Unquestionably the “grandma car” of the lineup, the Lexus ES has never been known for much else other than being Lexus’ Toyota Camry variant. While Lexus has stuck to the Camry formula with the redesigned 2019 ES 350, this time around it’s different. Like the new Camry, this new ES deserves a head turn both for looks and performance.
Since its reveal last year, the new ES has been intriguing. It’s arguably one of the more handsome Lexus sedans and is just far more dramatic than the car it replaces. Then our tester arrived in blue paint and a red leather interior; talk about sending a shock to the system. This clearly isn’t grandma’s ES 350.
Like the Camry, this ES is based on Toyota’s TNGA architecture, which is effectively underpinning nearly every new front-wheel-drive vehicle across both brands these days. The new bones have yielded a larger ES than the previous car, but it has also enabled a more nimble ES that makes the new, more youthful appearance have some meaning despite its dying breed nature.
FIRM, BUT SOFT
Along with the sportier appearance, the 2019 ES is the most-powerful iteration yet. The car comes standard with Toyota’s 3.5-liter V-6, packing a respectable 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. This is an increase of 34 horsepower from the previous car and enough to make the new ES interesting to drive.
During our testing we found acceleration to be smooth and surprisingly powerful; to the point the ES never felt underpowered, defying our own expectations. Modifications made to the V-6 mill and the added gears of the eight-speed automatic have yielded an ES that’s fun to drive and even sounds good at times.
The ES’s fun-to-drive nature does not stop at acceleration. We noted our F-Sport tester was able to hold the line during corners with surprising ease. It’s primary handling limiter is tires that are slippery, but even with stock rubber this sedan can handle well beyond the limit of most of its target buyer demographic. Brake pedal feel–as with most Lexus models–is a little too squishy for our tastes, but the ES has a respectable bite once beyond the squishy feeling of the pedal.
Much like its handling, the steering column is also more than adequate for this segment of sedan. There’s strong on-center feel–particularly when the drive control is in Sport+ mode–and enough road feedback to give the driver an impression this is a somewhat athletic sedan when the drive control system is in Sport or Sport+ mode.
Thus ES buyers clamoring for comfort will want to keep the car in its default mode, but even in its tamest mode, this ES has more edge that we’re used to seeing from a Lexus ES. Frankly, it could turn off some perennial purchasers.
DESIGN THAT MATCHES THE DRIVE
Speaking of turning off traditional buyers, the ES 350 F-Sport isn’t likely appealing to the geriatric crowd either. Dipped in a very loud hue of blue called Ultrasonic Blue Mica, our ES tester could quite likely be seen from space. The paint highlighted the new ES’ dramatic lines, including a very in-your-face front clip. The front clip is highlighted with Lexus’ now iconic (notorious?) spindle grille design, though polarizing in general, we do note it seems to “work” best on the new ES.
Very slim LED headlights flank the oversized grille, while specific body-kit treatment rounds out the F-Sport specific bits. The design as a whole works quite well and even masks the car’s obvious front-wheel-drive proportions. During our week with the car it received several positive comments from bystanders; the question remains if they noticed the car for its design or the blinding blue.
Crack open the door to any new ES and you’ll find a really attractive interior design, but our tester was took it to nightclub level with a mostly red leather setup. The overall layout of this interior is not unfamiliar to other Lexus sedans, but it has some important distinctions that make it a favorite of ours.
First and foremost, the ES is equipped with Lexus’ new 12.3-inch infotainment display. This theater-like display rests at the top of the dash, which makes it super visible and slightly mesmerizing to watch. In a world where your screen size matters, this ES has some bragging rights for sure.
The big screen is displaying the latest iteration of Lexus Enform, the brand’s infotainment system. While the newest software is a big step forward versus older iterations, the ES is still confined to a directional pad navigation and plagued with a dizzying array of buttons that aren’t the clearest. With haptic feedback, it is easy to use, but still not as easy as your finger touching the display.
It is worth mentioning Lexus will start transitioning to touchscreens in 2020, starting with the refresh 2020 RX. We look forward to this transition.
You may not be able to touch the screen, but you will want to touch everything else in the ES interior. The material quality throughout the interior is top-notch, including real aluminum trim and an F-Sport specific steering wheel.
The quality materials add a layer of luxury to the otherwise comfortable interior. Seat quality in the ES is firm and supportive in front and back, while the added dimensions have crafted the roomiest ES interior to date. We did note that road noise seemed a little high at highway speeds versus the expectation of a church-like Lexus.
Those bothered by the road noise can just crank up the volume on the optional 1,800 watt Mark Levinson surround sound system, because it is one of Lexus’ best audio systems at the moment and sounds fantastic.
Often times we equate a badass sound system with that of a sunroof. While the ES does have a sunroof, it only offers standard size glass. This is borderline perplexing given the Camry offers a panoramic sunroof option. It’s a notable omission for a brand new luxury sedan.
A TASTE OF THE LEXUS OWNERSHIP EXPERIENCE
We actually got to test Lexus services during our review of the ES 350. Thanks to the brutal winter in Kansas City, there are potholes throughout the metro that one could swallow a Chevrolet Spark. Unfortunately, our ES tester fell victim to one; obliterating one of the tires.
A quick push of the Enform “SOS” button yielded a conversation with a roadside assistance dispatcher and within the hour someone arrived to change the spare (yes, it actually has a spare). A few days later a visit to a local Lexus dealership yielded a new shoe and everything was back to normal.
While the circumstance was unfortunate, the experience from end-to-end is one that should reassure potential Lexus owners. From the dispatch service to the level of–very quick–service at the dealership, this rare (for us) glimpse inside the ownership experience was revealing.
THE BEST OF WHAT’S LEFT
A top-notch ownership experience and quality vehicle are certainly reason enough to consider the ES 350, but who exactly is buying the ES these days? It’s part of a vehicle segment that is dying off at a rapid pace. At this point the Acura TLX, Cadillac XTS and Lincoln MKZ are the top ones that come to mind; two of the three offering all-wheel-drive, an omission on the Lexus that should be underscored.
While narrowing the buyer demographic for the ES may be a challenge, there’s no question is a high quality front-wheel-drive premium sedan. Given there’s only a few left, this one is definitely the best option assuming all-wheel-drive is not a deal-breaker.