2019 Lexus ES

Calgary Sun - Autonet - - FRONT PAGE - Graeme Fletcher

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.

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