Lexus’ entry level sedan reveals it has a wee bit of an aggressive side
Words by: Adam Allen
Well, well- it looks like the ES traded staid and anonymous for truculence and extrovert.
In F Sport trim or otherwise, this generation of ES looks much better than those that came before it. Our tester which was finished in Ultrasonic Blue Mica livery coupled with 19” smoked graphite wheels, especially so. The spindle grille is the only polarizing part of the exterior styling; some love it while others find it garish and off-putting. Whatever camp you fall into, there’s no denying that Lexus has a handsome sedan on their hands.
With Lexus and Toyota sharing platform and parts commonalities, how much is the ES like the Avalon you tested recently?
Park the two side by side and while there are differences, the relation is obvious. They share the same mechanical bits from the drivetrain to the brakes to the suspension components amongst other stuff. After spending time in both cars, we were surprised at how much the Avalon has closed the gap on its upmarket sibling. Yet as much as these cars are the same, the Lexus badge demands more luxury than would a Toyota, and so there are parts of the ES that are totally unique and befitting its more premium placement.
Both interiors look to be pretty nice places to be. What’s different?
Indeed they are. In the Lexus, however, all the materials feel a little more premium, the leather bits just a little softer. Both have incredible audio systems, but again, we’d give the edge to Lexus for sounding incrementally clearer and richer. When it comes to the dashboard layout, it’s hard to fault the Avalon’s sharp and simple analogue layout, but we give the nod to the ES with its LFA mimicking sliding tachometers and the way it changes its look as you escalate driving modes from Normal, Sport all the way up to Sport +. We normally prefer a crisp needles and dials setup like the Avalon, but it’s hard to fault the digital readouts in the ES350. There is one area where the Avalon emerges as the clear winner over its upmarket corporate stablemate, and that is where the infotainment system is concerned. The Avalon is a straight shooter, using a combination of buttons and a touchscreen that works so well you might never consult your owner’s manual to figure out how to use it. The ES350 uses the same Remote Touch method employed in most Lexus products, and it’s just as frustrating to use here as it is on other vehicles from the brand. In all honesty, we did get used to it over the course of our Road Test, but we would still have to take our eyes off the road to perform simple tasks like changing the radio station.
So tell us…is this the Lexus that finally emerges as the playful sports sedan you’ve always wanted?
The ES350 is an excellent car, and as we’ll see, it’s never been more engaging to drive than it is now. But bigger wheels and tires plus a set of paddle shifters do not a sports sedan make. While we might have expected a pointier driving experience from our tester, it does lean towards the more aggressive side of the spectrum than ever. But guess what? We’re good with that. Except for the LFA and RC F/GS F hardcore sports cars, Lexus isn’t about bouncing off the curbing at your local racetrack or chasing down Porsches on our favourite backroad. With that in mind, we think they nailed the balance of providing all the hallmarks people expect from a Lexus- extreme refinement and comfort but with just the right amount of spice added to the preceding’s, as would be asked of an F Sport trimmed example. And speaking of refinement, Our ES350 was exceptionally quiet- seriously, it’s incredible how hushed this car is- and rode with incredible poise and opulence, to which we recommend that the chassis engineers who worked on this car truly deserve a raise. We experimented with the various drive modes and smiled at the way the engine’s noise is dramatically piped into the cockpit through the speakers. It’s decidedly un-Lexuslike, but you really get the sense that it’s really trying to show the world that it can have a good time now and then, you find it kind of cute. In Sport and more so in Sport +, the car sharpens up appreciably and every control, from the steering to the transmission paddles to the throttle wakes up and stays on high alert, but no so much that it gets annoying. Let us put it this way- the ES is much faster and handles much better than most of its owners will ever ask of it.
What might go wrong?
Not too much, which should make the brisk selling ES350 even more so. Starting from front to back, the ES350’s grille is best described as an acquired taste. Some of our more adventurous palates have looked agreeably on the spindle grille, others not so much. The touchpad interface for the infotainment system is perhaps the ES’s biggest gaffe. This brought to you by Lexus, ostensibly one of those manufacturers who aligns themselves with the whole white glove/concierge thing to make life as easy as possible for customers and yet demands way more from the driver’s faculties than the much simpler but just as effective unit in the Avalon we keep drawing comparisons to. Lastly, there are those who’ll see the F Sport badge and think they will be able to give their neighbour’s 340i/Mercedes Benz C43/Infiniti Q60 Red Sport cars a good run for their money, a thought which will ultimately end in disappointment once they drive the ES. It’s a much more entertaining conveyance than before, but not a sports sedan…at least, not yet.
Should I buy an ES350 F Sport?
If you don’t wish to break the bank on a luxury sedan and you want to experience the same levels of comfort and refinement normally reserved for folks who plunk down much more than the ES’s asking price, then yes, please step up to the plate. Only those who are looking for a sedan with canyon carving abilities at the top of their resume will be disappointed. No matter your stripe, the ES350, outfitted in F Sport trim or otherwise, will find homes in driveways across Canada because it’s an honest luxury sedan that places comfort and quiet above all else. For some, that will be more than enough.
2019 Lexus ES350 F Sport— Specifications
- Price as tested: $57,651
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
- Engine: 3.5-litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 302 @ 6,600 rpm
- Torque (lbs-ft.): 267 @ 4,700 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 1,655 kg (3,649 lbs)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 12.3L/100km (19 mpg)