By Shari Prymak
The Lexus ES has always been an ideal choice for the person who wants the luxury car experience without the financial burden. It’s so reliable and well built that it has become the go-to choice for limo drivers and their high-mileage workhorse duties. It also manages to offer much of the technology and refinement of a top-tier German luxury sedan without the stratescheric pricetag. While the ES has always excelled at delivering a comfortable, relaxed driving experience, the same can’t be said for handling and excitement. That’s something the latest version aims to change.
The ES 350 is offered in two distinct flavours. The regular models remain focused on comfort, quietness, and relaxation with more subdued styling and softy-sprung suspension. The F Sport variant spices things up with more aggressive 19 inch wheels, a blacked-out grill, supportive sport seats, aluminum trim, larger sport brakes, and adaptive variable suspension with Sport S and Sport S+ modes. In an effort to show how serious they are, Lexus even went so far as to give the F Sport models a unique electric steering system with a more precise, connected feel.
The result of all these changes is an ES that’s solid, composed and even a little fun to steer through corners, with next to no sacrifice to ride quality. Ultimately this is still a large, front-wheel drive luxury sedan designed for long-distance comfort with an absorbent suspension and a whisper-quiet cabin. Switch the mode selector to Sport S+ mode though and it has no problem flexing its muscles and showing off some athleticism when the mood calls for it.
Powering the ES 350 is a direct and port injected version of Lexus’s time-tested 3.5L V6 engine matched to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Here it produces 302 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, enough for smooth, brisk acceleration. At 14.0L/100km in mostly city driving conditions, fuel economy could be better, but least the ES 350 is able to get away with regular-grade gasoline, making it a rare breed in the luxury segment. For those who would happily trade some performance for a big increase in fuel economy, the hybrid-powered ES 300h is available as well.
The ES 350’s interior is a relaxing space to melt away the miles with an impressive assortment of rich materials and near fanatical attention to build quality. Being a large sedan, space all around is plentiful, and seats are both supportive and comfortable with a good range of adjustment. Most of the controls are handled through the available extra-large, 12.3 inch infotainment screen (8 inches wide as standard) which is controlled using a cursor and touchpad. Though an improvement from prior versions, the system is still a bit of a mess and far too distracting to use while driving. Thankfully, some of the commonly used functions can be controlled using nice buttons and knobs, my favorite being the volume tuning combination knob which has a satisfying feel to it. There just needs to be more of them.
Standard features include Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 which consists of full-speed radar cruise control, pre-collision system with low light pedestrian and bicycle detection, lane tracing assist, and other high-tech safety aids. Available features include a 10 inch head-up display, 17 speaker Mark Levinson sound system, semi-aniline seats, and much more. Pricing starts at $45,000 for the ES 350 and $47,000 for the ES 300h hybrid, but can stretch as high as $61,500 with every extra. My F Sport 2 Package tester falls somewhere in the middle with an MSRP of $54,800.
Although its popularity is being challenged by the increasing dominance of crossovers, the ES 350 remains a very competitive and desirable luxury sedan. Though not strictly necessary, Lexus would probably benefit by offering the ES with all-wheel drive in addition to the standard front-wheel drive configuration, as well as improve the user experience of the complicated infotainment system. If neither of those things are deterrents, however, this is a well-designed, impeccably built luxury car that should provide countless years of trouble-free driving pleasure.