ES 350 in Ultra Lux trim gets longer, lower and wider for a
sportier profile and better handling, and it also gets a more
potent 302-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine with new 8-speed
transmission. But the in-car technology can be confounding.
Has Lexus lost its
way? This is the question I kept coming back to in the redesigned
2019 Lexus ES 350 midsize sedan. The seventh-generation ES 350 is a
quiet, sophisticated ride in the Lexus way, but the technology
hasnít kept up with the modern competition.
It has grown longer
(2.6 inches), wider (1.8 inches) and a bit lower; the wheelbase has
been stretched by 2 inches to give it a low and wide athletic
stance. The giant trapezoidal grille looks good on this sedan, as
does the LED light signature.
The more sporting
profile is a direct challenge to avoid the fate of Buick late in the
last century. The quiet cabin, familiar technology (read: outdated),
muted mechanics and venerable reliability made these old faithfuls
the chosen vehicle of older drivers. But Lexus knows older drivers
donít buy as many new vehicles. In the last decade, Lexus has
energized new buyers with more daring designs, sexier ad campaigns
and an infusion of performance, from the gorgeous LC500 sports coupe
to the F Sport packages offered now on seemingly every Lexus, from
the tried and true RX350 crossover to the LS full-size sedan.
Lexus graces the ES
with more performance, as well. The midsize sedan gets a modified
suspension on a more rigid front-wheel-drive chassis that both
improves noise reduction and provides more responsive handling in
the Ultra Luxury trim we tested. The new electric steering system is
designed for more feedback, and the latest V-6 with the new
eight-speed automatic transmission increases horsepower from 268 to
302, with torque rising to 267 pound-feet (up from 248).
It drives fine. It
wonít take your breath away but also wonít leave ES buyers
hungry for more. Additionally, fuel efficiency is up 2 mpg to 26 mpg
combined despite a modest weight gain.
The problem with the
ES 350, more than it being a sedan, is the competition. From the
Mazda6 to the Jaguar XE and the Tesla Model 3 ó the best-selling
luxury car of 2018 ó the competitors do a better job of balancing
refinement, performance and technology, which is the Achilles heel
The touchpad has
gotten better, the available 12.3-inch display ($3,000 as part of
the navigation package) is clear, voice commands are reliable and
the 7-inch display in the instrument cluster simplifies everything.
All the modern conveniences are there, but are laid out in such a
way that you donít want to use them.
Surely, owners will
get used to it. But after a week with ES, my criticism of Lexus
vehicles is still the same: It feels like ďPongĒ in a ďCall of
Part of it is the
mishmash layout of classic square buttons, odd round buttons and the
presence of a CD player, with heated seat buttons above it. Then
audio circles above that. These tiny space oddities can be pushed in
or popped out to scan or change audio source. You can do that from
the touchpad and from the steering wheel controls, as well. But the
steering wheel controls are another incongruity. Volume control is
on the left side, under the controls for vehicle info, which
includes audio access. But the tuning buttons are on the right side,
under the controls for cruise control and other advanced driver
All those controls
are meant to minimize reliance on the touch pad and 12.3-inch
display screen. Backup camera projection is excellent, as is map
projection. Everything else is a headache. The display can be split
into three panels, but navigating through those panels must be done
with the improved touchpad. Pinch and pull mapping is a nice feature
Best set your audio
preferences in the driveway. In our week with the vehicle, we
werenít able to access a station list in any reasonable time
frame. There must be a way in the settings, but by the time we got
to the ownerís manual we just wanted to be done with the touch pad
and all the bleeping, scrollable iconography.
From design to
functionality, the ES feels like a grandfather tasked his grandsons
to come up with the best multimedia display, figuring such
accessories are childís play anyway, then when they presented
their systems, he said, benevolently but stupidly, you all win, then
jammed them all in there. Apple CarPlay is available.
curmudgeoning, I donít like the frankenknobs on the top of the
dash display to adjust drive modes or shut off stability control.
Thereís just too much going on in the cabin, a cacophony of
multimedia eras, without any unifying or characteristic design
So maybe Lexus
hasnít lost its way as much as it hasnít found its way in luxury
That demanded another
question: Is the ES 350 with top Ultra Luxury trim worth $13,000
more, or about 35 percent more, than the similarly powered 2018
Toyota Camry XSE?
2019 Lexus ES350 at a
Vehicle type: Midsize
Base price: $43,150
As tested: $50,434
Mpg: 22 city, 33
highway, 26 comb.
horsepower 3.5-liter V-6
Tesla Model 3, Genesis G70, Cadillac CTS, Jaguar XE, Lexus ES350.