NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Lexus ES is the brand’s best-selling sedan. In its six-generation lifespan, it has sold more than 2.18 million units globally, with 1 million of those units going to United States residents.
Though the ES isn’t the base entry into Lexus, it’s still one of the more affordable options if you’re looking for something in the midsize luxury category.
Now for 2019, Lexus ups the ante for a seventh generation, adding more standard content, more sport and more efficiency.
It also has a somewhat polarizing design with the signature Lexus spindle grille. But that’s one of the design elements I really love on the new ES.
Love it or hate it, you won’t mistake it for anything else on the road.
Though Lexus doesn’t have “trims” in the traditional sense of the word, it does offer three different varieties of the ES and various packaging options that increase up-level content features.
While ES has had the hybrid 300h and 350 variants in previous generations, this is the first time an F Sport model enters the ES lineup. This model gets a special black mesh grille treatment, an available adaptive variable suspension, 19-inch wheels, a rear spoiler, aluminum pedals, exclusive seat design and an LFA supercar-inspired behind-the-wheel display.
And it’s this model Lexus expects will bring in conquest sales and a buyer who is on average about 10 years younger than the rest of the ES lineup. Lexus also estimates that the F Sport will account for about 25 percent of ES sales.
Outside of the sporty good looks of the F Sport, there’s a lot the new ES brings to the table – especially in the way of technology.
The 2019 ES is the first Lexus to get Apple CarPlay – and before you ask, no, Android Auto is not being integrated. Yet. It will, however, get Alexa integration.
Plus, for the first time, ES will get Lexus’ Safety System + 2.0 as standard fare. This will include high-tech safety features such as lane trace assist, autonomous emergency braking, intelligent high-beam assist, adaptive cruise control and a road sign reader.
Other high-tech features available on the ES include a 360-degree panoramic camera, a 12.3-inch navigation display screen, a kick-activated trunk, Qi wireless charging, automatic reverse braking and an up-level Mark Levinson premium sound system.
For 2019, ES is a front-wheel-drive only vehicle. It also offers two powertrains: a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and a 2.5-liter 4-cylidner engine mated to an electric motor.
During our first-look test of the ES, we had the opportunity to test the three different variants, and while they are remarkably the same in terms of ride and handling, there are some subtle distinctions.
The ES 300h is equipped with the 2.5-liter engine, and as you’d expect from a hybrid, the throttle response is definitely muted and the horsepower rating is only 215. So, if you’re an aggressive driver, this might not quite be the car for you. The bonus here, however, is the quietness of the engine and the potential to get 44 mpg in combined driving.
Both the ES 350 and F Sport are equipped with the V-6 and have distinctly faster acceleration with 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. But the engine sound in the 350 is more noticeable and less desirable.
On the more aggressive side of the equation, the F Sport allows for a Sport + mode, which enables the engine to rev higher and, in turn, deliver a quicker throttle response. Steering and suspension also stiffen up, making for a sportier ride.
I liked the 300h for the quiet efficiency (we averaged about 41 mpg in our quick testing) and the F Sport for the fun-to-drive factor. The 350, in my book, was just fine.
Another thing to note is there is a distinct difference in the seats from the ES 350/300h to the F Sport. My preference was for the cushier, more comfortable 350/300h seats vs. the stiffer F Sport seats, which didn’t hit me in the right spots.
General ride and comfort in all the vehicles is pretty solid, and the ES generally makes a good touring vehicle for long road trips or commutes. Even the F Sport offers Comfort and Eco modes, which probably makes this the long-term favorite.
While the exterior design is polarizing, the interior is more conservative with elegant accents, nice stitching and easy-to-find hard-touch buttons.
I will admit that at first glance, the steering wheel and center stack look like an explosion of buttons and dials, but after sitting behind the wheel, you can tell they are well-placed and keep you from paging through screens on the navigation display – or force you to use the touch pad.
ES will be available in dealers starting in September, and though pricing hasn’t been announced at the time of writing this review, Lexus execs stated pricing should remain in the ballpark of the current generation, which places it around $39K.
The Bottom Line
I liked the ES. But the question is: Did I like it enough to spend $5,000 more than I’d spend on a top-tier Toyota Camry XSE? That model is based on the same GA-K platform and has many of the same whistles and bells – including a 3.5-liter V-6 engine.
The answer: I’m not sure.
I do love the ES grille, which might be something that would push me more toward the Lexus side of things.
I also really like the attention to detail on the interior styling. The large 12.3-inch navigation screen and the well-planned accent pieces on the interior are also a huge plus.
But the Camry offers a flashy red leather interior as well as a base 4-cylinder engine that will cost nearly $20K less than the base ES with a V-6. On the flip side, ES has that fun-to-drive F Sport.
To be sure, it’s a conundrum, and at the end of the day it’ll boil down to personal preference for the design and whether you want affordable efficiency or flashy fun-to-drive dynamics.
Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Lexus covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.