What is luxury to you? Words like exclusivity, opulence, and extravagance often sprout up when you ask this question of most people. But what does luxury really mean to the truly discerning? For a while, luxury carmakers presented sheer performance and glitzy gadgets as the answer. However, there’s a problem with that. Not everyone enjoys pushing their luxury automobile to the limit, especially when it comes to SUVs and sedans. And the novelty around new technology (some of which, we have to admit, doesn’t really make a significant impact on our daily lives) wears off just a few days into the ownership experience.

Lexus, thankfully, seems to defy the norm every time it comes up with a new car. This time around, it is the ES 300h. We spent the better part of a week with it, and can report that the Lexus ES 300h is a very unusual luxury sedan.

To start with, the Lexus ES 300h is easily the most distinctive sedan in the price range. Its sharp lines, coupe-like sloping roof, and intricate detailing make it stand out in a segment dominated by the Germans. There isn’t much in the way of visual differentiators from the 2018 version, and most people would be hard pressed to tell one from the other. The attractive LED headlamps get new elements, and the large spindle grille has some new L-shaped additions while the 18-inch alloys get a new design. That’s pretty much it. The ES 300h, after all, wasn’t a car in need of a design update.

The moment you step foot in the interiors of the ES 300h, you would notice that Lexus is clearly uninterested in shoehorning touchscreens everywhere. Call me old-school, but I still don’t believe that touch screens should handle most of a car’s infotainment and climate control settings. The ES 300h now gets a 12.3-inch touchscreen that replaces the non-touch unit in the older model. But buttons, knobs, and dials continue to exist in several places on the centre console and all over the dash. The ES now gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well. While some of the graphics on the main infotainment display and the instrument cluster could do with a revamp, there is no doubting that the cabin, overall, is richly appointed.

Everything you touch and feel is delightfully tactile. The open-pore wood inlays in the cabin bring their rich texture into the mix and uplift a cabin that is otherwise bathed in blacks and greys. The steering wheel is nice and chunky to hold, and you are seated in a very comfortable driving position with a pretty good view of the outside. The ES 300h is a long car, and the great driving position does make it easier to pilot in traffic. There is a heads-up display that beams important information in your line of sight. Directions from the onboard navigation are also presented right where you need them, unobtrusively integrating technology into your driving experience. Just beyond the meaty steering wheel are two knobs for drive modes and for the electronic stability control. Touches like the analog clock next to the infotainment display and the trick bi- directional opening central armrest remind you of the clever detailing that can be found in several places in the Lexus.

The seats on the Lexus ES 300h are easily among the very best in the business. There is enough and more support in all places and cushioning is just perfect. The carpeting, too, feels very plush, and enhances the comfort that’s on offer in the ES 300h. Also available by the bucket load is space, both in the front as well as the back. And for those weekend trips, there is a very large boot as well.

Even if the interior, despite how elegantly put together it is, harks back to an earlier era, underneath the hood, the Lexus is as modern as they come. Powered by a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol motor on the Atkinson cycle that produces 176hp of power and 221Nm of torque respectively, the ES 300h also gets a permanent magnet electric motor that produces 118hp of power and 202Nm of torque to help propel it. While numerically, these power and torque figures add up to quite a bit, the motor and the engine don’t operate at their peak performance range together, leaving us with a total output of 215hp. Mated to an eCVT that transmits power to the front wheels, the powertrain of the Lexus is a treat to use. Unlike in some other cars where the electric motor serves just to improve performance, here the car decides to switch between the motor and the engine seamlessly.

Importantly, the Lexus starts off in absolute silence in pure EV mode — the result is a whole lot of surprised on-lookers when you pull away from a red light or pull into a parking spot. Most people who witnessed the Lexus in action were quick to jump to the conclusion that the Lexus is an electric car. While petrol motor kicks in at anything more than a slight depression of the accelerator pedal, it does so unobtrusively, so much so that you’d only realise it if you keep your eye on the changing graphic on the instrument cluster. The EV mode works only up to speeds of 50kph, so there is no range listed. But with the motor and regen working to recharge the battery during normal driving, you never really run out of juice. Also, this setup has very high efficiency, much more than any other mild hybrid that we have tested. We were able to regularly extract over 16 kmpl even with the drive mode set to sport.

While the numbers on offer aren’t exactly class defining, the Lexus has enough grunt and gets up to triple digit speeds — 0-100kph takes 8.9 seconds. And while doing so, the engine, motor, and gearbox combo, along with excellent insulation (low NVH levels), make the drive a pleasant experience. It is easily the most refined in its class. There is a noticeable rubber-band effect from the CVT, but it doesn’t really hamper the driving experience much. You can use the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel to get a move on quickly but given the relaxed demeanour of the car, I rarely found myself reaching for those. Turning the drive mode knob to Sport was enough to get the drivetrain to employ enough horses even when I wanted to drive enthusiastically.

There is a slight firmness to the ride at slow speeds, but as speeds increase, the Lexus’ ride becomes very pliant. This pliancy does mean that the Lexus has a good amount of body roll while going through the corners, but then again it isn’t exactly something that’s meant to be hustled. The steering wheel is superbly weighted and gives you tonnes of confidence to place the car exactly as you would like to on the road. This is a welcome departure from other luxury cars with steering wheels that are too light and disconnected.

The Lexus ES 300h is a remarkable luxury sedan that ticks all the right boxes. Its strong suit continues to be its looks and the incredibly refined drivetrain. While Lexus has updated its best-selling car, it might still come off as not-with-the-times to a lot of people. That will indeed be a harsh observation to have but such are the times that even things like ambient lighting (something the Lexus doesn’t have) feature on the list of features that buyers look out for. Priced between Rs. 56.65 lakh and Rs. 61.85 lakh (ex-showroom, India), the ES 300h offers a lot of bang for your buck, and will save you some bucks down the line with its impressive efficiency. To add to that, it is easily the car in the segment that will continue to turn heads for how rare it is on our roads, if for nothing else. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the BMW 3 Series, and the Volvo XC90 all have a lot of things going for them, but none have the style and refinement that the Lexus boasts.