2019 Lexus ES

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When the Lexus brand first launched in the U.S 28 years ago, it did so with just two sedans: the LS and the smaller ES. Over the years, Lexus, of course, added numerous vehicles to its portfolio — SUVs, sportier models and more coupes and sedans. With 2.18 million worldwide sales — one million in the U.S. alone — it is the most popular Lexus ever.

But with sedan sales falling across the board as consumers attempt to satisfy an insatiable appetite for CUVs, SUVs and light trucks, luxury sedans are scrambling to differentiate themselves. That, and an average buyer age of 64 years old, has ES facing strong headwinds.

For 2019 comes the seventh-generation ES. It goes on sale this fall and Lexus officials have made it abundantly clear they’ve set out to change its reputation as a frumpy, sedate, sedan, to one with an aggressive new design, complemented by an exciting driving experience.

Honestly, I’d be lying if I said the driving experience was exciting. To be fair, the driving dynamics of the new 2019 ES 350 are significantly and noticeably improved. This is in large part, to the new TNGA (Toyota New Generation Architecture) Global K platform that’s also found in most new Lexus and Toyota models.

While still a front-wheel-drive setup, the new platform delivers improved handling and road-hugging driving. It’s genuinely a very pleasant vehicle to drive, even on some of the twisty roads we drove in rural Williamson County, Tennessee, where the automotive media drove the new ES.

Lexus engineers repeatedly made a point to emphasize the new “swing valve” shock absorber design that improves dampening functions and control, resulting in improved steering response, vehicle stability, ride comfort and suspension composure. And, they were right.

What didn’t change for the new ES is the carryover 3.5-liter V-6 engine, which has been tweaked to deliver 34 more horsepower and 19 additional pound-feet of torque over the previous ES. There’s also a new smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission replacing last year’s six-speed automatic.

Also know that the hybrid version of the ES returns with its gas-sipping four-cylinder engine connected to an electric motor and continuously-variable automatic transmission. The combined fuel economy estimate is up four miles per gallon from the last generation ES hybrid to an impressive 44 mpg. Lexus also moved the compact battery component of the hybrid from the trunk to under the rear seat, improving trunk capacity to the same as non-hybrid ES models.

Some might argue that the new ES is just a tarted up version of the all-new 2019 Toyota Avalon, which was first introduced to the automotive media a few short weeks ago. Lexus officials rail at the suggestion.

The new design, with a ground-up redo, mimics the styling of its sibling enough to be labeled a “baby LS,” including the oversized and polarizing “spindle grille” that’s become the signature design element of all Lexus vehicles.

What Lexus thankfully didn’t change was its commitment to a roomy, luxurious interior, beginning by stretching the car 2.6 inches overall. It’s also about two inches wider; the hood two inches lower. It’s a very attractive and dramatic look.

Perhaps the biggest news from Lexus is the addition of the F-Sport trim level — a first for the ES. With the average buyer being 64 years old, one of the goals for the new ES, according to Lexus Vice President of Marketing Cooper Erickson, is to not only keep its core audience happy, but to also reduce the median buyer age to 50 and younger. Lexus believes the addition of the F-Sport will facilitate that movement.

Now, lest you think Lexus has gone all-out to rope younger buyers by offering a performance version ES with the F-Sport, know that it is essentially a trim and suspension package with no additional horsepower or engine performance modifications. It does includes a new Sport+ driver mode that activates a faux engine sound that, I’m guessing here, is supposed to make you think you’re going faster than you actually are. I’m convinced this automotive “magic” Lexus expects to fulfill by adding F-Sport to the ES has little chance to inspire, excite, or delight enough car shoppers to turn the ES into an object of adulation for buyers who are full generation younger than their current customers.

The new ES also features an array of high-tech introductions and enhancements, including the most recent version of the brand’s Safety Sense+ 2.0 assistance. It includes Trace Control, intended to help keep the ES in its driving lane, and the existing pre-collision technology has been updated to detect bicyclists during daylight driving hours.

Apple CarPlay is now standard with the ability to connect with both Siri and Amazon’s Alexa voice command assistants. Alexa is intended to work from both home and office-enabled devices, but we found Alexa’s response to be excruciatingly slow, to the point where we aborted using it. It baffles me, however, that the ES does not support Android Auto. Whatever argument Toyota/Lexus has with Android Auto needs to be worked out and solved ASAP.

While in the past I’ve been critical of the Remote Touch controller — a mouse-like operation — and the frustrations using it, the new touch pad they replaced it with is even worse. I won’t go into ad nauseam detail here, but a couple of examples are the extended and unsafe amount of time the driver must take their eyes off the road to fix on the display screen, and the letter-by-letter destination input to program the navigation system.

Thankfully, Lexus had the foresight to include redundant knobs and buttons for most infotainment and operational controls, but they are small and look alike. If nothing else, given the average age of the ES buyer, the vehicle operational technology should err on the side of simple and easy to use, with a minimal amount of time needed for watching a touchscreen instead of the road.

Overall, I found the new 2019 Lexus ES somewhat of a letdown. I ended up just liking the car, rather than loving it. I wanted it all in the new ES – sheer good looks, ever-present luxurious appointments in a library quiet cockpit with the intoxicating smell of fine leather saddlery, an F-Sport with power closer to that of the Lexus GS, refreshing and extraordinarily easy-to-use infotainment and technology systems and operating controls. We didn’t get that with the new ES, but, to be sure, the numerous improvements that did come are welcome and appreciated.

However, as I exited the new ES from a day of driving I’m convinced current ES owners and Lexus loyalists will delight in the new model and gobble it up in big numbers. I’m just not convinced it will attract the number of conquest sales from worthy competitors and begin to lower the average age of the buyer.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $39,500 (est.)
Price as Tested: N/A
Powertrain: 3.5-Liter 302-hp V6 and eight-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: N/A
Seating: 5

Crash Test Results: The ES 350 has not been crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as of this writing.

Competes With:
Audi A6
BMW 5-Series
Infiniti Q70
Jaguar XF
Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Fab Features
Dramatic new styling – A baby LS
Best handling ES ever
Upscale interior with loads of standard features

— By Jim Prueter