2015 Lexus ES 350 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
April 29, 2015

The 2015 Lexus ES is the one of the best luxury cars for those who still have practical considerations like back-seat space and ride comfort; and the 300h Hybrid model is quite the counterpoint to much more expensive 'green luxury' models.

The 2015 Lexus ES 350 and ES 330h hybrid are comfort-oriented luxury sedans based on the Toyota Avalon architecture (rather than, a few years ago, the Camry). With a major redesign just a couple of model years ago they gained more engaging road manners, a more interesting shape, and improved technology features. The lineup especially gets its reason for being in the smooth, high-mileage hybrid model, as we see it. 

Overall, the ES serves as a softer, more comfort-minded counterpoint to the performance-oriented IS and GS sport sedans in the Lexus lineup. Yet the ES family 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; 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.

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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.

7

2015 Lexus ES 350

Styling

The graceful interior helps balance out an exterior that's still quite conservative.

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.

The corners of the ES models, in front and in back, are just a little more squared-off than in the previous-generation model, but it's the profile and side sheetmetal that now look quite attractive and contemporary. All ES models get the new Lexus 'spindle grille’—we call it the hourglass grille—that tapers into the bumper, expanding outward again below into the air dam. As well, there are LED running lamps helping to accentuate the look, while in back the taillamps not come to a point that continues as a centerline, on either side, into the beltline. The profile remains a bit formal, but with the smooth, organic sculpting of the side sheetmetal, it's definitely not homely.

A shelf-like horizontal layout for the dash definitely sets a space-efficient theme inside, and corners that are pushed outward help with the sense of space. The navigation system screen fits mid-contour, up top, and we appreciate the curviness of the instrument panel, as well as the positioning of the hooded nav screen. The curves and contours are great, but we could do without the overabundance of matte-matellic trim; as with piano-black trim, too much of it isn't a good thing.

7

2015 Lexus ES 350

Performance

Even the 300h Hybrid is a strong performer, and there's a good compromise between handling and ride comfort on either 2015 Lexus ES model.

As has always been the case with this model line, the 2015 Lexus ES models place performance after comfort in the priority list -- and that's perfectly fine for most shoppers who might consider this roomy sedan. While it retains a relaxed driving demeanor, you might be surprised by how athletic this model has become when you really need it to hustle.

There is also, in all fairness, a difference in how the two ES models 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 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, and you need to determine whether the vastly lower fuel efficiency of the ES 350 is worth its somewhat sportier feel.

With the latest version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, essentially, pairing a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine with an electric generator, along with a planetary power-split system and complex set of electronic controls. Sport, Eco, EV, and Normal modes give you better control over what you want from the system, and when. Sport mode steps up the responsiveness, Eco increases the fuel economy. EV mode allows the car to travel short distances at low speeds without the use of any gasoline–it's good for stop-and-go traffic and creeping into the driveway.

In other aspects of the driving experience, the ES 300h shows Toyota's experience in making a hybrid system smooth and unobtrusive, yet responsive. Provided you drive the 300h relatively softly—just with traffic, for instance—the system goes about its business in the background; and if you have the sound system on, it might as well be a V-6, or an exceptionally smooth four-cylinder under the hood. The transitions between electric and gasoline-electric operation are that seamless. However, ask for the powertrain to deliver more performance—on a curvy road, or when merging with high-speed freeway traffic, and the hybrid powertrain lets itself be known. Engineers have firmed up the ride and handling of the ES 350 a tad—just enough to give a slightly more buttoned-down feel but not so much as to mess with this model’s already established priority: comfort. Straight-line tracking is also greatly improved compared to the outgoing version, and the steering is weighted better, with a quicker ratio. The changes together give it a surprisingly athletic, if not nimble, feel.

Thanks to its 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, the ES 350 can move very quickly. It's essentially the same engine as in the Camry V-6, but with added measures that help cut noise and vibration. It revs eagerly through the gears of the six-speed automatic with such a seamless flow of power that the speed can creep up on you on a straight road. Because there’s so little engine noise the speed can creep up on you in deceptive ways. Shifts are a little lumpier on gentle takeoffs, but this is an exceptionally responsive, refined powertrain.

Brake-pedal response is one area that we'd like to see improve, however; over a couple of drives of the ES, we've found the pedal feel to be way too spongy, lacking any reassuring firmness. In ES 300h hybrid models, there's a different version of the same issue, as they have regenerative braking that helps recover excess energy, and the transition between brake regen and the brake pads themselves isn't as smooth as the other aspects of this car's driving interface.

10

2015 Lexus ES 350

Comfort & Quality

The interior of the 2015 Lexus ES models is plush and accommodating, and it's very quiet.

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 (the lower cushions are longer, too).

All ES models now include a 10-way power driver seat, while the available 12-way seat brings extendable lower cushions—a feature some of our long-legged editorial team would definitely opt for.

