The latest Lexus ES recently debuted at Auto China 2018 in Beijing. That placement is significant, insofar as it is another example of just how important the Chinese market is for everyone these days. But it is also important because the ES has long been Lexus’ bread and butter in the performance sedan world.
The Lexus ES is the Japanese car giant’s version of the BMW 3 Series, and very close in design goals to the vaunted M3. Apart from all the stuff that people negatively say about it – it’s soulless, it lacks personality, it’s not German etc. – the ES is a very good performance sedan option. Now, obviously, t’me this whole notion of “performance sedan” is borderline oxymoronic, but I understand that some people are okay with back seats and four doors and all that.
I empathize. And, with empathy, I can say that buying a Lexus ES never seems to be a bad choice.
Stance & Style
The new ES is longer (by 2.6 inches), lower (by .2 inches), and wider (by 1.8 inches) than before. The wheels are pushed nearer the corners for a two-inch longer wheelbase and wider tracks front (by .4 inches) and rear (by 1.5 inches). Sure, that will make a car look cooler, but that will get you grip in each direction: forward, side-to-side, and backward.
The seventh-generation ES has a “fast” roofline to emphasize its lower stance and slick aerodynamics. The rear goes for clean and sharply chiseled, with wraparound LED taillamps. The F SPORT models (Lexus’ answer to BMW’s M Division) have a rear spoiler, additional rear badging (natch), and a dark lower valance for a more sporty aspect. Also new are three different wheel designs: a standard 17-inch and two 18-inch wheels for the ES 350 and ES 300h, while the ES 350 F SPORT gets standard 19-inchers.
The new ES still has a bunch of those high-reflectance, color-tint over chrome colors that I find quite striking. There are two new shades, Moonbeam Beige Metallic and Sunlit Green. F SPORT models get an exclusive Ultra Sonic Blue Mica 2.0 color.
The interior of the new ES is actually pretty flashy. The driver’s focus is kept on the road by placing the center display screen, instrument panel, and available heads-up display in a tight arrangement and in the driver’s field of view. Front passengers get an open and spacious environment, and despite the sleeker exterior roofline, rear passengers get plenty of comfort thanks to a lower hip point and a carefully configured headliner.
The cabin trim is an all-new kind of metallic finish developed to mimic the look of a traditional Japanese sword. They call it “Hadori” aluminum trim, and it has this groovy wave pattern to give it a three-dimensional appearance. The standard ES 350 and ES 300h will offer materials like Matte Bamboo, Linear Dark Mocha, and Linear Espresso wood to give the ES a hand-crafted appearance luxury buyers expect.
Tech & Safety
Contained within all this cool Japanese swordplay interior is enough tech and entertainment junk to keep a toddler occupied. The seventh-generation ES offers up Apple CarPlay, Siri Eyes Free voice control, and Amazon Alexa. There’s on-board Wi-Fi as part of the optional navigation system that includes a 12.3-inch wide dashboard display.
There’s also tons of on-board superfluous safety stuff that most blockheads will need.
Chassis & Suspension
The chassis is just as modern and high-tech as one would expect. Pinned to the new GA-K chassis platform are various grades of high-tensile steel to reduce weight, an all-new multi-link rear suspension, and rack-mounted electric power steering. F SPORT models offer an Adaptive Variable Suspension with adjustable dampers at each corner with 650 levels of damping.
Power & Performance
All ES 350s are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that develops 302 horsepower and 267 lb-ft. of torque, both a bump from previous models. The ES 350 gets a new eight-speed Direct Shift automatic transmission that uses an ultra-thin torque converter and a multi-plate lock-up clutch to efficiently transfer power to the front wheels (sadly).
The ES 300h comes with Lexus’ fourth-gen hybrid drive system, combining an Atkinson cycle 2.5-liter four-banger with a lighter, more compact, more power-dense electric motor and self-charging hybrid system. Add those up, and you get 215 total system horsepower and a preliminary estimate of 44 mpg combined.
Pricing & Availability
The 2019 Lexus ES goes on sale in September with a base price of $39,500, a $550 increase over the outgoing model. The ES 300h starts at $41,310, a $510 decrease compared to its predecessor. The ES 350 F SPORT starts at $44,035.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.