FeaturesLexus ES: Sixth Generation

Driving the All-New 2019 Lexus ES 350 & ES 300h

Lexus ES Hero Image

Lexus Enthusiast editor Kevin Watts traveled to Nashville, Tennessee last month to test drive the all-new 2019 Lexus ES 350 & ES 300h hybrid. This is his personal impressions of the car, a full technical overview was posted last week.

For one moment, forget about the new Lexus ES sedan. Instead, think about every ES previous, and how you would describe it. It would likely be with words like Comfortable or Predictable, perhaps Conservative or even Dull if you were being less charitable.

For six generations, the ES has epitomized the old-school approach to luxury vehicles by being plush and dependable, never pushing the envelope or stepping outside of the lines. As a formula, the success is undeniable — Lexus has sold 2.12 million ES sedans since 1989, with over 1 million in the USA alone.

But that was then, and this is now. Sedan sales used to be able to support the IS sports sedan, the GS mid-size sedan, and the ES that straddled the two in price and size, respectively. Now, the entire automotive market thinks only of crossovers & SUVS, and Lexus has to be selective when updating its sedan lineup.

Enter the seventh-generation ES, a sedan that moves the needle closer to mid-size luxury in class and quality, while maintaining its price position as an entry-level luxury car. The times have changed, and the formula must change with it.


In the past, there’s been a hard limit in terms of the ES design. Despite the similarities in character to the LS flagship, Lexus has been mindful to maintain a respectful distance between the two models. This is no longer the case with the new model, as the ES now borrows from the LS sedan extensively. Even so, it’s only in the broad strokes — the seventh-generation ES is a much simpler design, free from the trappings of being a flagship.

My mixed feelings on the waterfall grille of the standard model have subsided somewhat, though I much prefer the styling of the ES F SPORT on the whole. There are certain configurations of color and angle where the car looks more expensive and upscale than necessary.

(As for the new colors: Sunlit Green is surprisingly intense with a wide spectrum depending on lighting. Moonbeam Beige Metallic is not my thing.)


Inside, the cabin is dominated by the 12.3-inch multimedia display, to the point where the rest of the interior practically fades away. It’s well enough that the biggest upgrade happens behind that screen, with the introduction of Apple CarPlay and the integration of the Amazon Alexa voice service.

Lexus ES Interior

There will be the usual complaints about the Remote Touch controller, which appears as a touchpad in the ES, but the new openness of the Lexus infotainment software makes manual input feel archaic. Voice control is fluid, working well regardless of the preferred service.

After so many years without support, having Apple CarPlay should be the turning point in discussing Lexus infotainment. Lack of Google integration is a valid complaint, but anyone in the Apple or Amazon ecosystem will be very happy.

(Unfortunate that the in-car Alexa must be launched every time the car is turned on, but there’s surely a contingent of buyers that are happy for that additional layer of privacy.)

For the rest of the cabin, some point-form from my notes:

  • The “wave” leather pattern available with some packages is subtle in appearance but bold in design. Lexus took a real chance adding texture to the trim, but it ends up elevating the interior.
  • A full black interior does the cabin no favors, as it hides the details and highlights the plastics. On the flip side, the Circuit Red interior is brilliant, perfectly in line with F SPORT while keeping a semblance of maturity expected with the ES.
  • There just isn’t enough wood trim in the cabin, though it does allow for a nice upgrade in the mid-cycle refresh down the line.

While I made sure to drive the standard ES 350 and the hybrid ES 300h, I was unable to escape the siren call of the Ultra White ES 350 F SPORT and its Circuit Red interior. There will be those that deride the very existence of a front-wheel-drive ES performance package, but the benefits are real and pronounced.

As expected, the upgrades all center on the driver — the steering wheel is leather-wrapped and thicker, the seats have extended side bolsters, there’s aluminum pedals and a G-Force gauge in the instrument panel. An Adaptive Variable Suspension is standard.

Lexus ES Driving

The thing that sold me was the steering, where the ES F SPORT is a significant upgrade over the standard model. There’s more weight to the wheel, providing better feedback and increasing the luxury factor of the driving experience. Again, the ES emulates a more expensive car in a very positive way.

(It should be noted that steering feel becomes much heavier in Sport mode for both Luxury and F Sport models.)


There’s a point during the day when I’m out in an ES 300h, driving around the Tennessee countryside, looking for somewhere to take photos and maybe shoot a video. My expectation of a quick turnaround quickly subsides, and I find myself driving aimlessly, pulling into small driveways, backing out onto busy roads, trying to find a patch of privacy with a good view.

Here’s the kicker — I never end up finding a spot. 40 minutes in the southern wilderness, and not a photo opportunity anywhere. But in the process, I do learn a couple things about the ES, the hybrid in particular.

