What it is: The ES is the entry-level luxury sedan for Lexus and is sized in the mid-size car segment. This is the 7th generation Lexus ES, and it was launched here in the U.S. last fall. It’s certainly more of an evolution than a revolution, with relatively minor tweaks compared to the outgoing model. You are still limited to a V6 engine or a 4-cylinder hybrid, although the V6 gets a nice bump from 268 to 302 horsepower. My test model was the hybrid, which only delivers 215 horsepower, but doubles the gas mileage of the V6 to 43 MPG city. Great fuel economy rarely looks this good.
The exterior continues to embrace the signature spindle-shaped grille, and it appears even larger than the outgoing model. The rear fascia receives modern and sleekly shaped taillights that look fantastic. The new ES is slightly larger as well at 1 inch wider and 3 inches longer than the ‘18 iteration. The space is well utilized with a car that is very comfortable for four average-size adults, and a large 16.7 cubic feet of trunk space – a 10 percent increase.
The ES is available in several trim levels. The base model is priced from $39,600 and is simply referred to as the ‘ES 350.’ An F SPORT trim is $4,635 extra and provides sport seats, 19-inch wheels and an adaptive suspension system. The ‘Luxury’ trim is a $2,655 premium over the base model and adds special leather and wood interior accents. The somewhat cringe-inducingly named ‘Ultra Luxury’ trim is a $3,650 premium over base, and adds 14-way power adjustable front seats and rear sunshades. All except the F SPORT are available in hybrid versions for a markup of roughly $1,800, a great deal if you are interested in saving on gas.
My test model, the Ultra Luxury hybrid, had several options on top of the $45,060 MSRP. My favorite was the $1,920 navigation system with an upgraded 12.3-inch infotainment screen. In-car navigation systems are still well behind the ones built into your phone, but the ES does support Apple Carplay. The screen by itself is worth the upgrade price, as it’s very handsome and looks great in the dash. Other options were 18-inch noise-reducing wheels ($950), heated wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel ($480), illuminated door sills ($379), carpet trunk mat ($105), wireless phone charger ($75), and an electronics safety suite ($1,900). All of these were fine, but I’m disappointed that Lexus doesn’t include the safety items as standard, not even with the ‘Ultimate Luxury’ trim. The package gets you a blind-spot monitor with rear-cross traffic alert, parking assist with automatic braking, rear-pedestrian detection and a panoramic-view monitor. All are great and very useful, but they need to be included on a luxury car with an MSRP of almost $50,000.
The ES was extremely quiet and smooth on the highway. It’s a little unfair that I had just reviewed its much bigger and more luxurious brother, the Lexus LS, the week before, but the ES still delivers the luxury goods. No one is likely turning their nose up at the leather-trimmed dashboard, great stereo system and beautiful infotainment screen.
Price: $41,410 for base hybrid. $52,294 as-tested with delivery.
Mileage: 43 city/44 combined/45 highway
Upsides: Luxurious. Nice size.
Downsides: Options are too expensive.
Wrap-up: My mind immediately draws a comparison to the Toyota Camry, the ES’s distant cousin. While the ES is certainly more luxurious, the recent redesign of the Camry is wonderful and with the two cars powered by the same drivetrains, I wondered how much extra are you paying for an ‘L’ badge instead of a ‘T.’ The answer is somewhere between $6,000 and $10,000 depending on how you equip the various models, which is actually less than I thought. Some of the additional benefits of owning a Lexus, like complimentary maintenance and a nice loaner car, are less desirable in our area due to a lack of a Lexus dealership in northeast Houston. The new ES is a very good car, almost a great car, but unless you demand the ultra-modern exterior or a more luxurious interior, it is tough to look past the Camry.