Test Drive Lexus ES 350Feb 1th, 2019
The Lexus ES 350 has been with us for a long time. When it first showed up, many were skeptical about how a Camry-based sedan could simply be rebadged and command such a premium. It quickly became evident that Lexus had done a lot of work in every department and the ES 350 has always been a very fine, mid-grade luxury sedan. It’s not entry-level luxury, and it’s certainly not top of the heap. It has maintained its middle-of-the-road stance throughout the years, always doing everything well, but focusing on comfort and luxury first.
Luxury and comfort is the name of the game here.
The 2019 ES is all-new. It’s longer, lower, wider, and comes with some new body sculpting that is somewhat more dramatic than in the past. However, it’s still a bit of a sleeper for the most part – not in a bad way per se, but it certainly does continue to blend in rather than stand out.
The new front grille and LED headlights in their massive pods that wrap right around into the quarter panels are definitely eye-catching. This car got a lot of looks from people on the sidewalk when I pulled up to red lights.
My loaded-up sample had 18-inch rims with beefy 235/45-sized tires. Overall, it’s a handsome package that is not likely to offend anyone. If the appearance is too staid, you can always opt for the newly available F Sport package which adds some more aggressive touches to the styling.
As I said, luxury and comfort is the name of the game here; everything you look at, touch, and listen to falls into one of those categories. Materials are truly outstanding. Everything is wonderfully textured, soft to the touch, and carefully stitched. It looks and feels glorious and the craftsmanship is immediately obvious. Even the inside door handles are sculpted works of art.
The heated and cooled seats are some of the most comfortable I’ve ever tested. Equipped as my review car, an ES has all the bells and whistles. It all starts with a great big 12.3-inch screen jutting out of the dash where most functions are handled – unfortunately that’s with the far-from-perfect touchpad interface on the console. I’m still not a fan of it, and it’s herky-jerky responses continue making it less than fun to use. The 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system is astounding. Its power and clarity remain at the top of the class. And yes – the system is now Apple CarPlay compatible! Yay Toyota/Lexus! Android Auto is still left out in the cold, for now.
The massive sunroof overhead really opens things up visually and brightens the interior. Driver assistance technology feels very complete here. It includes auto high-beams, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicycle detection, lane-tracing assist, lane-departure alert/road-edge detection with steering assist, a bird’s-eye view camera with parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, and a massive 10-inch heads-up display. The digital dash is artfully designed and worked very well for me.
Places to put your stuff seem to be well thought out. There’s a pop-up lid at the front of the console – it contains a cup holder and a stand-up slot for a smartphone and some ports – two USBs and an aux input. Behind the gear selector is a bin with dual-level cup holders.
Pop the armrest lid to reveal a carpeted bin with a wireless charging mat for your phone. What I really liked here is that the armrest lid opens from either side so both the driver and the passenger can access it. Simple, but effective.
If I had a nitpick for the interior, it would be that the headroom is less than expected. I’m 5’10” and with the driver’s seat all the way down, I only had about an inch of headroom to spare.
The rear seating area is the front cabin’s equal, offering up extraordinary comfort for rear passengers. The seats are great and there is a wealth of head- and legroom. Even the backs of the front seats are beautifully stitched and upholstered. The middle seatback folds down to become a nice armrest and rear passengers get some charging options for their devices – two USBs and a 12V plug. They also get manual sunshades for the side windows. What they don’t get, and at this price I find this omission ridiculous, is heated seats. There are far lesser vehicles costing far less that have heated rear seats and frankly, with a $10,000-plus option package rearing its head here, that’s inexcusable.
The front-wheel drive ES continues with a 3.5L V6 that puts out a stout 302 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. That power is sent through a new eight-speed transmission.
Lexus rates the ES 350 at 10.6/7.2 L/100 km city/highway. We averaged 11.4 L/100 km during our week in the ES. If fuel economy is your thing, you can also get an excellent hybrid version of this car. By the way, the trunk space in the hybrid is not compromised and remains the same. You can access the trunk with a power trunk lid. It’s nicely upholstered and spacious at 473 L.
The ES 350 driving experience has always been known for one thing: comfort. That hasn’t changed. The ride is supremely comfortable to complement the interior. What surprised me more was how well the ES handled. It responds to inputs quite quickly and is a very competent driving machine, although it remains well-insulated from the finer details in terms of what is happening beneath the tires. This isn’t a sports car, of course, and this smoothness is what buyers of the ES want.
Speaking of insulation, the ES is very quiet in almost every driving situation – we were very impressed by the low noise levels.
The engine provides an incredible amount of power. Although it’s always smooth, when you need to get a move on, there is an abundance of power allowing for almost shocking launches off the line and completely effortless passing manoeuvres. The transmission is mostly imperceptible and does a great job, but also reacts very quickly to manual shifts using the paddles or the gear selector. In addition, there are three drive modes – Eco, Normal, and Sport – these impact the responsiveness of the powertrain. I can boil this down to say the entire driving experience is very smooth from start to finish.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was quite high with the ES. Although she prefers wagons and hatchbacks, she did like how this one drove and said it felt particularly luxurious and “rich”, even beyond its price.
I found the ES to be surprisingly responsive and easy to drive, yet it never compromises its original mission of being a comfortable luxo-sedan. It gets so many things right that it’s hard to find any issues. This is a car that would please most anyone shopping in the luxury sedan category.