Base Price: $38,850

Price as tested: $46,070

This week, we're behind the wheel of the new sixth generation Lexus ES300h, the "h" designating hybrid. Debuting in 1989, the ES line is the most popular of all Lexus models, and its new hybrid could well be its best seller overall.

ES300 hybrid offers a fuel mileage advantage that the previous Lexus hybrid cars have not. Specifically, this new Atkinson hybrid utilizes its electric motivation to work in tandem with the engine while cruising, resulting in excellent fuel economy thanks to less engine demand. (Your Lexus dealer will gladly explain the more efficient system in detail).

A luxury four-door, five-passenger, front-drive only model, Lexus ES300h comes in just one hybrid trim. If you favor other Lexus models, base prices range from a low of $33,796 for the gas powered IS250 to a Lexus ultimate LS600h hybrid for $112,750, the latter featuring a 438-horsepower engine that delivers 20-MPG combined.

Under the ES300h hood sits an efficient 2.5-liter 156-horsepower inline four that mates with a magnetic electric drive 44-horse motor to generate total system output of 200 horsepower. The result is 40-MPG combined fuel mileage, which is a welcome number considering today's gyrating gasoline prices.

A continuously variable automatic transmission with intelligence hooks to the power plant, making its MPG numbers possible in this larger vehicle. Acceleration is impressive as zero to 60 takes just 8.1 seconds, which is just one second slower than its gas powered ES300 that starts at $36,100. Outwardly, all Lexus sedans feature new, sportier styling thanks to a more aggressive front, aerodynamic roof and impressive rear touches. The interior is outstanding, loaded with amenities and impressive roominess. The new ES300h offers the most rear legroom in class and increases cargo space by two cubic feet thanks to a two-inch wheelbase extension. Notably, previous ES lines were based on the Toyota Camry platform, while the new ES line works in tandem with the longer wheelbase Toyota Avalon.

Abundant safety features, including eight air bags and structural protection features, result in already earning an Insurance Institute Top Safety Pick award, with superior performance in frontal, side, rollover and rear impact evaluations. As for consumer magazine recommendations, satisfaction and reliability scores are always very high as Lexus brands rate at or near the top in surveys. Notable too is a standard "Smart Stop" technology, which slows the car in normal driving conditions to help offset an impact.

Recommended options include a blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert for $500, intuitive parking assist for $500, hard disk navigation with rear backup camera and eight-inch VGA display screen for $2,625 and a $1,370 luxury package featuring numerous amenities and a beautiful Bamboo wood trim with heat and cool front seats.

On the road, you'll enjoy sure footed and nimble driving, with one of the quietest interiors I've experienced to date. A standard 8-speaker, 440-watt 6-disc high end stereo system is standard, as is MP3, USB, Bluetooth, satellite radio, auto dimming and much more. The car motors along on 17-inch tires mated to impressive alloy aluminum wheels.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 111.0-inches, 17.2-gallon fuel tank, 12.1 cu. ft. of cargo space, 37.4 turning radius and a 3,660-pound curb weight.

Lexus proudly proclaims patrons should "discover what makes the all-new ES and first ever ES hybrid a stunning work of technology, featuring world-class luxury amenities inside and state-of-the-art innovations outside."

This is indeed a fair portrayal of one of the world's most respected luxury brands. Thus, "Test Drive" rates ES300h an overall "Best Buy," and to date the best test drive this year. For those looking to spend less, check out sibling 2013 Toyota Avalon hybrid, which starts at $33,195.

Likes: Efficient hybrid, quiet interior, great mileage, new design.

Dislikes: Some of the controls have a learning curve, but that's about it.

Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist.