Now beginning its seventh generation, the Lexus ES 350 is the upscale Toyota nameplate’s midsize luxury sedan. For 2019, it’s available in four trims, including the new F Sport. As its designation implies, it has a sporty look and feel.
Nearly every major manufacturer has a midsize luxury sedan. Lexus received top honors in Consumer Reports’ yearly most reliable brand survey for 2018. But the previous generation of the ES 350 had its time and other manufacturers, including Hyundai, Genesis and Kia, now all offer legitimate competition. Audi and BMW have a long-standing rivalry with Lexus.
The new ES 350 (ES stands for elegant sedan) has the same fuel-injected 3.5-liter V6 engine as its predecessor. But it’s now more powerful and versatile. It produces 302 horsepower (34 more horsepower) and has an eight-speed automatic transmission replacing a six-speed.
The transmission is smooth and switching between driving modes alters the shifting program, steering assist and throttle responses. The F Sport also boosts the drive modes to five — Standard Eco, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+ and Custom.
A more elegant freeway ride and a peppier overall performance are the results. Acceleration from 0-60 miles per hour is achieved in 6.6 seconds, a half-second faster than the 2018 model. Fuel mileage estimates are 22 miles per gallon in city driving, 31 miles per gallon on the freeway.
With its tweaked suspension and dynamics, the Lexus ES 350 also has overall better road dynamics, with greater agility. It’s immediately noticeable in the slightly lower, wider and longer sedan.
The updates throughout the line-up also mean the lower level trims are satisfactory for budget-conscious buyers seeking an entry-level luxury sedan.
But the F Sport trim is the way to go. It expands the Premium package and features 19-inch wheels, a rear spoiler an upgraded grille and chassis dampers. Interior upgrades include active noise control, sport-designed front seats and aluminum trim sections. An analog clock is embedded in the upper left-hand corner of the infotainment center. There’s improved noise control as well as upgraded gauges and a heated leather steering wheel.
There are also leather seating, heated and ventilated front seats and ambient lighting. The Navigation/Audio package adds $3,000 to the MSRP of $44,035. But it’s a worthy consideration, particularly for audiophiles.
With its 1,800-watt system and with 17 speakers, the Mark Levinson sound system is symphony quality. The navigation system has a raised horizontally mounted 12.3-inch color, multi-media display and it’s rich with application compatibility. It operates with a too-sensitive trackpad on the console.
Safety is a Lexus strong point. The ES 350 has 10 airbags and bundle of other features included in its Safety System+2.0. Lane departure alert with steering assist, low-light pedestrian detection, intelligent high beams and adaptive cruise control and a pre-collision system are all in the mix.
The interior improvements still leave the interior shy of what should be expected from a luxury sedan. Some of the plastic panels look cheap, leaving the overall interior aesthetic best described as dull.
Triple beam LED headlights add $1,515 and the blind spot monitor and intuitive parking assist with auto braking costs another $1,065. A few less expensive options and a steep delivery fee bring the price to $52,790, a tally prompting a financial pause.
While improved from last year, the Lexus ES 350 still has one major flaw. The new exterior design is sleeker and stylishly flows into the trunk. But the front end is still gaudy. The squinting style headlights awkwardly combine with the oversized spindle grille. It detracts from the Lexus ES 350’s presence as an athletic-looking and simultaneously elegant sedan.