Lexus and Mercedes-Benz share many similarities whereby both upscale brands tend to attract conservative palates preferring outright luxury, comfort and refinement on the move.
And in order to capture a wider audience, these two particular nameplates are now churning out sportier cars to look at and to drive for the younger set of buyers.
That explains Lexus' onslaught of rear-wheel-drive saloons such as the latest IS and GS, boasting unusually rakish design cues topped off by F Sport variants that turn up the heat further.
So it's quite an irony that the ES persists in the Lexus model range because it has a more old-fashioned appearance and conventional front-wheel-drive system.
However, the ES is actually the one that genuinely possessed the hallmark virtues of the Lexus brand when it was launched in 1989 alongside the LS flagship.
Thus, you couldn't really blame Lexus for keeping the ES alive, now in its sixth generation and back in right-hand-drive format, as well, because it could help appease customers who have not and will not come to terms with the IS and GS.
In fact, it won't be surprising to see the ES emerge as the core-selling Lexus saloon when sales start in March next year because it's one of those cars that Thais and Asians alike would easily fall for.
Despite being positioned between the IS and GS (Mercedes C- and E-class), the ES gets practically the same amount of rear legroom from a class above (the S-class and Lexus' very own LS).
That can be attributed to the ES's front-wheel-drive platform whose omission of a central drive shaft helps for a near-flat floor design in the cabin.
Along with that, the transverse layout of the engine doesn't impede into the front foot wells as much as in rear-drivers whose motors are longitudinally laid out.
What you get in the ES is unrivalled cabin space, as well as boot capacity. This should be the main selling point of the car in the 3 million baht corner of the Thai luxury car market.
One might be tempted to suggest that the ES shares the same floorplan with the Toyota Camry, which it doesn't, because such generosity is courtesy of the Avalon, Toyota's biggest saloon made only for North America.
But what the ES does borrow from the Camry is the 2.5-litre petrol engine and six-speed automatic in ES250 and 2.5-litre petrol-electric combo, and CVT auto 'box in ES300h forms.
The ES300h also uses the same nickel metal-hydride batteries that are stacked vertically in the boot behind the rear seats. Sure, some usable space has been lost, however the boot is still big enough, which is to say that the non-hybrid ES250 has plenty of cargo capacity.
Despite the advent of the more modern lithium-ion battery, ES project manager Kazuhito Imaizumi says the nickel type is a "proven technology". The ES300h doesn't feature direct-injection, either, for its four-cylinder engine, meaning that the IS300h and GS300h are both a step ahead of the ES300h in the tech race.
That's quite a pity because it would have given the ES300h the chance to distance itself away _ and justify its higher price _ from the Camry Hybrid, which costs around half as much in Thailand at 1.6-1.8 million baht.
Performance in the ES300h appears to be just ample rather than remarkable during a driving trial held for the Asean media in Malaysia last week.
Anybody acquainted with the Camry Hybrid should immediately feel at home in the ES300h.
Sure, the ES300h is a heavier car than the Camry Hybrid, but it gets Lexus' distinctive selectable drive-mode whose Sport operation compensates for any kind of lethargy perceived by the driver.
You needn't ask much about the less powerful ES250, especially when driving up the mountain roads of Genting Highlands.
But fairly speaking, the ES250 is refined and sufficiently capable when the roads are level, which is to say the ES300h should suffice even more.
You also needn't guess how the ES handles or rides because comfort is the name of the game here. The car is unentertaining to drive but steers with ease, rides with compliance and handles tidily enough in corners if you understand that racers aren't the ES's prospective clients.
More sophisticated drivers and passengers will note a slightly firmer suspension in the ES300h since it carries more weight. As well, Kazuhito-san thinks that the ES300h stands a higher chance of attracting the younger buyer than the ES250.
Life thinks the ES250 has a more resolved ride quality as it feels more composed, unlike the occasional stodginess than can be found in the ES300h.
But what should really matter more to buyers is the cabin experience which isn't short at all of space, seat comfort, interior amenities, safety kit and luxury aura, although the sporty steering wheel (more suited for the IS and GS) feels a little bit out of place for a traditional car like the ES.
We say traditional because that's how the ES _ even in its latest generation _ actually feels to drive and to look at both inside and outside of the car.
The ES may not share the same mission as the IS and GS (Imaizumi has ruled out an F Sport look for the ES), but it certainly provides Lexus with an important platform to keep a particular set of customers happy _ those who had always thought that a Lexus should have always been a Lexus.
Why the ES is coming to Thailand later than the rest
The latest Lexus ES _ now it its sixth generation _ was launched in April last year in China and the US. Right-hand-drive markets like Australia, Brunei, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore are getting it later this year.
So, you may wonder, why is the ES being launched in Thailand next March? Well, here's some inside information Life has obtained from Toyota, which owns this fancy Japanese brand.
You see, it was always a given that for mainstream luxury car brands to stay competitive in Thailand, local assembly is needed to avoid the high import tax on completely built-up (CBU) cars.
More than a year ago, Lexus contemplated building some of its models like the new ES, as tested in the main story, at one of Toyota's Thai facilities with a market launch planned for the end of this year.
However, local assembly for Lexus _ which would have made Thailand the first country outside Japan and North America to do such a thing _ is now reportedly on ice.
An insider says its Japanese parent firm isn't particularly intrigued by the assembly strategies employed by some makers in Thailand.
Locally assembly usually means bolting a car together from completely knocked-down (CKD) kits. Due to small sales volume, some companies can't find CKD assembly financially viable and resort to the semi-knocked-down SKD option, which is not being widely encouraged in the Thai auto industry.
The SKD strategy allows for lesser breakdown of vehicle components. Painted bodies, for instance, can come straight from abroad. The CKD formula requires bodies to be painted locally, which is a costly bit of car manufacturing.
Because Lexus allegedly upholds "brand philosophies" like most other Japanese makers, they didn't want to do SKD. And resorting to CKD would put them at a cost disadvantage over rivals.
Now that the Lexus office must stick with CBU imports, it has to go to the back of the queue to source right-hand-drive ESs from Japan. This explains why Thailand's neighbouring right-hand-drive markets all get the ES first, because it was always CBU sales for them.
Comfort and refinement are the ES’s key messages on the road.