The Lexus ES 350 is all new for 2019. The midsize ES has gone through seven generations since it debuted at one of two original Lexus models in 1990. The most current ES rides the Toyota New Global Architecture (TGNA), which also supports vehicles like the Corolla, Camry and Avalon. Though it still seats five and comes only as a sedan, the new ES has a wheelbase that grows 2.0 inches and is 2.6 inches longer and 1.7 inches wider than the model it replaces. Given the ES' front-drive configuration, its most direct competitors include the Acura TLX, Audi A6, Buick Regal, Lincoln MKZ and Volvo S60.
Two distinct models are offered. The ES 350, which comes with a 3.5-liter V6 that gains 34 horsepower for a total output of 302 horsepower. With the V6, an 8-speed automatic replaces last year's 6-speed automatic. The ES 300h has a hybrid powertrain that consists of a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, twin electric motors, nickel-metal-hydride battery and continuously variable automatic transmission. All told, the hybrid drivetrain produces 215 horsepower, an improvement of 15 over last year.
Also new for 2019 is the F Sport trim package. Offered only on the ES 350, the F Sport package includes a sport-tuned adaptive suspension, 19-inch wheels shod with performance tires, unique interior and exterior styling and materials, distinct 8-inch instrument cluster, rear spoiler and active noise control.
The ES 350 lists for $39,255 and the ES 300h lists for $41,410. The F Sport model tips the scales at $44,135.
With a lusty V6 under the hood, the Lexus ES 350 provides the kind of instant go that most Americans expect. There's no wait for the turbo to spool up and no hesitation from the transmission as the engine builds power seamlessly and progressively. Lexus quotes a 0-60 MPH time of just 6.6 seconds, which is more than appropriate for the class.
F Sport models get steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and adjustable driving modes that include ECO, Comfort, Sport and Sport+. When in ECO or Comfort, the engine can feel a bit sleepy off the line, but shift to Sport or Sport+ and the drivetrain comes alive. The engine spins like a top to near redline and sounds great doing it. The transmission snaps off quick and authoritative shifts and the suspension and steering firm up. The only drawback is inherent to the front-drive nature of the ES, that ultimately handicaps it against all-wheel-drive competitors.
The 2019 ES 350 is EPA rated at 22 MPG city 33 MPG highway. F Sport models drop of 22/31 MPG while the ES 300h rises to 43/45 MPG. Thankfully, both ES models run fine on regular-grade gasoline -- a rarity in the premium-car segment. In reality, there's little difference in economy between the 350 and 350 F Sport. Of course, your fuel economy will depend on your right foot. Driven cautiously, most suburban commuters will see about 25 MPG overall. Throw in some gentle highway cruising and you might see 28 MPG.
With a stiffer structure and more sophisticated suspension the ES is transformed from a cushy-riding luxury sedan to a comfortable-riding sporty sedan. No, it's not a match for an Acura or Audi just yet, but, even in base trim, the ES has less suspension float and more competent road manners than ever before. Toss in the F Sport package and the ES gets downright athletic.
Regardless of trim, the suspension does a good job of filtering out minor pavement imperfections and softening large impacts. Improvements extend to both the steering, which is decidedly more communicative, and the brakes, which appear to have significantly better stopping power. Interior noise levels are extremely low, but there's a touch more road and engine noise than in previous editions -- at least on the F Sport. Ultimately, the ES is first-and-foremost a luxury sedan and places more emphasis on comfort than sport but the compromise for 2019 is nearly perfect for the heart of the premium-car market.
The interior gets a complete refresh for 2019. Materials are significantly upgraded and the focus moves from traditional luxury to luxury-sport. Regardless of model, drivers face a traditional dial setup but the overall design changes depending on trim. All are easy to read day or night and there's an available head-up display option. The center stack is dominated by a large video screen that's controlled by a console-mounted touch pad and there are traditional buttons and knobs for the climate and audio systems. Most other switchgear is conveniently placed.
The front seats offer great comfort and ample head and leg room. In addition, there are multiple adjustments designed to suite a diverse range drivers. For those inclined, the F Sport has more supportive seat options. Rear seats are somewhat flat. However, they offer perhaps the best room in the class and the ability to sit three abreast in modest comfort. Entry exit and outward visibility are excellent.
As expected, the ES offers an impressive suite of safety and technology features. Sadly, some are part of costly option packages on the lower trim levels. In addition, the bulky to operate infotainment system is just starting to support Apple Car Play and does not support Android Auto. Together, all of this feels like Lexus dropped the ball in trying to connect with younger buyers.
With 17 cubic feet of storage capacity, the trunk is one of the largest in the class. The opening is wide and the liftover is low. Though the rear seats do not fold, there is a small central passthrough. Interior storage disappoints somewhat because the center console houses a large gear shift and a touch pad for the infotainment screen.
The Lexus ES has always been long on comfort and short on athleticism. That changes for 2019 -- especially with the F Sport package. With new technology, additional safety features, more power, extra room and better road manners, the new ES is substantially better than the car it replaces. Prices have crept upward and the ES isn't the entry-luxury bargain it once was. Still, it's more affordable than many competitors and brings with it Lexus' strong reputation for reliability. If you are looking for room, comfort and a taste of the good life, the ES might just be for you.