Can the 2022 Lexus ES remain America’s top-selling premium midsize car?

By Chuck Giametta

2021 Lexus ES 350 F Sport

What changes will make the 2022 Lexus ES different?

Bolstering standard safety features and replacing a wonky infotainment interface – if Lexus deems such improvements worthwhile. Otherwise, expect the 2022 edition of America’s best-selling midsize premium car to return without significant changes.

The 2022 ES lineup will again comprise front-wheel drive gasoline and gas-electric- hybrid models, plus an all-wheel-drive (AWD) version that was added for model-year 2021.

Today’s seventh-generation ES debuted as a 2019 model with edgier styling and sportier handling than any ES before it. But Lexus also acknowledged the buying public’s overwhelming shift to crossover SUVs by sacrificing rear-seat comfort for a sleeker roofline. It also dialed back the luxury feel that had been an ES hallmark since this sedan helped launch Toyota’s upscale brand in 1989.    

Should I wait for the 2022 Lexus ES or buy a 2021?

2021 ES 300h

Wait for the 2022 ES on the outside chance it’ll expand standard safety features and adopt an improved infotainment interface. Buy a ’21 if you’re OK paying extra for blind-spot detection – a feature standard on many less expensive cars — and want to interact with the dashboard display via a finicky trackpad.

Addressing both issues would top our recommended 2022 ES changes. But it’s also quite likely Lexus delays such adjustments until model-year 2024 or ’25, when the ES is due a midcycle refresh. A good bet is that the ’22 will get little more than some new color choices. But introducing some new technology, such as a rearview camera mirror, would be a simple way to modernize the feature set without waiting for a refresh.

Expect the 2022 lineup to again consist of ES 250 models with a four-cylinder engine and AWD, ES 350s with a V-6 and front-drive, and the ES 300h front-wheel-drive hybrid. All should return Base, Luxury, and Ultra Luxury trim levels, with the ES 250 and ES 350 also available in better-handling, spiffier-looking F Sport guise.

The 2021 ES 350 was also available in a limited run of 1,500 Black Line editions that combined Ultra Luxury and F Sport touches. Lexus could continue that model or come up with a new take for model-year 2022.    

Will 2022 Lexus ES styling be different?

2021 ES 300h

Not beyond new colors and maybe some altered wheel designs. Otherwise, this four-door five-seater will reprise the curvy sheet metal that came with the 2019 redesign.

It’s a nice balance of sporty and upscale, punctuated by the brand’s controversial “spindle” grille. That polarizing prow should again vary slightly by model. The 300h grille, for example, should continue with vertical bars in an almost op-art pattern. The F Sport grille should retain a subtle zig-zag pattern bookended by more aggressive corner vents.

Wheel size and appearance will also remain differentiators. Base trims of all models should return with 17-inch alloys, Luxury and Ultra Luxury versions with 18-inch dark silver alloys, and F Sports with 19s finished in darker graphite. All tires have all-season tread.

2021 ES 350

The interior will continue to follow themes set by the 2019 redesign. Gone are pillowy forms and glossy wood veneer. Angles, standard dark wood, and brushed-metal finishes suggest a more sophisticated take on luxury. It mostly works.

Lexus’s credible faux-leather NuLuxe upholstery is standard, as is a real leather shift knob and boot. Leather seating surfaces and a leather and wood trimmed steering wheel are standard starting at the Luxury Grade. The Ultra Luxury trim level will again bring more sumptuous semi-aniline leather. F Sport versions will return with genuine aluminum accents and extra-bolstered heated and ventilated front seats.

Switchgear, however, has a generic-Toyota feel and too many cabin surfaces are thinly padded or even plasticy. Assigning stability-control and sport/eco-mode adjustment to twisty “ears” on the instrument binnacle challenges logic. Inclusion of an analog clock is redundant and seems anachronistic.

2021 ES 12.3-inch infotainment screen

Buttons and knobs control core audio and climate functions. Presetting stations and reaching various submenus demands interaction with the dashboard’s multimedia screen. An 8-inch display should again be standard, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Included with the Ultra Luxury grade and optional otherwise should again be a 12.3-inch screen incorporating an imbedded satellite navigation system that can furnish real-time GPS mapping in the absence of a cell signal. Both screens are bright and crisp and the system answers adroitly to voice commands.

But your primary interface is apt to be a console-mounted touchpad similar to a laptop’s. It’s not well suited to an automotive application. Hitting any icon demands practiced movement of your finger to coordinate with an orb that travels the screen.

