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Comfort and traditional luxury are keywords for the Lexus ES family, which lands squarely between the IS and GS sport sedans in the lineup, as a plush, less-performance-oriented counterpart to both models. The 2015 Lexus ES 350 and ES 330h hybrid are based on the Toyota Avalon architecture (rather than, a few years ago, the Camry), and with a major redesign a couple of model years ago they gained more engaging road manners, a more interesting shape, improved technology features, and a new hybrid model that actually ends up giving the rest of the ES package a reason for being.
The ES family, overall, does a decent job of appeasing both the comfort-oriented luxury shoppers and the ones who expect a little more savvy and sophistication than the Lexus they're trading in. Serious driving enthusiasts will pass the ES by on the way to the IS or GS (or another sharp sport sedan like the BMW 3-Series), but for the vast majority of luxury shoppers, both the V-6 ES 350 or the ES 300h hybrid feel quick and responsive.
There is, in all fairness, a difference in how the two ES models accelerate accelerate; the V-6 models are still the quickest and smoothest, surely, but the ES 300h—which pairs a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine with an electric motor-generator system—is surprisingly vivid. Lexus' Drive Select gets Eco and Power modes, and you have a choice in how the hybrid system responds, and there's even now an EV-only mode. The new ES 300h returns an EPA 40 mpg city, 39 highway (much better than the ES 350's 21/31), so the real payoff really comes at the pump.
The overall appearance of the ES family remains conservative; but with last year's redesign, including the new hourglass ('spindle') grille and a few more curves at the rear flanks, the ES is no longer an accessory to slab-sided boredom. Inside, the ES got even more of a makeover, with a new shelf-like horizontal design of the dash yielding more airiness; pushing the corners outward help with the sense of space for those in front, too. And in between, the navigation system's screen fits nicely mid-contour. Overall, it feels a lot like what Lexus has done to its IS and GS sport sedans, but with a little more elegance and spaciousness.
Interior space is one of the ES sedans' strengths, as while it's a mid-size car on the outside, its wheelbase is now that of a large car—which really pays off in space for those in the back seat. There's now enough room for three adults back there, if you need it, while in front, for the first time, Lexus is offering an available extendable thigh support for taller drivers (cushions are longer, too). The ride itself is firmer than that of the last-generation ES, but altogether Lexus does a better job than ever in isolating out noise from the wind, road, and engine (except for a little engine noise when accelerating in the 300h).
Active-safety features, such as Rear Cross Traffic Alert and a Pre Collision System, are part of the ES sedans' standard feature set; and it offers all sorts of technology and convenience extras, most as part of packages. There's a hard-drive-based navigation system with voice command, Mark Levinson audio, upgraded leather and trims (or NuLuxe seats that can be heated and ventilated), a built-in backup camera system, and a next-generation Enform with apps. The Remote Touch is the only down side to stepping up to this setup, as its awkward, mouse-like controller has you follow a pointer on the screen.
For 2015, a backup camera is now part of the standard Display Audio system; There's also a new Lexus Enform Remote app that allows you to remotely locate your vehicle or use features like remote starting and unlocking; Lexus has also partnered with Apple to offer 'Siri Eyes Free Mode' for a streamlined set of controls for iPhone users, and the navigation system now has an expanded feature set with 3D maps, predictive traffic, and improved voice commands.
- Library-quiet interior
- 40-mpg city rating, in a large sedan (300h)
- Responsive powertrains
- Spacious back seat
- Plush ride
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- 'Remote' brake feel
- Distracting Remote Touch interface
- Conservative exterior
- Leather no longer standard