With seats that have a greater range of adjustability than before, as well as longer cushions for the front seats and available extendable thigh bolsters, the ES has about four inches more legroom than before, while its wheelbase is about two inches longer than the Camry on which it's based.

Get the ES 300h and the only thing you give up is the trunk pass-through, and a little bit of trunk space. We saw no significant difference in actual backseat packaging or space.

Thanks to a longstanding reputation for their plush interiors, quiet cabins, and silky rides, the 2014 Lexus ES sedan will be coveted for their interior comfort. The current generation comes with even nicer materials than past ES models, and there's more rear seat legroom than before, too.

The ES 350 is a perfect ten in refinement, but you do get a bit more engine noise in the ES 300h, especially when you drive it a little harder or make a quick pass, and the four-cylinder engine kicks on with a raspy sound. We also noticed a little more whine from the electrical components in the hybrid than we've noticed in other Lexus and Toyota hybrids—the one downside, perhaps, to making the rest of the ES 300h so darn quiet.

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).

9

2015 Lexus ES 350

Safety

Great safety ratings, as well as an impressive set of available active-safety kit, altogether assures that these sedans are safety standouts.

The 2015 Lexus ES family covers all the bases in safety. No matter which model you choose, ten airbags are standard—including front and rear curtain bags and rear seat-mounted side airbags, in addition to electronic stability control and all of its complementary systems like anti-lock brakes.

Additionally, Lexus Safety Connect wraps in roadside assistance, emergency assistance, a stolen vehicle locator, and automatic collision notification—although those services require a subscription (one year is included).

Several active-safety features are available as options on the ES models, too. Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert can help see moving vehicles in your blind spot, or help see cross traffic when backing out of a parking spot. There's also a Lane Departure Alert system that includes an automatic high-beam feature; and the Pre-Collision System uses radar to anticipate a potential collision.

Safety ratings are excellent so far, with top 'good' ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) -- although the ES still hasn't been rated in the especially tough small overlap frontal category. In federal tests, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), gives the ES five out of five stars in all categories, except for rollover tests.

8

2015 Lexus ES 350

Features

Remote Touch leaves lots to be desired, but the opulent trims and cabin materials will win over traditionalists.

Offered in a single trim, the ES 350 and ES 300h come loaded with standard features. Yet they keep enough space for dessert, with options ranging from high-end audio to active safety.

Automatic climate control, an illuminated keyless entry system, SmartAccess features, push-button start, an analog clock, a HomeLink garage-door opener, a 3.5-inch color info display, and an eight-speaker audio system with Bluetooth streaming audio, USB/iPod connectivity, and SiriusXM capability are all included on every model.

The most notable features on the ES are the Mark Levinson audio system, hard-drive-based navigation, reverse camera, and the most current version of Enform with AppSuite. Enform includes Bing, MovieTickets.com, iHeartRadio, OpenTable, Pandora, Facebook Places, and Yelp. The Remote Touch  interface 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. Even with the haptic feature (which helps you feel your way through menus) turned on, we find it highly distracting.

Features with more focus on luxury are also available. The Premium package included upgraded leather, a power steering wheel and bamboo trim; the Luxury package adds HID headlights, a rear sunshade and Park Assist. The Ultra Luxury pack adds window shades, ambient lighting, headed steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, extendable seat supports, and a single-touch trunk release.

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.

9

2015 Lexus ES 350

Fuel Economy

The hybrid ES 300h gives the lineup plenty of appeal for those wanting fuel-efficient luxury.

If you focus in on the ES 300h hybrid, the 2015 Lexus ES lineup earns some of the best fuel economy ratings in such a roomy sedan. The efficiency comes with levels of refinement and quietness you'd expect from a Lexus, too.

For those who aren't as swayed by high fuel economy numbers, there's still the Lexus ES 350, powered by a strong V-6 engine; and considering its quick acceleration and smooth demeanor, it gets a reasonably good 21 mpg city, 31 highway.

According to the EPA, the ES 300h earns 40 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, with 39 mpg on the Combined cycle. We think that drivers will be able to reach the official ratings here provided they drive conservatively, using the efficiency displays as a guide.

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April 6, 2016
2015 Lexus ES 350 4-Door Sedan Crafted Line

Great car, but I don't think I will ever fully understand the navigation/ information system.

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Like everything but the navigation/information system. A little more road noise then I expected, but that might be from the low profile wheels. Need a four wheel drive version, that would seal the deal for... + More »
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September 29, 2015
2015 Lexus ES 350 4-Door Sedan

I LOVE this car

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I've owned many cars in my lifetime, and by far this is the best car I've ever owned. Not only do I feel safe, but it's comfortable and luxurious. It's large enough to haul 4 teenagers around, and they all... + More »
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Styling 7.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 10.0
Safety 9.0
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Fuel Economy 9.0
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