The Lexus ES is almost perfect

Executive Wheels: Fifty thousand Lexus sedan should also have a more substantial door


I was ready to dislike the new Lexus ES 350 Sport. Lately I have felt that Lexus and its parent company Toyota have not kept pace with the competition and many of their models need an update, including the Lexus ES.  

Depending on the source “ES,” either stands for “Executive Sedan” or “Elegant Sedan,” and by any measure the vehicle fits into either moniker. The ES is the third smallest of the four Lexus sedans – the flagship LS being the largest, the rear-drive GS being second-largest and the small-ish IS bringing up the rear. What distinguishes the ES is that, unlike the larger two, it is a front-wheel-drive vehicle.

Despite my best efforts, I found myself very much liking the ES for a variety of reasons. First, it is a beautiful car, inside and out, with a very aerodynamic and aggressive exterior design, and a cozy, sporty and handsome cockpit and interior. The interior, in fact, on the F Sport model, has a particularly beautiful finish, with very nice red leather seats, perforated to accommodate the heated and cooled seats, seats that were both highly comfortable yet firm.

I was also impressed with the car’s technology. Lexus, unlike Toyota, favors technology that is accessible through a computer-mouse-like device that I used to detest because I found it cumbersome and distracting. But after driving many Lexuses (Lexi?) over the years, I have gotten used to the device and I am now generally pleased with it. Yes, there’s a big screen and all that, but once you get your preferences settled for radio stations, apps you use, hookups to your smart phone and the like, switching around becomes quite easy and relatively non-distractive. In addition, the Bluetooth phone hookup, and all the technological voice command options, works well, and the quiet interior makes speaking and listening on the hands-free phone nice (with one exception, which I will explain shortly).

What I really liked about this car, however, was the driving. This ES features a 3.5-liter V6 engine with some 302 horsepower, coupled with an 8-speed automatic transmission, a combination that is very smooth and very quick.

Plus, it handles so well that driving it is like one is connected to the car as an appendage; it is responsive to the driver’s every whim. With a mileage rating of 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway/25 mpg combined, you get this performance at a relatively economical rating. I felt like I was in complete control at every turn while at the same time feeling that I was driving a superbly engineered vehicle. I felt like a million bucks – most of the time.

I mentioned one exception earlier having to do with the phone, and this exception also applies to the driving experience. I noticed the very first time got into the car that the door seemed to be very light-weight compared to the rest of the car. When I got out of the vehicle for the first time and shut the driver’s door, I noticed that the sheet metal on the door waved in a sort of flimsy way. I didn’t think much more of it until I hit the highway. Out there, at 60 to 70 miles per hour, that light-weight door proved to be a poor insulating device, and the road noise was quite substantial.  

The problem here is, as much as I like the car, this road noise issue on the highway could be a deal killer for me on its own. This is a good illustration of why I recommend a more-than-cursory test drive when you are shopping for a car. It needs to be driven for some distance – more than just around a couple of blocks at the dealership – and it needs to be driven on the highway and, importantly, at night.

The ES 350 from Lexus for 2020 starts at $39,900, and there are several trims to choose from. The “base” model is simply the ES, then there’s an ES Luxury (starting at $42,755), the ES Ultra Luxury ($43,750), and of course my test drive model, the ES F Sport, with a base price of $44,635. The differences between them all are cosmetic, with more options-as-standard and more robust color choices available as the price goes up. Of course, there’s always the add-ons.

For the most part, the F Sport trim, which is used in other Lexus vehicles, is a cosmetic thing. The company’s pitch is this: “Adaptive Variable Suspension system with Sport S+ mode, exclusive bolstered sport seats, and 19-inch wheels, the largest ever on an ES.” Is that worth the price difference? To some people.

On my test-drive vehicle they added roughly $5,000 in add-ons, some of it very nice. There’s blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert and parking assist with auto braking ($1,065), a wireless phone charger ($75), triple-bean LED headlamps ($1,515), a power rear sunshade $210), a hands-free power open/close trunk ($550), and, for $180, a F Sport heated steering wheel, windshield wiper deicer, and a fast-response interior heater (very nice).

In addition, there’s a $1,920 navigation package that includes the 12.3” color display screen, Lexus Enform Dynamic Navigation (which is subscription based but complimentary for 3 years), voice command, 10-speaker Lexus Premium Sound system, Homelink (garage door opener), and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. A lot of this stuff is becoming obsolete as the smart phone subsumes every possible task, so it’s a personal choice.

Anyway, with $1,025 in a destination charge, the bottom line here is $50,575. That’s where a Lexus ES should be priced. But – a fifty thousand Lexus sedan should also have a more substantial door.


Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation