seat.
The warranty world has moved significantly in recent months, and the 300 SRT’s three year/100,000km warranty is now well off the pace.
Kia moved to seven years/unlimited km in 2014, and there are whispers of the Korean brand shifting to 10 years sooner rather than later.
Service is required every 12 months/12,000km, and no capped price servicing program is currently offered.
With the caveat that labour rates will inevitably vary between dealerships, Chrysler Australia estimates five year standard servicing cost at $2590 (including GST).