Now in its seventh iteration, the Lexus ES is better than ever. The first ES came out three decades ago in 1989. Back then they were built on the Camry platform. The newest ES shares a platform with Toyota’s excellent Avalon. Has the Lexus treatment improved Toyota’s recipe?
This ES350 came off the assembly line in Georgetown, Kentucky sporting Ultrasonic Blue paint on its sheet metal skin. I was slow to warm up to the spindle grille, but now I think it looks pretty sharp.
The roofline makes an arc that sweeps gracefully from the base of the windshield, up over the four doors, and terminates beneath a spoiler on top of the deck lid. The chrome molding around the windows is a nice touch, and it just enough bling. 19 inch F-Sport alloy wheels finished in gray offer a nice contrast to the intense blue.
Lexus designers did a good job of developing the design theme on this car. Nothing looks out of proportion. And, rather wisely, they stayed away from a completely hard-edged motif. The problem with blocky designs for cars is that they’ll never be totally cohesive. There are certain elements that must be organic. Until we figure out square wheels, I fear we are beholden to at least some rounded features.
The gauge cluster in front of the driver mimics the hourglass shape of the grille. The driver’s feet are treated to aluminum pedals thanks to the F-Sport package. And everyone’s ears are treated to the 10 speaker Lexus premium sound system. The screen in the dash is lovely, both for its size, 12.3 inches, and its resolution. It’s also nice to see that Lexus has adopted Apple Carplay. I did notice a little distortion 10.2 inch wide heads up display, making this $500 option a questionable value. To be fair though, this is the first time I’ve noticed it in a Lexus product.
The build quality inside this ES is better than ever. And whether you like red skins on the seats or not, the excellent execution of these seats is undeniable. Everything you touch feels good. In the past, for whatever reason, Lexus’ shift knobs were never tight. They would always spin in your hand. After you buy this Lex though, you can tell all your friends about its nice tight knob.
There’s a lot to like inside, from the embossed headrests to the tasteful detail stitching on the dash and door panels. One particular detail I liked fixated on is the elegant shape of these door handles. It’s a small thing but it’s one we touch every time we drive. What can I say, I’m a sucker for hardware.
The ES350 has a 3.5 liter, dual overhead cam V8 that churns out 302 horsepower and makes a particularly mellifluous noise while doing it. It’s smart too. Variable valve timing allows this engine to switch between the Atkinson cycle, which holds the exhaust valves open just a bit longer for better fuel economy, and the old fashion Otto cycle for power. Passing power is excellent but don’t you try any shenanigans in this car.
Even with all the nanny controls turned off the Lexus slaps your wrist if you flat foot it from a stop. This car has the power to lay parallel rubber lines for half a city block. But Lexus engineers didn’t think that was an essential part of a luxury car’s disposition. When the traction control takes hold it doesn’t just turn down the volume, it shuts down the party and sends everybody home. Rather than tapering off the power it shuts it down pretty abruptly. I mean, what’s the point of having all those ponies under the hood and enduring the so-so fuel economy if you can’t let them run?
The ES350 is exceptionally quiet and comfortable to ride it. It has a truck-load of bells and whistles to keep occupants safe too. Radar cruise, airbags crammed into every cranny, pre-collision system, the gang is all here. Plus the F-Sport trim comes with tuned suspension including performance dampers.
The MSRP on a new ES350 is $44,035. But if you want the F-Sport trim all gussied up like this test car, it’ll set you back $52,904. That’s a considerable pile of scratch. But if it must be luxurious and it must be Japanese, then perhaps it must be this car. If I were in the market, I’d probably go with the ES300h hybrid rather than be teased by that great lump of power under the hood that I can’t use. Perhaps there was a hiccup during my transition from being a child to adulthood, but I don’t like being told what to do, even by a car. Realistically though, who would buy a buttoned-down, mid-sized luxury sedan to do something as juvenile and uncouth as turning tires into white smoke?