The 2019 Lexus ES350 is no longer “just the ES”. It’s no longer just the “expensive Camry”. It’s good. Very good. As usual, Toyota dropped off a brand new Lexus ES350 with a full tank of gas and told me to enjoy. Enjoy is exactly what I did.
Just walking up the car for the first time, it was evident Lexus had gotten it right. As the first ES designed since the implementation of the corporate hourglass front end, it finally seems to fit the vehicle. In the previous generation it was large and ungainly, while the new design is smaller, more sleek and more aggressive. It flows perfectly into the athletic-but-stately side profile. The back continues the aggressive theme but subtle features such as the LED design in the taillights and gentle chrome strip keeps the class factor high. At a quarter inch shorter but 1.8” wider and 2.5” longer, the footprint of the ES is noticeably larger; thankfully the design holds itself together better. Past generations have look bloated, but the elegant roof line and general stature of the new car make for one of the better looking cars on the market.
Entering the cabin of the 2019 ES is an absolute treat. Lexus has some of the best interiors right now and this is no exception. The dark tan leather seats are warm and inviting but have enough texture to make them interesting. The screen is built into the dash, a much appreciated change from the “glued on tablet” look many many manufacturers have adopted. The sheer size of the screen is also wonderful. At 12.3”, it is simply enormous. With split screen capabilities the size makes it very useful and Apple CarPlay is new for 2019. Since the screen is controlled via a trackpad instead of the more common touchscreen, it is a little different experience than what you may be used to. Apple’s User Interface is clean as always though and it remains easy to navigate.
Mercifully, Lexus continues to provide enough buttons to perform 90% of normal tasks without digging through menus and forcing you to take your eyes off the road for any extended amount of time. When you get a chance to dig a bit deeper into the many features you’ll find some pretty nifty items including something called Climate Concierge. The car will use all available methods, including heated and ventilated seats, climate control, heated steering wheel and even a smog sensor to perfectly tailor your comfort to the experience you desire. Climate Concierge, in combination with the amazing Mark Levinson 17 Speaker, 1800 Watt audio system, might make this one of the most owner focused experiences I have had when meandering my way to and from work.
The ES is not quite perfect though. Over my week with the car, I did come up with a few complaints. For all the features up front, it is a bit disappointing that the rear passenger area is severely lacking. For the most expensive ES available to lack something as basic as heated rear seats is quite disappointing. I was riding in the back of a Kia Niro a month ago that was able to keep my backside quite toasty. Why can’t a Lexus that cost twice as much? Additionally, I’m not quite sure about the “Frankenstein neck bolt” like drive mode selectors above the speedometer. I feel there are plenty of better spots that wouldn’t protrude into the otherwise elegant space.
Driving the ES is as good as you would hope. While it is not sport car fast, it is very quick and the nearly 40 horsepower bump to 302 hp is appreciated, and noticeable, when scooting around town. This being the Ultra Luxury and not the F Sport means the vehicle to amazingly compliant over bumps but not particularly inspiring around corners. More spirited driving is possible, but the absolute level of comfort means any fun is slightly dulled. I have seen some reviews of the F Sport though and it sounds like anyone in need of a vehicle that can do both back roads and interstates will not be disappointed with the sportier ES.
Having driven every sedan built on the new Toyota GA-K Platform, it’s amazing just how much nicer the ES is in every way. While the Avalon is almost as comfortable on the road, the ES feels much more refined. Vibrations from the drivetrain are nearly absent, a complaint I did have about the Avalon. And compared to the Camry, It’s amazing these vehicles are built on the same production line.
Overall, the 2019 Lexus ES350 is a vast improvement over the previous generation and might be the best value in the Lexus lineup. My fully optioned press vehicle came out to just a hair over $53,000. I almost believe Toyota might have shot themselves in the foot. I mentioned this in my Avalon review and it is still true, for under $5000 more than than the base Avalon XLE you can get an ES350. At the $39,000 mark, that is not a massive jump. The loaded ES350 Ultra Luxury is also nearly an entire base model ES350 less expensive than a similarly optioned 2019 Lexus LS500. I just don’t see why you need to spend that kind of money unless the lack of creature comforts or rear wheel drive is an absolute deal breaker. With the combination of styling, interior, and pure value it makes for the first ES I would gladly want to put in my driveway.