2019 Lexus ES Buying Advice
This is the best premium midsize sedan for you if “Steady as she goes” is your mantra. All new for model-year 2019, the ES kicks off its seventh generation with a redesign aimed at giving it more personality. It’s slightly larger and more powerful, yet more fuel-efficient than its 2013-2018 predecessor. Gas- and hybrid-powertrain models return. The styling is the boldest ever, and a new F Sport grade promises a more engaging driving experience.
Traditionalists with that “Steady as she goes” approach need not fret, though: the new ES is still one of the most comfortable and serene cars in its competitive set. This front-wheel-drive five-seater has been a part of the Lexus lineup since Toyota launched its luxury brand in 1989. Rather than offering a sporty driving experience like the Acura Legend or Nissan Maxima, engineers focused on coddling and refinement – and achieved it.
The ES reigned as the perennial class sales champ, but as rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5-Series became more successful as blending luxury and sport, Lexus realized it needed to inject some youthful verve into the ES. Overall sales are down about 7 percent through November 2018, and the ES has ceded its midsize-premium-car sales crown to the Tesla Model 3. Still, it’s ahead of like-priced rivals such as the Acura TLX, Genesis G80, and Infiniti Q50, as well as the costlier 5 Series and E-Class.
Should you buy a 2019 model or wait for the 2020?
Buy a 2019. The ’20 ES should be a virtual rerun of the 2019. Selecting a ‘19 gets you the freshest styling and features and avoids inevitable year-over-year sticker-price inflation – for a car that’ll be essentially unchanged. Don’t expect major alterations to the car itself until at least model-year 2022 – although Lexus could be considering adding all-wheel drive to the ES.
Should Lexus not opt to add AWD to the ES, the 2020 model will most likely return in two versions, the ES 350 with a gasoline V-6 and the ES 300h, with a four-cylinder gas engine paired with an electric motor. Both would again be subdivided into Base, Luxury, and Ultra Luxury grades, with the 350 also offering the performance-themed F Sport variant.
ChangesStyling: LeIn recent years, Lexus’s ongoing effort to shed its image as a purveyor of stodgy-looking has resulted in some vehicles, such as the NX crossover, that are a bit over the top. But the redesigned 2019 ES strikes a nice balance between trendy and traditional.
The brand’s controversial “spindle” grille is front and center, with the 350 and 300h sporting slightly different iterations. We think the 350’s looks better because the vertical strakes in the 300h grille makes it look as if the car wears the moustache of a middle-aged man. On both are design elements with an almost nautical theme. The foglamp cutouts in the lower front fascia resemble sails. Parts of the headlight housing look like a shark fin and the top half of a harpoon. The rest of the exterior styling isn’t as visually interesting, but it’s clean overall.
The ES’s interior is similarly tasteful, with high-grade materials and solid assembly. Our performance-themed F Sport review sample was classified as pre-production, but its fit and finish would shame some established rivals. Comfort is first-rate, with cushy front bucket seats; those on the F Sport gain have extra support without skimping on padding. The back seat is more comfortable and spacious than in the pricier GS. Legroom is outstanding, and headroom is surprisingly good given the roofline’s sleek rake.
All ES grades place the tachometer dead center. The speedometer is a digital readout that is replicated on the available head-up display. The F Sport has a unique instrument cluster that changes appearance when you move among the four available drive modes.
Infotainment comes courtesy of a display perched atop the center of the dashboard. We recommend the available 12.3-inch ultrawide unit because it has crisp, high-resolution graphics and imbedded GPS navigation that doesn’t require a connected smartphone. The 2019 ES is the first Lexus vehicle to include support for Apple CarPlay. Google’s Android Auto is not available, though Toyota is promising to add it with a software update at an as-yet undetermined time.
Operation of the infotainment system is handled through a laptop-style trackpad on the center console. It’s generally intuitive, but our test example suffered from some sort of acceleration issue with the on-screen indicator that caused us to frequently overshoot our desired function. The cursor also moves if objects, such as a USB cable, move across the surface, so be mindful. There are some separate buttons for the climate and audio controls, but a few items require delving into the infotainment screen to access, which can mandate a longer look away from the road than we would like.
Cargo volume is near the top of the competitive set at 16.7 cubic feet.
Mechanical: The 2019 ES adopts a version of the modular Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) for its underskin structure. The platform is widely used, underpinning such cars as the Toyota Camry and Prius. The ES used an iteration dubbed GA-K, and it also cribs its drivetrains from the Camry.
The 2019 ES 350 employs a 3.5-liter V-6 with 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque and pairs it with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Lexus says this model does 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds, but it doesn’t feel quite that fast. Not even the F Sport’s throttle-quickening Sport or Sport S+ drive modes help much. Sprint speed isn’t liable to matter much to the ES target demographic because the car still moves very smoothly from a stop and during high-speed passing and merging.
