Lexus ticks all the boxes with ES350 Ultra Luxury
While other automakers drop sedans and hatchbacks in favor of crossovers, SUVs and light trucks, Lexus boldly forges on with what got Toyota’s luxury brand started in 1990: luxury sedans. Lexus builds crossovers and SUVs, too, but the heart of the brand beats in conventional models like the ES350.
Today, Lexus builds luxury sedans in four trims, ranging from the compact IS to the full-sized LS. Base prices range from $38,560 for the IS to $80,010 for the LS hybrid. We landed near the middle with a midsize 2020 ES350 Ultra Luxury, sticker-priced at $53,595.
Easing into our ES350, we were reminded of the midsize luxury cars of old — the Cadillac Seville and STS, and Lincoln Versailles, LS and Zephyr, in particular. The Lexus blends big-car functionality with personal-luxury performance, and does it exceptionally well.
The ES350, similar in size if not personality to the Toyota Camry, has a base price of $39,900. In Ultra Luxury trim, it is priced at $43,750. We might have liked the ES350 a little less than, say, the RX350, if the Connecticut winter had been anything like normal. As it was, the front-wheel-drive ES350 gave up nothing to its all-wheel-drive brethren in mostly dry weather.
As we noted in our review of the 2019 RX450hL, Lexus has done a remarkable job of injecting its crossovers and SUVs with the refinement that characterizes the brand’s sedan lines. Still, there’s something special about a luxury sedan — the low-slung body, the graceful lines, the crisp handling. Plus, Lexus’ ES sedans cost several thousand dollars less than comparably equipped RX crossovers. The one disadvantage we noticed was rear-seat headroom — just high enough for a 6-foot passenger, but only just. A slightly taller or bulkier passenger might find his head in frequent contact with the ceiling.
While the test car was labeled “Ultra Luxury,” Lexus placed a few conventional luxury items on the option list. We were surprised, for example, to find the helpful blind-spot monitor and cross-traffic alert, along with a few other safety-oriented features, cost an extra $1,900. The heated wood and leather steering wheel cost $500, and the navigation system with Mark Levinson audio package added $2,900. (We feel obligated to note, however, that this Lexus had the best sound system we’ve ever experienced. We also feel duty bound to state that we don’t like Lexus’ infotainment touchpad, having found it too jumpy to operate comfortably while the car is moving.)
Aside from those quibbles, however, the Lexus checked all the boxes for luxury. And there were no compromises on performance. The 302-horsepower V-6 engine delivered quiet, effortless power via an 8-speed shiftable automatic transmission, and a simple knob high on the dashboard administered sport, normal or economy settings. We averaged 26 mpg, using regular unleaded gasoline.
Lexus also offers the ES with a gasoline-electric hybrid system, and in an F-sport performance configuration.
2020 Lexus ES350 Ultra Luxury
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 302 horsepower, 267 lb-ft. torque
Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 3,679 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 18-in. 5-spoke alloy noise-reduction
Tires: P235/45R18 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 16.7 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons
Fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 32 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
The Lexus ES350 has been rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.