2019 Lexus ES first drive: a luxury staple breaks into three-part harmony Page 2

June 7, 2018

2019 Lexus ES: gas, hybrid, or F Sport?

All ES350s use a 3.5-liter, 302-horsepower V-6 which also makes 267 pound-feet of torque, improvements of 34 hp and 19 pound-feet over the prior V-6. It's hitched to an 8-speed automatic that's also manually shiftable and can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds, a half-second improvement over the 2018 ES350. No ES will be accused of being a rip-snorting hot rod, but the V-6-powered ES350 accelerates well and barks a pleasing tone, helped in the F Sport by additional sound pumped through the stereo speakers tracing a pre-fixed digital map of the V-6's intake snarl.

The Lexus ES350's transmission clicks off manual shifts via the paddles, but the torque converter does not always lock up, especially when the throttle is lifted mid-corner and you hold a shift. It also shifts on its own if you encroach the redline or bury the throttle in a gear it thinks is too high for conditions.

MUST READ: Check out our 2018 Lexus LS full review

The ES350 F Sport uses Adaptive Variable Suspension that have KYB-supplied "swing valve" shock absorbers that improve damping response time by a factor of 10 over the standard shocks. And the F Sport's gee-whiz shocks and stiffer anti-roll bars help to tidy up the historically soft ES suspension during brisk cornering and over undulating roads with dips and crests. But it does not quite reach the level of control or feel baked into the sportier equivalent models from BMW, Audi, Mercedes or even recent smaller and sports-suspended Cadillacs. And that's not because Lexus is incapable of it. They are and the LC500, the GS-F and the IS-F are proof. This is a tricky needle to thread for a brand that wants to slowly conquest more enthusiast-minded customers.

Meanwhile, the drive mode dial sits on the side of the instrument hood, and varies throttle and transmission response between Eco, Normal, Sport and—on F Sport models—Sport + modes. This also influences shock damping on F Sport cars. Our F tester handled every corner we threw at it and showed a marked difference in feel and agility over past ES models, though we also did not throw it Porsche-level corners, either. We managed to eke out some serious tire-singing in the more twisty sections, at which point steering feel does indeed inform you of potential doom, but the number of customers who will drive the ES and even the F Sport version in such a canyon-strafing manner will be few. For that kind of Andretti-ness, a full F model lexus like the GS-F would be a better choice. This is a sports-flavored luxury sedan rather than a luxury-flavored sports sedan, no matter how you slice it.

2019 Lexus ES

2019 Lexus ES

The 2019 Lexus ES300h hybrid powertrain is based around a 2.5-liter inline-4, though the power control unit, transaxle and battery are all new. The battery is smaller and now resides under the rear seat, opening up trunk space. The ES300h serves up impressive acceleration, if not ES350-ish, and hits 60 mph in around eight seconds on paper, and feels stronger than the quoted 215 total system hp. The ES300h stays quiet when flogging it, too; the CVT parks the engine at perhaps 5,000 rpm, but noise is low. And when trundling around at parking lot speeds, there's next to no inverter sound, partially due to a new multi-layered firewall blanket.

The new ES comes with a full deck of active safety features including automatic emergency braking, pedestrian and bicycle detection, road sign recognition, adaptive cruise control and rear object and pedestrian detection during parking.

As for efficiency, the ES300h will post impressive 44 mpg city, 45 highway, 44 combined ratings and will be the leader among luxury hybrids without a plug, admittedly a small class. The ES350 is predicted to reach 22/33/26 mpg.

Even with the solid F Sport effort here, our drive showed the new 2019 Lexus ES as a luxury-focused sedan at its core with a reliability pedigree second-to-none, and that's not a bad thing.

Lexus provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.

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