The Lexus ES has been a consistent Golden Goose of sales since its debut in 1989. It found a fan base as a luxury-comfort midsize sedan that was not trying to be fast or flashy. And in today’s SUV-heavy car marketplace, the ES is still an enduring choice.
Re-engineered and redesigned for 2019, the seventh-generation Lexus ES went on sale in September in front-wheel-drive V-6 and hybrid models. Pricing starts at $40,525, a $550 increase over the outgoing model.
The fourth-generation ES 300 hybrid, also sold in three trim levels, has starting prices of $42,335-$45,985. All pricing includes the $1,025 freight charge from Georgetown, Ky., where the ES V-6 is built or from Kyushu, Japan, from where the ES hybrid hails.
The price difference between the gasoline and hybrid is just $1,810, which Lexus hopes will grow ES hybrid sales, which had been running at 15 percent of sales. Lexus would be happy with 20 percent, but isn’t expecting a big swing yet because its SUV crossovers are growing faster.
ES hybrid competitors include the Lincoln MKZ and the sport-infused Infiniti Q50 and plug-in versions of the BMW 330e and Mercedes C350e PHEV.
Also new for 2019 is the ES 350 F Sport, starting at of $45,060, which has a stiffer suspension, 19-inch wheels and tires, special aluminum interior trim, a rear spoiler and a dark lower valance.
Today’s tester is a midrange hybrid Premium model that starts at $43,510 and was $50,465 as tested.
The ES once left the impression of being an enhanced and pricier Camry, from which it shared the majority of its architecture, but the 2019 is more of a Lexus pureblood. It is built on Toyota’s global GA-K platform, which also is the foundation of the Toyota Camry and Avalon sedans. The new body has about the same dimensions as the new Toyota Avalon, which has an inch more front headroom and 1.2 inches more rear legroom. And the ES even beats the big LS flagship for a little more front head and leg room.
But the 2019 ES has more compelling exterior styling and is a definitive destination for luxury and prestige. The new body is 2 ½ inches longer, 1.8-inches wider and just a bit lower on a 113-inch wheelbase that is 2 inches longer than before. The wheels have been pushed closer to the corners and the stance is wider by 0.4 inch at the front axle and 1.5-inches rear.
The body is more rigid now with laser-screw welding and more industrial glue to secure (and silence) body panels. There is much more soundproofing throughout and the hybrid model gets a three-layer pad at the engine’s firewall to cut down on whirrs and whines from the motors and inverter. The aluminum hood and fenders help hold curb weight to 3,704 pounds, which is the lowest of the competing hybrids by a couple hundred pounds.
The hybrid powertrain (also used in Avalon) is a 176-horsepower, 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder gas engine (with Toyota’s direct and port injection) that is integrated with a 29.1 kw nickel-metal-hydride battery pack (204 cells) and two motor generators. One motor drives the front wheels, the other charges the battery and starts the car. Total system power is 215 hp, including the 39-hp battery. The transmission is a continuously variable automatic. Fuel economy ratings are an achievable 43 mpg city, 45 highway and 44 mpg combined, on 87 octane. I was averaging 42-44.3 mpg in my test week.
The battery is now under the passenger seat rather than below the trunk space, which is now fully functional at 16.7 cubic feet (for the gasoline model, too).
The ES 350 is powered by a 302-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 with direct and port fuel injection (D-4S) and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy of 22 mpg city, 33 highway and 26 mpg combined is 2 mpg more than before with a larger car and 34 more horsepower.
While the V-6 has definite force, I never wished for more power — or more responsive power — from the hybrid tester. And its fuel thrift is a definite incentive.
All models have large four-wheel disc brakes with ventilated 12-inch rotors front, 11.1-inch solid rear.
