New & Used Lexus ES: In Depth
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The Lexus ES is a five-passenger, four-door luxury sedan that's a close relative of today's Toyota Avalon. In its past, however, it has been sized somewhat smaller and was more directly related to the Toyota Camry. A raft updates is scheduled for the 2016 model.
Compared to its Toyota counterparts, the Lexus is fitted with more standard features and with better materials, and has had an elegant if often generic appeal. Like the Avalon, the ES also has gained a new hybrid companion in this generation.
The ES is a rival for sedans like the Lincoln MKZ and Buick LaCrosse, and even the Chrysler 300.
MORE: Read our 2015 Lexus ES review for pricing with options, specifications, and gas mileage information.
The latest Lexus ES made its debut at the 2012 New York Auto Show. The standard model was once again called ES 350 but for the first time it was joined by a hybrid model, the ES 300h. Both were introduced as 2013 models and share running gear with the Toyota Camry, but this time the ES has a couple of extra inches of wheelbase, providing more backseat space. In this generation, the ES actually has more in common with the Toyota Avalon, which is itself based on a stretched version of the Toyota Camry's platform.
The ES adopts a very sleek design theme this time around, certainly its smoothest profile yet. The interior carries a horizontal design that's similar to what's found in the latest GS sedan. It takes a step down in the base model, however, with synthetic material replacing the formerly standard leather upholstery. The ES also features the latest safety and tech features that Lexus has to offer, including the Entune smartphone connection and a lane-departure warning system.
The ES 350 sports a 268-hp V-6 and a six-speed automatic, while the 300h uses Toyota's 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle hybrid and a hybrid system to achieve an EPA city rating of 40 mpg (39 highway); both are offered only with front-wheel drive. Thanks to a quicker steering ratio and retuned suspension, the ES models feel slightly sportier from behind the wheel without sacrificing passenger comfort—it's still just as plush and quiet as ever. In a first drive of the ES 300h, we found it to be surprisingly as responsive as the 350, while far more fuel-efficient. This newfound sportiness doesn't quite match other new Lexus models for all-out driving enjoyment, and there's no available F Sport model of the ES nor is one expected, but it is certainly an improvement over previous generations.
The ES lineup changed very little into 2014. For 2015, it received upgraded infotainment systems, including a new 3D bird's-eye view for the navigation system, as well as an audio-buffer feature, enhanced apps integration, and a new touchpad controller for the infotainment system, replacing the odd mouse-like piece used previously.
In 2016, Lexus is giving the ES a makeover. Styling changes will include a wider spindle grille and sharper headlights along with new front and rear fascias. The interior will see an upgrade as well, and Lexus is adding its new low-cost Lexus Safety System+ as an option.
Lexus ES history
First introduced for 1992, the Lexus ES 300 helped establish the Lexus name and won customers to the brand for its comfort, style, and reliability. Although the first couple of generations of the ES dabbled on the sporty side in some variations, with the third-generation ES that was introduced for 2002 Lexus focused the model even more toward mainstream luxury sedans. It was again called the ES 300 for its first two years, packing a 210-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6. This model had an even roomier interior than before and included all the extras you would expect to come standard on a luxury car today; a navigation system and excellent Mark Levinson sound-system upgrade were among the options.
For 2004, the ES was given a very slight refresh and new standard equipment, then was renamed the ES 330, gaining a 3.3-liter V-6 making 225 (or 218) hp.
Another redesign in 2007 brought with it another engine-size increase and name change. The powertrain changed to a 272-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, with a six-speed automatic transmission, creating the ES 350. This ES had an even plusher ride than before, with excellent soft-touch and wood trim. A number of new tech features—including adaptive cruise control, a pre-collision system, park assist, and adaptive xenon HID headlamps—were offered for the first time in this model.
While competent and luxurious, the ES was not for everyone. For instance, the styling was rather bland and not fit for those who wanted to be noticed. The car is also somewhat of an isolation chamber, for better or worse, keeping the occupants from the noise outside but also keeping all types of feedback from the driver. There was little arguing with its safety record, however.
There were certainly plenty more upsides. Resale value for the ES, no matter what the model year, has been top-notch; so has reliability.