Lexus ES Driving

Where the ES F SPORT feels like a distant relative to the previous generation, the ES hybrid is more evolutionary in its handling — light to the touch, but still grounded on the road.

The ES 300h is whisper quiet at moderate load, but even with the additional hybrid frequency-specific sound dampening, I’m not a fan of the engine & electric interplay. During heightened acceleration, the whine is audible and mechanical, like a washing machine spinning too fast.

But the driving experience is almost besides the point, because the ES 300h delivers a combined 44 mpg for city & highway driving. Outside of a plug-in, there is no more fuel-efficient luxury car available in the USA. I’m convinced my IQ went up a few points in my time behind the wheel.


In a lucky turn of events, the standard ES 350 is the last car I drive — it’s an amalgamation of the other two cars, with the F SPORT’s V6 and its eight-speed transmission with the lighter driving touch of the ES 300h.

If you have any familiarity with the ES sedan over the years, and perhaps are looking to capture that classic experience, the ES 350 is the car for you. The core experience remains the same — the cabin is still comfortably isolating, and the driving remains suitably effortless. The drive back to the hotel is a breeze, just as you would hope for after a long day.


Lexus ES Final

So what words would I use to describe this new ES? Comfortable most certainly, but I would add Confident and even Compelling as new qualities. Lexus may want to position this car against the Mercedes C-Class & Audi A4, but its true competitors are a class above and $10,000 more expensive. There is a lot of car for the money here.

This leads to wondering about how the front-wheel drive of the ES will compete against the rear-wheel drive performance of the E-Class or the all-wheel drive of the A6, but this is only one part of the formula. The better question is, how can Mercedes and Audi afford to compete with this car?

Comments
Sakura
Well - according to car magazines - the Audi A6 handles pretty good.
....

Audi A6 handling from reviews have been positive.
lol... and so does 2019 ES, according to the magazines. Which in the case ES you ignore completely.

Not to mention that 5 german articles I read about 2019 ES in past week all talk how it has fine interior with quality materials and workmanship, as well as good suspension.... and all to the point say it will compete with A6, E class and 5 series.


@peterharvey did you get banned from CL finally?
peterharvey
I have a feeling that the ES will only reach a certain limit in sales.
Eg, at their best, they sold about 80k units/year USA.

Keep in mind that E Class & 5 Series are breathing on ES's back with peak annual sales of 69k & 57k respectively.
Thus, to get more midsize luxury sales, Lexus will still need RWD with double wishbone front suspension.
are you trying to say that their goal of 50k/year in the US is somehow not good enough or something?
S
spwolf
lol... and so does 2019 ES, according to the magazines. Which in the case ES you ignore completely.

Not to mention that 5 german articles I read about 2019 ES in past week all talk how it has fine interior with quality materials and workmanship, as well as good suspension.... and all to the point say it will compete with A6, E class and 5 series.

@peterharvey did you get banned from CL finally?
Why you putting words in my mouth? I didn't ignore the reviews. I have clearly stated, and this is about the 5th time you made me repeat myself, that the Lexus ES handles pretty well and better than predecessors but its not a handling king - like the Civic Type R.

Please refer back to what I said:
The Lexus ES is an amazing luxury car that handles better than its predecessors - it doesn't need to be some handling king. It doesn't need to be powerful either. Its good at being a comfortable-luxurious-reliable car.
This means - that I was trying to challenge your narrative that you think the Lexus ES / ES F-Sport is an insanely good handling car. All I'm saying is - the Lexus ES is handles well but not good like other handling cars are better step-up for it.

spwolf
are you trying to say that their goal of 50k/year in the US is somehow not good enough or something?
I don't think Pete was saying 50K/year sales are bad. I think hes saying that if the Lexus ES wants to do better than 50K/year sales - it needs to do more.
Sakura
Why you putting words in my mouth? I didn't ignore the reviews. I have clearly stated, and this is about the 5th time you made me repeat myself, that the Lexus ES handles pretty well and better than predecessors but its not a handling king - like the Civic Type R.

Please refer back to what I said:


This means - that I was trying to challenge your narrative that you think the Lexus ES / ES F-Sport is an insanely good handling car. All I'm saying is - the Lexus ES is handles well but not good like other handling cars are better step-up for it.



I don't think Pete was saying 50K/year sales are bad. I think hes saying that if the Lexus ES wants to do better than 50K/year sales - it needs to do more.
Nobody is saying ES is insanely good handling car, it is just that you keep finding reasons to disqualify it as competition to other cars in the class... and then you end up comparing it to the Type R, M3, etc, etc.

And nobody is putting words in your mouth either, you keep doing that yourself :)
S
spwolf
Nobody is saying ES is insanely good handling car, it is just that you keep finding reasons to disqualify it as competition to other cars in the class... and then you end up comparing it to the Type R, M3, etc, etc.