Handling is much improved over the previous-generation ES. The steering responds much more quickly to input and has more road feel than we were expecting. Body lean in fast turns is well controlled, especially in the F Sport. Despite its adaptive suspension system, it can’t quite match the athleticism of an AWD Acura TLX or Infiniti Q50, though it more than holds its own against other rivals in its competitive set, and we believe it handles better overall than the rear-drive-based Kia Stinger. Sharper performance does not come at the expense of ride balance or quietness. Even the F Sport rides remarkably smoothly on coarse pavement while precious little wind or road noise enters the cabin.
We have not yet tested the ES 300h, which has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine assisted by a battery-powered electric motor. The latter maintains its charge via kinetic energy provided by coasting, the regenerative braking system, or in some cases, the gas engine. This is not a plug-in hybrid and does not require charging from a residential or commercial outlet. Total system output is 215 horsepower and is controlled via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Note that Toyota does not specify combined torque output. Estimated 0-60-mph acceleration for this model is 8.1 seconds.Features: ES 350 and 300h have similar standard and optional features. Included on Base models are 17-inch wheels, LED exterior lighting, power sunroof, 10-way power front seats upholstered in Toyota’s “NuLuxe” leatherette, keyless access with pushbutton ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, steering-wheel paddle shifters, three USB charging points including two for rear occupants, HD Radio receiver, satellite radio, Lexus Enform App Suite with support for Amazon Alexa skills, and built-in Wi-Fi hotspot.
Standard driver-assistance features include adaptive radar cruise control, lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction, automatic high-beam headlights, front- and rear-obstacle detection, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and lane tracing assist. The latter feature uses the adaptive cruise control system to detect lane markings and can gently steer the car to keep it centered in its lane.
During our evaluation of an ES 350 F Sport, lane tracing assist was most effective on interstate highways. When traveling on two-lane rural roads, the system tended to aim the car too close to the center of the road. We ended up switching it off entirely. Further, snow tends to stick to the front radar sensors rather easily. A light dusting rendered the adaptive cruise inoperative. End users can manually override and disable the radar, which causes the cruise control to function in a more traditional manner.
Luxury grades add a power tilt and telescopic steering column, genuine leather upholstery, heated and ventilated 14-way power front seats, driver-seat memory, rain-sensing windshield wipers, LED ambient interior lighting, and acoustic side glass.
The Ultra Luxury includes upgraded leather upholstery, a power rear sunshade, manual rear side window shades, upgraded suspension dampers, and a hands-free power trunk.
F Sport grades include most of the Luxury’s amenities plus 19-inch wheels, sport suspension with active dampers, aluminum interior trim, sport bucket seats, active noise cancellation, and a specific instrument cluster.
Base prices are generally in line with its primary Japanese-brand rivals but can quickly rise to the top of the class when you factor in packaged and standalone options. Base prices here include Toyota’s $1,025 destination fee.
The 2019 Lexus ES 350 Base starts at $40,625, the Luxury at $43,280, the Ultra Luxury at $44,275, and the F Sport, $45,160.
For hybrid grades, the ES 300h Base is priced from $42,435, the Luxury from $45,090, and the Ultra Luxury from $46,085.
Among popular options, the Base offers a $1,175 Premium Package that includes power tilt/telescopic steering column, heated and ventilated front seats with driver seat memory, and rain-sensing wipers. To order this package, you must also add blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection ($1,065) and one or more of the following: wood interior trim ($360), Lexus’ Mark Levinson audio system ($900), or imbedded navigation with Mark Levinson audio ($2,900).
Other individual options, depending on trim level, include extra-cost paint ($595), panoramic moonroof ($500), power rear sunshade ($210), upgraded LED headlights ($1,515), heated steering wheel ($480), wireless smartphone charging pad ($75), hands-free power trunk ($550), and head-up instrument display ($500).
Although it commands a sticker price exceeding $51,000, a fully equipped ES 350 F Sport is our favorite in this line. Its more aggressive looks and tuned-up driving experience don’t compromise the smoothness, quietness, and refinement that have been ES hallmarks since its debut 30 years ago. If your aspirations are more modest, an ES Luxury with navigation, blind-spot alert, 18-inch wheels, and power rear sunshade will set you back $47,145 for the 350 or $48,955 for the 300h.
EPA ratings for the 2019 ES 350 are good for a V-6 premium midsize car. The ES 350 Base, Luxury, and Ultra Luxury models rate 22/33/26 mpg city/highway/combined. The F Sport rates 22/31/25. Our F Sport test car averaged 22.8 mpg in driving that included mostly city traffic and extended low-speed snow slogging.
The 2019 ES 300h’s EPA ratings are an outstanding 43/45/44 mpg.
All ES models use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline. Lexus deserves kudos for not recommending or requiring premium-grade fuel.
Hopefully AWD availability starting in model-year 2020. Launching such a version will allow Lexus to put the smaller, more expensive GS out to pasture, save for the ultra-high-performance GS F. Otherwise, expect the ES to stay the course until its mid-lifecycle freshening, which won’t happen until at least model-year 2022.