See the source imageA long-time owner of Toyota vehicles, Kenton Smith had never before experienced first-hand the brand’s luxury nameplate, Lexus. That changed when he spent a week in the all-new 2019 Lexus ES 350. His tester was the super-deluxe version, equipped with the top-of-the-line Ultra Luxury Package.

“Of course, I’ve seen Lexus models at car shows and on the streets,” the Calgarian says, and adds, “but, I’ve never driven one before, and when it was all said and done, it was really tough handing back the key.”

Lexus last fully updated the ES 350 model in 2013 with the sixth-generation and then in 2016 facelifted the luxury sedan with the corporate spindle grille and other refinements. The 2019 version ushers in the seventh-generation, complete with crisper styling and an updated 3.5-litre V6 engine backed up by an eight-speed automatic transmission that sends power to the front wheels. The ES is also available as a hybrid, with the ES 300h model. And, for the first time in its history, the car can be had with one of two versions of the performance-enhanced F-Sport package. Lexus has made the ES 350 longer, lower and wider and upgraded the suspension to increase driving enjoyment.

“It’s a super quiet car,” Smith says of the ES 350, “I think one word for me summarizes the Lexus, and I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s ‘refinement.’”

Smith learned to drive in Calgary, and he and his older sister shared a 1979 Pontiac Parisienne when he got his licence at 16. However, as often as possible, he got behind the wheel of the family’s new 1986 Honda Civic, because it was equipped with a five-speed manual transmission.

“That made it a lot more exciting to drive,” he says.

His own first car was a Mazda 626 with a standard gearbox. As his own family began to grow, his last car with a standard transmission was an Acura EL. That was followed by a succession of minivans and SUVs that have been, over the past two decades, almost entirely Toyota products, including Sienna and Venza models. Currently, Smith maintains a RAV4 and a Prius c, both hybrids.

When he first saw the Nightfall Mica – a deep navy blue – ES 350, Smith was immediately impressed by the car. He thought it would have ‘the great gaping Lexus grille’, but says, “The grille was proportionate to the overall lines, and the car has a very pleasing shape. The ES looked bigger than I expected it to, but it didn’t end up driving ‘big.’”

After opening the door and settling into the premium-leather upholstered driver’s seat, the interior also found favour.

“It was a light colour that beautifully complements the dark exterior,” Smith says. “Inside, I think I was surprised by the overall quality of the luxury. I was half-expecting it to be filled with Toyota switches and knobs, but that wasn’t the case, yet it was familiar in the larger sense.”

The 10-way power adjustable heated and cooled seat wasn’t overly plush. Instead, Smith says the seat felt ‘fitted and supportive’. At five-feet ten-inches tall, there was plenty of head- and legroom for Smith’s frame.

After spending a few days getting used to the Lexus, Smith was full of praise for the performance of the V6 engine that makes 302 horsepower.

“The engine had plenty of power, and the eight-speed automatic transmission was unobtrusive,” he says. “If you got on the gas, you could sense it shifting, otherwise it was completely seamless.”

On a road trip west of Calgary to Canmore, Smith experimented with some of the technology found in the ES, including the dynamic radar cruise control and lane tracing assist. Although well suspended, Smith says the Lexus never felt like it was floating. He says you could feel the road, but the ride was never uncomfortable. Handling was good, with a nice light effort on the steering wheel in parking lot situations while it tightened up when on the highway – overall, it was well-balanced, in Smith’s opinion.

To test the utility of the ES 350, Smith loaded up his 19-year old daughter’s goalie equipment in the trunk.

“I got all of her gear in the trunk, and with the sticks through the backseat pass-through, we still got all four of us into the car and down to Okotoks for her hockey game,” he says. “The trunk opened wide, and it was easy to lift everything in. It has a power trunk lid, and while that’s nice to have I think it’s a luxury you could easily live without.”

Smith suggests the ES 350 would best suit a family of four, or empty nesters.

“It’s not a big, gigantic car and you won’t feel like you’re hauling around a bunch of empty space without extra passengers. But, load them in and they’re going to be very comfortable,” he says, and concludes, “It was tough to give the car back, I really did enjoy driving it.”


Day One: Nice colour combination, high-quality leather. Quiet! Wow, so nice and quiet on the highway. The control for the infotainment system is really awkward. The trackpad is an interesting idea but it’s not clear enough where you are on the screen so it takes your eyes off the road.

Day Two: Auto heated steering wheel and seats, nice touch. HUD a bit dim in some situations. I realized later this is because of my polarized sunglasses. Again, noticeable how quiet the car is. Combined with the eight-speed transmission it means there’s a real feeling of effortlessness on the part of the car and engine. Auto braking is a bit shocking, but I suppose for a good reason. Our Toyotas have variations on this, but the first time (twice actually) the car applied the brakes when backing up it was very sudden and forceful. Not sure if I freaked out the pedestrians as much as the car freaked me out. Everyone loves riding in it.

Day Three: Trip to Canmore at 7.4 L/100 km. Radar cruise is just as good as expected. Super comfortable. The seats are really nice for longer trips. I never felt uncomfortable. Having done Calgary to Vancouver in a day many times, this car would be really nice to drive and require fewer stops. Had sunroof open the whole way home and not too noisy. Stereo, wow, there is nothing that doesn’t sound good coming out of it. Night driving; headlights are really nice and bright. Auto high-beams are way too eager, I just turned them off.

Day Four/Five: Still enjoying the quietness and refinement. Still not enjoying the trackpad control for the infotainment.

Day Six: All city driving. Nice way to be stuck in traffic (the S.W. is construction central and I sat a lot…). In heavy stop and go traffic the accelerator is a bit sensitive (especially when cold).

Day Seven: Apple CarPlay; way better maps and a much better system overall. Combined mileage seems to be around 12L/100 km which is comparable to our last AWD Sienna. Seems a bit high but maybe that would come down after more miles. The hybrid version would fix all that of course. May not be nearly as nice to drive though. Why aren’t there more of these on the road? I haven’t done a comparison, but for $60k this seems like a really good deal. Take out the Mark Levinson stereo (from my cold, dead hands… the upgraded interior and the fancy wheels and it’s nicely equipped) for less than $55k. I’ll admit this isn’t my market right now, so I don’t know how it compares to BMW, Audi, and Benz, but it seems to me like a lot of bang for the buck, especially with the new styling. Drove a Cadillac XTS last Christmas and there’s no comparison, this Lexus is miles ahead; more comfortable, more refined, better ride