If you’re following automotive news lately, you’ll know that several mainstream car companies are bailing on sedans like they have some kind of disease.. Most buyers want an SUV, apparently. But so far, luxury brands like Lexus continue to offer a full range of sedans and in the case of the $54,800 2019 Lexus ES350 F SPORT, well… isn’t it a pretty thing?
This is the first F SPORT equipped ES, which is built on a new global platform. Longer and wider than the previous version, this striking seventh-generation (how’s that for commitment?) ES is a sleek and purposeful-looking conveyance. Yes, it shares its platform with various Toyota models, but the Lexus has a palpably luxurious look and feel that its mainstream cousins don’t match.
Starting with the paint, I reckon. Just as clothes can make the… um… person, so paint can carry a car. My wintry pictures notwithstanding, this deep, rich, Lexus Atomic Silver paint looks like it was poured on and buffed with mink.
The opening act of the paint is supported by somewhat complicated sheetmetal that’s a signature of Lexus vehicles these days, and which those who like it would see as dynamic and distinctive, while those who don’t would find busy and perhaps a bit too too. Either way, the Lexus bearded front-end has evolved into a full-on, brand shout-out to aspirational Millenials, I should think.
Although whether Millenials would specifically want an ES is a stretch.
But Boomers might. Open the door, for instance, and you’re greeted with a self-assured “I don’t follow the crowd,” no-extra-charge red interior (you could also choose black). Now where have I seen that before? Oh, yes, in a BMW, but if it works there…
I must say that the entire interior design also strikes me as 5 Series-like, but again, it’s not a complaint, merely an observation. Imitation, right? But why pay more?
Inside it’s all very tidy, tailored, and minimal in a tastefully understated way. Although what are those bizarre horn buds protruding from the instrument surround? They are just weird (they control drive modes and stability control). Those aside, everything else is finely designed and it all looks quality. Impressive gauge cluster, for example, fully configurable, very nice. Classy analog clock. If I’m an intender or a new owner, I’m thinking I’m getting quite a feast for my $50-something K. I’m likely feeling pretty good!
Approach the car and it senses your presence like a delighted pet; open the door and lights illuminate, sounds emit, graphics display, readiness awaits. I’m sure Lexus could have enabled a verbal “Engage” command for the Star Trekkers (ies) among us and the ES 350 would have surged to life. But as it is I must reach for a button and give it a retro push for the drive systems to activate. Look at it this way: it’s your personal touch.
Under the hood is a 3.5-litre V6 engine is powered entirely with gasoline (an ES 300h is available in a more environmentally aware hybrid form should you prefer, which allows you to creep along in EV mode for short distances). But with the V6 you’ll get 302 horsepower delivered through an eight-speed transmission (more power, more gears for 2019) and the kind of hustle formerly reserved for 5.0L V8 Mustangs not so long ago.
It’s the front wheels that are driven, though, should you be concerned about such things. Suffice it to say that the ES 350 F SPORT can get up and go when you need it to, and the firm’ish suspension keeps you steady in the corners, rewarding some extra acceleration with agile steering and confident driving dynamics. I wouldn’t describe this as a full-on sport sedan, but it’s definitely a sport-oriented sedan.
This year the ES 350 (and many other Toyota/Lexus models) finally get Apple CarPlay (but not Android Auto yet). CarPlay may preclude the necessity and extra expense of a factory navigation system (which is an option bundled with other features), and will enable major apps on your phone, including Siri, to be accessible while driving.
You also get Lexus “Enform” across the line which is a subscription-based apps package that offers directions, accident response, weather information and a range of other critical services that keep you connected. Of course, you also pay for the data that’s required for some of these services.
The driver interface is now controlled with a super-sensitive touch pad located in the centre console and activated by the tip of your finger. The tip of my finger was bouncing around as I motored down the road, causing all manner of commands to unintentionally activate. Reportedly the system has a long learning curve and in this I would concur. Works great when you’re not moving, though.
The $5,400 (above base) F SPORT 1 designation (actually, there are two F SPORT packages) gets you a Drive Mode Select system with S+ mode, adaptive variable suspension, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Safety system (should be standard equipment!), rain sensing windshield wipers, a lip spoiler, moonroof, F SPORT detailing including three-spoke steering wheel, active noise control, 19-inch wheels and “Nuluxe” seating material (not leather, in case you’re wondering, but looks and feels close enough).
The $9,800 (above base) F SPORT 2 package with which my tester was fitted, gets you F SPORT 1 package plus enhanced Enform services, factory navigation, a 12.3-inch display, a 10-inch head-up display (wonderful), triple LED headlamps, and adaptive lighting.
On the road the Lexus ES 350 is exceedingly comfortable and very quiet. Steering is sharp (heated steering wheel could be more enthusiastic), braking sure and cornering flat and controlled. It’s built tight, feels solid, looks good. The F-SPORT packages add a good helping of sportiness; the big 19-inch wheels are a visual bonus. I checked the US-based Edmunds car guide and owners all had the same, single, complaint: not the power, not the handling or comfort, not the appearance, but the audio! Not sure whether they are referring to the optional Mark Levinson system, which is typically pretty good, or the standard system but personally, I found it perfectly adequate.
Fuel consumption, by the way, is rated at 10.9/7.5/9.4 L/100km, city/highway/combined. That’s about average for a car of this size powered with a potent V6 engine. In contrast, the ES300h offers sterling fuel numbers at 5.5/5.2/5.3 L/100km, city/highway/combined. You’ll get less muscle but more intelligence!
So for me, a very nice car and well-done. Check out an Acura TLX for a comparable, noting that it is available with all-wheel drive, while the ES 350 is not.
2019 Lexus ES 350 base price: $45,000
As tested F SPORT 2: $54,800
And should you be interested, 300h hybrid base: $47,000
All prices plus $2,045 freight/pdi.