Complicated infotainment system
No AWD option
It's not a crossover
2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport
Along with the brand's flagship LS sedan, the ES series shares the distinction as the longest-running nameplate in the Lexus lineup - both having been introduced in 1989. And while it continues to share engines and a platform with the Toyota Camry and Avalon, this year it further distances itself from both with a more focused design aesthetic and sportier handling in F Sport trim.
Sporty and aggressive, the latest ES is stunning in its own right, and is no longer the model for Lexus wanna-be's.
Longer (by 2.6 inches), lower (0.2 inches), and wider (plus 1.8 inches) than the outgoing model, the design transformation begins up front with the best integration yet of the brand-defining "spindle" grille. The portion above the pinch is smaller, the result of narrower headlamp enclosures made possible by the smaller LED projection units they enclose. The grille below the pinch is wider and more aggressive, and, on F Sport models like our tester, finished in gloss black with a metallic surround and bracketed by a pair of narrow faux brake ducts.
Along the sides, the roofline trails longer, with big shoulder lines drawing attention to the shapely LED tail lights. Beginning mid-hood, a character line follows the beltline until it meets the A-line just above the tail lights. A rising second upper character line begins just aft of the front wheel well, bisects the rear door handle and follows the upper edge of the tail lights. Deep sculpting along the lower body sides adds to the visual appeal, and lays to rest the outgoing model's slab-sided look.
In back, a chrome trim strip joins the upper portions of the narrow triangular tail lights, resting below the concave panel that marks the termination of the fastback roofline that, on F Sport models like our tester, features a body-color deck lid spoiler.
Inside, the eclectic mixing of twisty traction/drive mode controls that flank the instrument binnacle, and a two-tier asymmetric dashboard with sweeping lines and a spectacular fit and finish, dominated by either an 8-inch or, on navigation-equipped models, a massive 12.3-inch color display, signal this is no ordinary sedan. The backlit instruments are clear and easy to read, with intuitive buttons and knobs occupying the smooth-finished center and upper console. On F Sport models, in particular, the cockpit features a thickly-rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel, real aluminum trim, and seats up front cosset and encourage long-distance cruising, with equally comfortable seating in back for three adults and enough leg room for six-footers to comfortably sit behind six-footers.
The driver's view out the front and sides is very good, but the large C-pillar and larger rear headrests (despite a larger rear window) , make it more difficult to see beyond the rear three-quarters and out back, although the ES now comes with a standard rear view camera, which helps considerably.
Speaking of safety, the ES is a Top Safety Pick, and the IIHS adds a "+" to that when it's is equipped with optional adaptive headlights. In addition to passive safety, there's also a comprehensive list of standard safety systems that include pre-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning/lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high beams.
Nits are few. Our biggest gripe is the annoyingly distracting, console-mounted, touchpad infotainment controller, although Amazon Alexa, Siri Eyes Free, Google Voice Control compatibility and standard Apple CarPlay capability (Android Auto is still MIA) alleviates a number of the related issues. But even with those improvements, the system can still demand too much of the driver's attention when the vehicle is underway.
In addition, although there's a pass-through behind the center armrest for smaller, longer items such as skis, and the trunk now offers an additional 1.5 cu ft of cargo volume for a total of 16.7 cubic feet, the back seat remains fixed, which somewhat limits the ES's cargo-hauling versatility.
Under the hood
For 2019, the 3.5-liter V-6 found in all ES gasoline-only models including the F Sport receives an additional 34 horsepower, rising to 302, and a bump of 19 lb-ft in the torque department to 267. That power is fed only to the front wheels – there is no all-wheel-drive option - through a smooth-as-velvet eight-speed automatic.
But despite the increase in power, fuel economy has improved, even in the slightly-less fuel efficient F Sport model with an EPA-estimated 22 miles per gallon in the city, 31 on the highway, and 25 combined versus last year's EPA-estimated 21 mpg city, 31 highway, and 24 combined. Like last year, the engine only requires regular gasoline. We observed a vehicle-measured 20.3 miles per gallon in spirited suburban driving.
On the road
The 3.5-liter V6 – now rated at 302 horsepower, up 34 hp from last year, and 267 lb-ft of torque, an increase of 19 lb-ft over last year - produces plenty of power, making it even easier to merge into traffic as well as pass at freeway speeds.
That Lexus has also paid particular attention to the auditory senses, with throaty engine sounds piped into the cabin in around town and at higher speeds, is certainly another high point of the ES350 F Sport. At the same time, we experienced very little in the way of wind, road, or tire noise entering the cabin, even at freeway speeds.
Although the 2019 ES retains a fuss-free ride and all-day comfort, the latest F Sport version moves a bit closer to sport sedan territory. Although tuned well below its limits, the optional suspension for this model features adaptive dampers which, paired with 19-inch wheels and tires, and a Sport+ mode that adjusts them to their firmest setting, puts some distance between it and the base model.
A luxury sedan with a dollop of sport, instead of vice versa, the F Sport responds to a deft touch. Tight corners are handled with aplomb, and dips, crests, and undulating road surfaces meet their match – all without disturbing overall ride comfort.
The steering could use a bit more feedback, but the brakes offer a nice initial bite, they're easy to modulate, and there's even a decent amount of feedback through the pedal to the driver.
2019 Lexus ES 350 pricing
Lexus Manufacturer Suggested Retail Pricing for gasoline-only models currently begins at $40,625 for the entry model that includes a delivery processing and handling fee of $1,025 while a fully-optioned F Sport model can top out at over $54,000.
Our Ultrasonic Blue Mica was close to that top figure with a $44,135 base price, plus a $750 adaptive suspension, $1,065 blind spot monitor w/rear cross-traffic alert and park assist with auto braking, $75 wireless phone charger, $500 10.5-inch head-up display, $1,515 for triple beam LED headlights, $210 power rear sunshade, $2,900, 1,800-watt Mark Levinson audio package with navigation, 12.3-inch color screen, Lexus Enform services, and auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, $595 premium paint, $180 heated steering wheel, windshield de-icer, and rapid response interior heater, $248 all-weather floor mats, $199 body side molding, $145 door edge guards, $79 rear bumper appliqué, $379 illuminated door sills, and $450 illuminated trunk sills, which brought the total price, including a $1,025 delivery, processing and handling fee, to $54,450.
The Bottom Line
In addition to a stunning new design that tosses tradition aside, the 2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport offers a new dimension in performance courtesy of an adaptive suspension that takes advantage of the 3.5-liter V6's additional power, as well as a wide range of standard advanced safety features.
We would have been pleased with just the new design and added performance, but Lexus’s spacious and comfortable premium-to-luxury interior cabin completes the package. If they could fix the complicated infotainment system, and offer an AWD option for those of us who live up north, the close-to-perfection ES would be – perfect, that is.