2019 Lexus ES
EMBARGO: THURSDAY, JUNE 7 AT 6AM
NASHVILLE — The Lexus ES has been a solid ride through six generations. All, however, have had one thing in common — the conservative styling tended to limit its appeal to old fogeys. That changes with the seventh-generation ES. It has bolder styling, a smarter cabin and more room. This year, there’s a twist in the form of the F-Sport option. The addition led to one of the most telling comments — this is the first ES “worthy” of wearing the badge.
As before, the ES will be offered in both ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid variants, with a total of 10 trim levels when the two new F-Sport packages are factored into the ES 350. The base car arrives nicely equipped and now includes things like a moonroof, rain-sensing wipers and the Lexus Safety System Plus 2.0 — the latter adds better lowlight performance and pedestrian/cyclist recognition to the list of safety items.
The Premium model adds a 12.3inch infotainment screen and panoramic moonroof, while the Luxury trim brings triple-LED adaptive headlights and wireless phone charging. The top-line Ultra Luxury has the entire lot, plus a birdseye camera and a 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. There are nuances, but as one moves up the model range, there’s more equipment than the outgoing model.
Thereworked cabin is much nicer — classy materials and some seriousous wingback sport bucket seats in the F-Sport. In fact, about the only nit to pick is the lack of a touch screen; accessing anything has to be done through the finicky Lexus Remote Touch controller. Being able to touch an icon and have things happen is so much easier. The upside is the ES has been dragged into the 21st century — it now has Apple CarPlay. Android lovers will have to wait for now, but the inclusion of CarPlay is a radical shift in the company’s outlook on third-party apps.
Beneath its crisp new façade, the ES rides on a derivative of the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform. In this case, it differs in that the amount of structural adhesive (up 142 per cent) and weld points has improved the body’s stiffness. This and the use of extra insulation and better isolation make it one of the quietest cars on the road; it now rival the serenity of the LS flagship. As well as being longer, wider and lower, the new platform also gives the ES a 50-mm stretch in the wheelbase. Now measuring 2,870 mm, it gives the rear riders much more legroom — as much as some fullsized cars. The other big change is the hybrid’s battery now sits under the back seat, so it does not impinge on cargo space — both models now have the same 470 litres, which is up 40.
The ES 350 is powered by a reworked 3.5-L V6 that powers the front wheels through a new eightspeed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. The work bumps the horsepower by 34 to 302 hp. This and the 267 pound-feet of torque put some real fire under the hood. The transmission’s extra ratios bring a crisper launch and a more laid-back attitude at highway speeds.
The hybrid powertrain has also been revisited to improve performance and economy. The system features a 2.5-L four-cylinder engine with 176 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque, the main battery and a new transaxle that houses the generator and drive motor. Normally, the electric motors function as their names suggest, but when coasting or braking, both can harvest otherwise wasted energy to recharge the battery. During normal driving conditions, the drive motor and/or engine power the car, but there is a designated EV mode. The twist is when the gas is hammered the generator kicks in to provide extra power. The result is a net system output of 215 hp, which is up 15.
In both cases, the ES is faster. The 350 runs to 100 kilometres an hour in 7.1 seconds; the hybrid adds a second to that time, but returns much better fuel economy, averaging 6.4 L/100 km during the test. The lot can be tweaked through Drive Mode Select. It gives the driver access to Eco, Normal and Sport modes. Eco is very soft and really only for those into economy. Normal is best about town and Sport when a twisty road awaits. Unlike so many Sport modes, the ES’s has a big effect on how the car feels. It becomes sharper and noticeably more responsive.
Both have a revised suspension that includes a new “swing valve” shock absorbers — the mechanical system alters the damping to bring better comfort yet firmer handling when needed. As a result, the compliance is very good, yet the 300h hunkered down when pushed through a series of sweepers. Likewise, the reworked steering has better feel and more heft when in Sport mode. Throw in the active corner assist — it can be likened to torque vectoring by slowing the inside front wheel to make the turn-in crisper — and the ES 300h has a surprisingly sporty feel.
The F-Sport takes things to higher plane altogether. The keys are the more aggressive look, adaptive suspension and larger P235/40R19 tires along with Sport+ and Custom drive modes. In Normal mode, the F-Sport’s adaptive dampers delivered a cosseting ride without letting the body roll when pushed into a corner. Picking Sport saw the dampers and steering firm to give much better feel and feedback. Ditto the engine and transmission — both became much crisper. In Sport+, the sharper driving experience and louder exhaust note actually made the ES feel like a driver’s car, which is something that could not have been any of the previous generations!
The 2019 ES will hit dealer lots in September. Pricing is yet to be announced, but expect it to toe the usual line — a minor price increase, but a lot more standard equipment.