2021 ES touchpad interface

Lexus itself evidently recognizes the likelihood of driver distraction. The automaker has replaced a similar touchpad with a touchscreen-based system on its IS premium compact car and LS flagship sedan. We’d urge it to make that change for the ES, too. Whether Lexus will do so for model-year 2022 or wait for the midcycle refresh, only it knows.       

2021 ES 350 F Sport

Power front seats are standard, comfortable, and supportive. The firmer, more confining F Sport buckets aren’t sympathetic to some body types, however. Rear seating is compromised by the need to provide adequate headroom beneath that tapered roofline. The cushion is set too low to furnish much thigh support and long of leg must perch knees-up. At least the rear door openings are huge.  

Interior storage should remain a mixed bag. The large center console has a clever top that opens both left and right. There are two console cupholders and a forward cubby. But door pockets are small and aren’t molded to accommodate beverages.

2021 ES rear seat

The trunk holds more than its below-segment-average 13.8-cubic-foot volume would suggest. A power open/close trunklid is standard on the Ultra Luxury and a $500 option for the ES 350 and 300h.

Manual or power, the lid’s sickle hinges can crush cargo; absence of protective housings is off-putting in a premium-class vehicle. And the lid’s tendency to wobble as raises and lowers speaks to the same cost-cutting evident in some cabin materials. Those foibles help explain why the ES costs thousands less than other cars in this segment, such as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. 

Any 2022 Lexus ES mechanical changes?

2021 ES 300h

Very unlikely. The ’22 ES will continue the seventh generation’s refocus on connecting with the road rather than isolating from it. No ES can match European rivals or even the Cadillac CT5 for driving excitement. But this car’s handling is no longer a deal breaker.

For better and worse, though, the 2022 ES will again share powertrains with the Toyota Camry. That keeps costs down but sacrifices some of the refinement you might expect from a Lexus. 

The ES 250 AWD will return with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine of 203 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. (Think of torque as the force that gets a vehicle moving, horsepower as the energy that keeps it moving.) It’s AWD system normally operates in front wheel drive and can shuffle up to 50 percent of the engine’s power rearward when sensors detect tire slip.

2021 ES 250 AWD

Every other car in this class is available with AWD, and all have more horsepower and torque than the ES 250 AWD. The ES 250 AWD’s tepid acceleration – 0-60 mph in a languid 8.6 seconds – and rather coarse engine undercut its competitiveness. It’s the tradeoff Lexus extracts to furnish the all-weather traction premium-vehicle buyers demand.

Far more appropriate is the smooth 3.5-liter V-6 that’ll again power the 2022 ES 350. It should return with 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. That matches the output of most base engines in this class, although they’re almost exclusively 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinders that can’t always match this V-6’s linear power delivery. The ES 350 should again do 0-60 in a respectable 6.6 seconds and exhibit Lexus-appropriate mechanical polish. This is the ES model most deserving of AWD, but we don’t see that on the horizon.

For free thinkers with an environmental bent, the gem of the 2022 ES lineup is the ES 300h. It teams a specially tuned 2.5-liter gas four-cylinder with an electric motor for a net 215 horsepower (Lexus doesn’t specify a torque rating).

This is a conventional hybrid, automatically determining the best blend of gas, electric, or combined power to optimize acceleration and fuel economy. It recharges its lithium-ion battery by capturing energy otherwise lost to braking and coasting. The electric motor’s main task is to assist with acceleration but the ES 300h can drive for short distances at low speed on battery power alone. It even provides the driver an “EV” button to maximize electric running.

2021 ES 300h

In our 300h tests, the transition between power sources was virtually seamless. The electric motor contributes instant torque, making the car feel exceptionally responsive to throttle inputs and far quicker than its 8.1-second 0-60 time indicates. The downside is even more gruffness from underhood than you get with the ES 250 AWD. But the ES 300h’s lively manner and 40-plus mpg average are worthwhile compensation.

The ’22 ES 250 AWD and ES 350 will continue with an eight-speed automatic transmission, the ES 300h with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A CVT performs the function of a conventional automatic but without stepped gear ratios.

Expect all 2020 ES models to remain able handlers. Steering is accurate and natural feeling. Even the ES 250 AWD and the tauter-suspension F Sport noseplow through a turn if you’re injudicious with your speed. But all models should continue with impressive highway stability and good cornering balance in anything short of truly aggressive driving.

Accompanying this handling competency is ride control that blends good bump absorption with fine resistance to wallow and float. Models with the 17- and 18-inch tires are best at filtering out shocks from potholes and tar strips. The F Sport’s firmer suspension and lower-profile 19-inch tires admit more impact harshness to the structure than their extra margin of cornering grip justifies. They also generate more road noise into a cabin otherwise well insulated from wind rush and tire roar. Try before you buy.