The interior is handsomely designed with arrow-straight panel alignment. Unless you are 6-foot-5, the ES is very accommodating. The doors open quite wide (front and rear) and the seats that without overly sporty bolsters. The perforated NuLuxe leather-like upholstery is just as appealing as the real thing and more lightweight. But the lower roofline trimmed front headroom to 37.5 inches and the protruding ridge of the side-curtain air bags encroaches on the tall-person’s peripheral sense of space.
Every ES gets the new Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 technologies. Among the features are precollision warning with oncoming vehicle, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control with road-sign assist, lane-tracing assist and daytime bicyclist detection.
Other safety features include 10 air bags, parking assist (parallel and perpendicular), rear cross traffic alert and braking, lane-change assist, blind-spot monitor, LED cornering lights and Intelligent Clearance Sonar, which adds automatic braking to the rear cross traffic alert and intuitive park assist functions.
The center console packs a lot in a limited space to integrate a device-charging area with dual USBs, two cup holders (one of which has dual levels), the gear shift lever (stubby and handy to use) and a much more user-friendly touch-pad controller (less darty) to access features such as navigation, audio, phone and apps.
The wide multimedia display at the top of the dashboard includes a generous camera screen. There also are many buttons for quick adjustments of fan speed, temperature, audio volume and seat heat and ventilation.
And this is the first Lexus to offer Apple CarPlay infotainment and Amazon Alexa for Android devices, which allows voice commands to use car functions and connect with the home.
Back seat comfort, attention to detail and roominess are outstanding.
But there were some budget constraints at the rear trailing-arm suspension, which can be clunky over rough patches of road. And using the nickel-metal-hydride hybrid battery rather than the higher-tech (and higher cost) lithium-ion, seems a shortfall for a luxury-class car. But Toyota favors the lower cost, proven dependability and packaging capabilities of nickel-metal.
ES buyers are very loyal to the brand Lexus says. And those returning owners will have a more prestigious ES that is not an upscale Camry. You might be attracted to this car for its styling, but it will be a long-term destination for its accommodating efficiency.
2019 Lexus ES 300h Premium
• Body style: midsize, 5-seat, front-drive sedan
• Hybrid powertrain: 176-hp, 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder gas engine with direct and port injection, integrated with a 29.1 kw nickel-metal hydride battery pack (204 cells)
• Total system power: 215 hp, including 39-hp battery
• Transmission: CVT
• Fuel economy: 44/45/44 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane
• 0-60 mph: 8.1 seconds
• Fuel tank: 13.2 gal.
• Trunk space: 16.7 cu. ft.
• Front head/leg room: 37.5/42.4 in.
• Rear head/leg room: 37.4/39.2 in.
• Length/wheelbase: 195.9/113 in.
• Curb weight: 3,704 lbs.
• Turning circle: 38 ft. *38.8 w/18-inch wheels
• Standard equipment includes: smart key entry with push-button ignition, 10-way power adjustable front seats, Perforated NuLuxe upholstery, Bi-LED adaptive (turning) headlights and LED cornering lights, hands-free power trunk lid, 10-speaker Pioneer audio system, 12.3-inch color touch-screen infotainment, 7-inch multi-information (gauge) display, 3 USB ports, glass roof, 18-inch noise-reducing wheels, Enform app suite with Amazon Alexa, LED cornering lights
• Safety features include: 10 air bags; precollision system with oncoming vehicle; all-speed dynamic radar cruise control with road-sign assist; lane-tracing assist; daytime bicyclist detection; parking assist (parallel and perpendicular); rear cross traffic alert and braking; lane-change assist; blind-spot monitor; and intelligent clearance sonar
• Base price: $43,510, including $1,025 freight charge; price as tested $50,465
• Options on test vehicle: Navigation $1,920; blind spot monitor with panoramic view camera $1,900; triple-beam headlamps $1,515; 18-wheels $770; hands-free power trunk opener $550; wood steering wheel $300
• Where assembled: Kyushu, Japan.
• Warranty: 4-years/50,000-miles bumper to bumper; 6-years/70,000-miles powertrain