The Lexus ES has been a mainstay of the brand's lineup in much the same way a large tree anchors a backyard; its quiet, unassuming presence doesn't thrill or excite, but it's still pleasantly reassuring and familiar. With an all-new 2019 Lexus ES, the automaker has had to work carefully to preserve the car's traditional selling points while simultaneously expanding its appeal beyond those simply looking for a modern Buick LeSabre. Whether or not the crossover-obsessed buying public will embrace it is still to be determined, but the comfortable ES soundly proves that not every entry-level luxury sedan needs to be a dedicated rear-wheel-drive sport sedan.
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2019 Lexus ES Overview
What's New for 2019
The 2019 Lexus ES is all new.
Choosing Your Lexus ES
Just like the retiring generation, the new ES is available in one of two guises: the standard ES 350 or the hybrid ES 300h. The former will likely be the volume model, and the 350 nomenclature denotes the familiar 3.5-liter V6 that once again returns for duty. This time around, upgrades like direct injection and variable valve timing mean that Lexus has been able to eek out more power, bringing total engine output to 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque.
Routing this power to the front wheels is an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission. With two additional cogs compared to last year, this transmission improves fuel economy and throttle response. The transmission can also skip gears when stepping down, such as when dipping into the throttle for passing or merging. It also should be at least partially credited for lowering the zero-to-60 mph time by half a second; the ES 350 now gets this task done in 6.6 seconds. According to the EPA, the 2019 ES gets up to 22 miles per gallon city, 33 mpg highway, and 26 combined.
If you're looking for maximizing gas mileage, though, the hybrid ES 300h is the clear winner. It combines an all-new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a 29-kW, 245-volt battery for a total system output of 215 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy checks in at an EPA-estimated 43/45/44 mpg (city/highway/combined) – not bad for a 196-inch-long, 3,800-pound automobile. Of all the technical updates sprinkled onto the 300h, buyers will probably be happiest with the revised hybrid battery, which has been made more compact. Its smaller size now allows it to sit under the back seat rather than take up space in the trunk, as it did in the preceding generation. The result is an improved 16.7 cubic feet of trunk space, finally on par with the standard ES 350.
For the first time, the ES now offers an F Sport package for those looking to liven things up behind the wheel. Its main calling card is a set of adaptive dampers that are capable of up to 650 distinct adjustments. Every second, the car analyzes a number of technical factors and adjusts these trick shocks accordingly to deliver the expected and anticipated ride and handling characteristics. There's five distinct drive modes that guide the response of the dampers, with the most aggressive – Sport Plus – giving credibility to the idea of a sporty ES, and the softest – Comfort – appeasing returning buyers. These dampers are also standard on the Ultra Luxury model.
The F Sport is the only trim exclusive to the ES 350. The other three trims – base ES 350, Luxury, and Ultra Luxury – are offered with either powertrain, with the ES 300h costing an additional $1,810 across the board. Some standalone options include the $900 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, $1,515 triple-beam LED headlights, and a $500 panorama glass roof.
If you're an audiophile, don't skip out on the Mark Levinson sound system. It's pricey, but the acoustical goodness from those 17 speakers will reward you long after the price is forgotten. Likewise, those who want some verve from their 2019 Lexus ES should steer themselves directly to the F Sport, which, thanks to those adaptive dampers, is the closest thing to a sporty sedan the ES has ever been.
2019 Lexus ES Review
Looking good. The all-new 2019 Lexus ES sheds the last vestige of blandness from the nameplate, from the defining spindle grille to the asymmetric dash.
Outside, the roofline trails lower, with big shoulder lines drawing attention to the shapely LED taillights. Inside, Lexus signals this is no ordinary sedan with an eclectic mixing of twisty traction/drive mode controls, a dash with a lack of symmetry, and spectacular fit and finish. The seats up front encourage long-distance cruising, with equally comfortable seating in back for three and enough room for six-footers to sit behind six-footers.
Our only gripe is the annoyingly distracting, console-mounted, touchpad infotainment controller – although standard Apple CarPlay capability (Android Auto is still missing in action) alleviates a number of related issues.
Multiple personalities. For 2019, the 3.5-liter V6 found in gasoline-only models receives an additional 34 horsepower (to 302) and 19 pound-feet of torque (to 267). It feeds power to the front wheels through a velvety smooth eight-speed automatic transmission.
The first-for-ES F Sport model adds adaptive dampers, a Sport Plus mode with quicker steering and improved throttle response, along with a pleasant exhaust bark played through the speakers.
If the gasoline-only version's EPA-estimated 22 miles per gallon city, 33 mpg highway, and 26 combined doesn't thrill your tree-hugging heart, the equally sybaritic Lexus ES 300h is the most impressive fuel-sipper in the class, with an EPA-estimated 43/45/44 mpg (city/highway/combined).
Top Safety Pick. The IIHS adds a "Plus" to that moniker when the ES is equipped with optional adaptive headlights that add to a comprehensive list of standard safety systems. These include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high beams.
Final thoughts. Along with a stunning new design that tosses tradition aside, the 2019 Lexus ES offers a wide range of advanced safety features, a new F Sport model with an adaptive suspension that takes advantage of the additional power, and a class-topping hybrid version.
We would've been pleased with just the new design and added performance, but Lexus’ spacious and comfortable premium-to-luxury interior cabin completes the package. If they could fix the complicated infotainment system and offer an all-wheel-drive option for those of us who live up north, the close-to-perfect ES would be … perfect, that is.
In terms of the competition, the Kia Cadenza and Chrysler 300 offer more spacious interiors. The Chrysler, along with the Acura TLX, Audi A4, Cadillac ATS, Genesis G70, INFINITI Q50, and Lincoln MKZ offer an AWD option, while optional engines offer more power under the hoods of the Cadillac, Chrysler, Genesis, INFINITI, Lincoln, Kia Stinger, and Volvo S60.
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