Will 2022 Lexus ES fuel economy improve?

With no mechanical changes, the 2022 ES line should repeat its 2021 EPA ratings. That would maintain the ES 250 AWD slightly above class average, the ES 350 on par with premium midsize sedans of similar power, and the ES 300h among the most fuel-efficient cars that don’t use an electrical cord.

Expect the 2022 ES 250 AWD to again rate 25/34/18 mpg city/highway/combined. When running in front-wheel drive, the AWD system will again disengage power to the rear axle to save gas.

Look for the ’22 ES 350 to return at 22/32/26 mpg, with the ES 350 F Sport version at 22/31/25. The 2022 ES 300h should again rate 43/44/44 mpg.   

Will there be new 2022 Lexus ES features?

Probably not, but we’d urge Lexus to make blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection standard on base trim levels of all 2022 ES versions. These vital safety adjuncts are now standard on many vehicles costing far less than the ES, including several Toyotas.

For model-year 2021, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection were standard on ES Luxury, Ultra Luxury, and F Sport trims. For the ES 350 and 300h base trim levels they were a stand-alone $500 option. To get them on a base ES 250 AWD required a $1,065 package that bundled blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection with front-and-rear obstacle detection intended as a parking assist. That package was also available on ES 350 and ES 300h base models.

Otherwise, every 2022 ES will return with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 as standard. It includes autonomous emergency braking designed to automatically stop the car to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle, object, pedestrian, or bicyclist. Lane-departure warning with lane-maintaining automatic steering correction is included.  

So is adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, even in stop-and-go driving. Safety System+ 2.0 also contains the automaker’s Lane Tracing Assist, which can apply steering input to keep the car centered in its highway lane.

Aside from those already mentioned, notable features returning as standard equipment on every ’22 ES will include a power moonroof and LED headlamps with automatic halogen highbeams. Expect each model’s Luxury Grade to add such items as a driver’s seat power cushion extender and a power rear sunshade.

To that, ’22 Ultra Luxury grades should again add a heated steering wheel, windshield wiper deicer, a fast-response cabin heater, manual rear-door sunshades, and an 1,800-watt Mark Levinson 17-speaker surround-sound audio system.   

Will 2022 Lexus ES prices be different?

They’ll probably increase but thanks to component sharing with the Camry, 2022 ES prices should remain well below those of most premium midsize cars. That’s been a big part of the ES’s sales success. So is value added by Lexus’s reputation for reliability, resale value, and red-carpet customer service.

For reference, here are 2021 ES base prices, including the manufacturer’s $1,025 destination fee.

The ES 250 AWD and ES 350 carried the same base prices. Lexus essentially treated the ES 250’s four-cylinder engine as the trade-off for all-wheel drive. Both started at $40,925 in base trim, $46,125 in Luxury guise, $46,725 in F Sport form, and $47,725 at the Ultra Luxury grade. The limited-edition 2021 ES 350 Black Line was priced at $47,575.

For the ’21 ES 300h, base prices were $42,835 for the base model, $48,035 for the Luxury grade, and $51,835 for the Ultra Luxury.

In addition to those already mentioned, expect most options to return little changed in price or content. Notable stand-alones should again include triple-beam LED headlamps ($1,515 for model-year 2021); the heated steering wheel, deicer, and fast heater ($480); and a bright, informative head-up instrument display ($500).

Included on F Sports and optional again for all other versions of the ’22 ES should be a Premium Package ($1,375) consisting of power folding outside mirrors, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, and rain-sensing wipers.

Imbedded navigation with the 12.3-inch dashboard screen, plus an auto-dimming inside mirror, should again be a $1,820 option for all but the Ultra Luxury trim. Navigation with the Mark Levinson audio should remain standard with the Ultra Luxury and a $2,900 option for other ESs.

A panoramic moonroof should again be included on every ES 300h with the Ultra Luxury package and remain a $500 stand-alone option for any ’22 ES 350. For model-year 2021, a wireless phone charger was a $75 option across the board.

When does the 2022 Lexus ES come out?

2021 ES 350 F Sport

Expect a fall 2021 release date for the 2022 Lexus ES.

Best 2022 Lexus ES competitors

Acura TLX, Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Cadillac CT5, Acura TLX, Genesis G80, Infiniti Q50, Volvo S60, Mercedes-Benz E-Class

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]