2019 Lexus ES first drive: a luxury staple breaks into three-part harmony

June 7, 2018

Freed from its burden of being the mid-size sedan for every luxury buyer, the 2019 Lexus ES sedan, now in its seventh generation, grows slightly sharper in each of its several distinct flavors. The 2019 ES350 plays the middle-of-the-road luxury role, the ES300h hits hybrid high-economy notes while newfound sporting fortitude emerges with the ES350 F Sport model, the first time an ES F Sport has hit the market with a firmer, more enthusiast-enticing demeanor.

The new 2019 Lexus ES exterior takes inspiration from the recent LS500, down to the sloping roofline and the bright trim at the rear doors' side glass. The new ES is longer, lower and wider than before, and the low hood and very long shoulder all the way to trunk accentuate its new attitude.

The ES's conventional rear is bookended by the now-familiar spindle grille up front, rendered in bent silver slats on standard and hybrid models, and in a jet black mesh pattern on F Sport models. While the Lexus spindle grille has lost some eyes and gained others, there's no question that the mesh version works better than the slatted one. The vertical version is visually jarring and looks like a set of mathematical "greater than" (>) and "less than" (<) symbols stacked up against each other, which makes the spindle even more severe. Thankfully, the mesh version diffuses that clash.

DON'T MISS: Lexus drops hybrid prices across the board

Each Lexus ES350 and ES300h is trimmed outside in light accent colors while inside, trim is based on the interior color in either black accents or three different hues of wood including bamboo. The F Sport models get exhaust cutouts in the rear valance, more highly perforated leather and standard 19-inch wheels similar to those on the LC500 coupe. The ES350 and ES300h ride on 17-inch or optional 18-inch wheels.

The ES's soothing interior is everything that spindle grille isn't. Flowing forms skip over door panel breaks and console covers while the door releases poke out of the door panels without bezels (as on the LC500). All ES permutations share a softness inside with many pliable surfaces to touch and a consistently high level of fit and finish. The instrument cluster straight ahead is small, though the optional large center infotainment screen (which can come with navigation) seems to span half the dashboard length; it's huge.

2019 Lexus ES

2019 Lexus ES

2019 Lexus ES

2019 Lexus ES

2019 Lexus ES

2019 Lexus ES

Lexus ES infotainment: still needs a reboot

Which brings us to the dreaded Remote Touch infotainment interface. This blight upon the ES and any Lexus uses a touchpad to make selections on the center screen for audio, climate, navigation, and media choices. That leads to mostly overshooting the desired selection because of imprecise response, which drives to distraction. The rotary dials of Mercedes' current Comand and Audi's MMI simply work leagues better. Ease-of-use is a luxury itself and the Germans took it on the nose for their early, maligned systems. Lexus simply needs to scrub this bad system. And quickly.

On the bright side, the new ES is the very first Lexus with Apple CarPlay compatibility, but light always comes with darkness: for cars without navigation, CarPlay won't be folded into production until after October 1. The ES still lacks Android Auto, but it will have Amazon Alexa functionality, so you can buy even more stuff, and now, while driving. Additionally, the Lexus Enform app suite includes Spotify, iHeartRadio, Yelp, Pandora, Slacker, NPR One and also adds information about fuel stations, sports, weather and traffic, though the latter also shows up in navigation, too.

In overall design, though, each Lexus ES variant hits its interior marks well. The seats—especially the F Sport's—have improved drastically. The F's seats are both comfortable for interstate drives, yet supportive for twisty-mountain, coffee-spilling cornering. Front-seat comfort is expectedly high, but rear leg room really raises the bar. Lexus claims best-in-class rear room and we believe it. Thanks to the redesigned nickel-metal hydride battery, the ES300h also retains all the trunk room of its non-hybrid twin, at 16.7 cubic feet, a rarity among hybrid sedans.

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