And nobody is putting words in your mouth either, you keep doing that yourself :)
I felt like you implied it in your post so I challenged it. Good on you for clearing it up.

I was drawing a comparison of how the Lexus ES is well balanced handling car but no-where as good as a Type R. The point of this was to challenge you. If you didn't imply the ES is a handling-god, then there is no story here.

No. I'm not "finding" reasons. Its my opinions - that the Lexus ES does not compete with the A4, 3, C, A6, 5, or E. The ES is similar to none of these cars except for price within the A4, 3, and C. However - price can't be the only part to what car competes with what car.

Its your opinion that the Lexus ES competes within that segment. By the way - I have listed my reasons why the Lexus ES don't compete there. Want to list reasons why you think the ES competes with the A4, 3, C, A6, 5, and E?
Sakura
I felt like you implied it in your post so I challenged it. Good on you for clearing it up.

I was drawing a comparison of how the Lexus ES is well balanced handling car but no-where as good as a Type R. The point of this was to challenge you. If you didn't imply the ES is a handling-god, then there is no story here.

No. I'm not "finding" reasons. Its my opinions - that the Lexus ES does not compete with the A4, 3, C, A6, 5, or E. The ES is similar to none of these cars except for price within the A4, 3, and C. However - price can't be the only part to what car competes with what car.

Its your opinion that the Lexus ES competes within that segment. By the way - I have listed my reasons why the Lexus ES don't compete there. Want to list reasons why you think the ES competes with the A4, 3, C, A6, 5, and E?
It certainly does not compete with A4, but it does compete with A6 and other cars in the class... I suggest you go to the dealership and talk to the people there what are they cross-shopping ES with.

As to why I think that, it is because I live in Europe, and your competitors do not exist here. As I mentioned several times so far, all European magazines are calling it A6/E/5 competitor, and I personally think it is delusional to thank that majority of people buying base models of these vehicles are buying it for RWD or handling characteristics, and even then that they are not drastically different from new ES.

Now if we are talking about higher end of the market, like 540i or 535d, then it is another story, but these days those buyers are in minority, especially in Europe, where these vehicles are mostly sold with 2.0 tdi engines.
^
Lexus ES will also compete against Camry in Europe which just go announced as Avensis replacement. Very weird decision by Toyota. Why now?
The Avensis is the average grocery car in Europe. I don't see how a Camry replacing it can be a problem for a premium sedan like the ES...
The Camry is targeted towards fleet buyers. But we know in Europe at lot of fleet buyers go for wagons rather than sedans, if financially feasible, but the Camry has no wagon. In Europe there is no more Avensis sedan, it was discontinued, we only have the wagon.
Levi
The Camry is targeted towards fleet buyers. But we know in Europe at lot of fleet buyers go for wagons rather than sedans, if financially feasible, but the Camry has no wagon. In Europe there is no more Avensis sedan, it was discontinued, we only have the wagon.
Camry is replacing Avensis, which is very old. And availability of Sedan/Wagon depended on the country you are in, we still have sedan, for a while anyway.

In any case, Camry or ES have nothing to do with each other... it is like saying that Passat competes with A6.
Perhaps @mediumhot thinks the ES is still Camry-based, rather than Avalon? If it were, offering it alongside the ES in Europe would be a little weird, but things worked out fine doing that in the US.
Ian Schmidt
Perhaps @mediumhot thinks the ES is still Camry-based, rather than Avalon? If it were, offering it alongside the ES in Europe would be a little weird, but things worked out fine doing that in the US.
Well if you are European, then VW platform sharing is engraved into your brain and Camry vs ES is far more distant than what Skoda/Seat/VW/Audi are doing currently, where many cars share almost identical design clues, not to mention parts which is not happening in Camry vs ES case.

Avensis was always more luxurious and special than Camry, but it was also always missing something. With sales low, it does not make sense anymore, and Camry will at least have advantage of size, hybrid powertrain and comfort that last Avensis lacked.

Instead TME will focus on 2 additional CUVs coming out in next 2 years as well as new Auris and Rav4 which seem to be very much improved in things that Europeans care about.
Ian Schmidt
Perhaps @mediumhot thinks the ES is still Camry-based, rather than Avalon? If it were, offering it alongside the ES in Europe would be a little weird, but things worked out fine doing that in the US.
Well if you are European, then VW platform sharing is engraved into your brain and Camry vs ES is far more distant than what Skoda/Seat/VW/Audi are doing currently, where many cars share almost identical design clues, not to mention parts which is not happening in Camry vs ES case.

Avensis was always more luxurious and special than Camry, but it was also always missing something. With sales low, it does not make sense anymore, and Camry will at least have advantage of size, hybrid powertrain and comfort that last Avensis lacked.

Instead TME will focus on 2 additional CUVs coming out in next 2 years as well as new Auris and Rav4 which seem to be very much improved in things that Europeans care about.
Oh, ok. In the US we had that from GM in the 70s and 80s where they made basically the same car with different front-end assemblies as a Chevy, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and sometimes Cadillac (and I see the curse of the J-Body also extended to Europe, Australia, and Japan). Is there a good website to check out the VAG platform sharing?
Oh, ok. In the US we had that from GM in the 70s and 80s where they made basically the same car with different front-end assemblies as a Chevy, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and sometimes Cadillac (and I see the curse of the J-Body also extended to Europe, Australia, and Japan). Is there a good website to check out the VAG platform sharing?
Ian Schmidt
Oh, ok. In the US we had that from GM in the 70s and 80s where they made basically the same car with different front-end assemblies as a Chevy, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and sometimes Cadillac (and I see the curse of the J-Body also extended to Europe, Australia, and Japan). Is there a good website to check out the VAG platform sharing?
Here shows platform mates:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Group_MQB_platform

For instance new A1 interior is very much a Seat. Obviously higher end Audi's are spared of this issue.

edit: also unlike Toyota, they are not pushing higher end parts into lower end vehicles so for instance T-Roc which is C-HR competitor has torsion beam rear suspension in FWD models and handles worse than C-HR, something that even European press had to admit. Which is quite a turn of events.

You can also check topgear site which shows pics:
https://www.topgear.com/car-news/insider/explained-vw-groups-mqb-platform
It's my understanding that many Lexus customers in Europe come from Toyota culture. Now for the first time ever Toyota is giving them the chance to pick exact same car under 2 different badges. If equipped as same as in US Camry in Europe will be considered a luxury vehicle, not a premium vehicle like Lexus but for sure a luxury vehicle much like LC Prado and LC V8 are. There will be some cannibalization.
mediumhot
It's my understanding that many Lexus customers in Europe come from Toyota culture. Now for the first time ever Toyota is giving them the chance to pick exact same car under 2 different badges. If equipped as same as in US Camry in Europe will be considered a luxury vehicle, not a premium vehicle like Lexus but for sure a luxury vehicle much like LC Prado and LC V8 are. There will be some cannibalization.
It is hard to understand how you think that Camry and ES are exact same cars under 2 different bages. I wish it was true, I would get Camry right away.
Yeah, the ES is Avalon-based, which is already a step above Camry.
Will Europe get the ES 350? I know that Europe never had any 350 without hybrid, so only 450h.
S
spwolf
It certainly does not compete with A4, but it does compete with A6 and other cars in the class... I suggest you go to the dealership and talk to the people there what are they cross-shopping ES with.

As to why I think that, it is because I live in Europe, and your competitors do not exist here. As I mentioned several times so far, all European magazines are calling it A6/E/5 competitor, and I personally think it is delusional to thank that majority of people buying base models of these vehicles are buying it for RWD or handling characteristics, and even then that they are not drastically different from new ES.

Now if we are talking about higher end of the market, like 540i or 535d, then it is another story, but these days those buyers are in minority, especially in Europe, where these vehicles are mostly sold with 2.0 tdi engines.
Maybe because you live in Europe and this is why we are having a difference of opinion. The thing is - Europe sees the Lexus ES as a A6, 5, and E competition because Lexus is axing the GS there and selling the ES there for the first time. When you cancel something and add something that has never been sold there, its likely people will think "similar competition." However - that doesn't make it an actually competitor to the A6, 5, and E. A car competes within its segment because of the traits it shares with the other vehicles.

The GS better competes with the A6, 5 and E because it offers RWD and AWD. The A6 is in there because of its longitudinal FWD and AWD system. The driving dynamics, the size, the luxury, the craftmenship, and etc... all play a role in how the car competes within a segment.

While I agree that majority of people buying a base model of these vehicles aren't buying it for the RWD or handling, it doesn't mean the ES competes directly with the A6, 5 and E.

And I disagree. RWD/AWD and longitudinal FWD/AWD is drastically different from each other. Its mechanically impossible for the 2019 Lexus ES to handle as good as a Lexus GS or BMW 5 Series because of the way the Lexus ES is set up. Now don't take this the wrong way - I'm not saying the Lexus ES don't handle good. It handles well for what it is - a luxury sedan. But in no way its a "sporty" luxury sedan. And that's fine - it doesn't have to handle like the GS, 5, E and A6 because it'll do great without handling like them. I'm not sure why people want the ES to be those cars when its never intended to be those cars.
@Sakura Cars do not have to be the same to compete for the same target customer. 1 Series is RWD and competes against FWD A Class. But you start sounding like a broken record. Nobody on here disputes the fact that the ES is not the same as the GS or the German rivals you mention, but they nonetheless compete with each other. If the RWD is so important, why did Lexus sell (in Europe) only 12K units in 6 years?


The ES the same size as the A6 in every measure. The new S6 gets only turbo V6.

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