2014 Lexus ES 350 Review

Consumer Reviews
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2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Davis Adams Davis Adams Contributor
August 12, 2014

The 2014 Lexus ES is an attractive package in its segment, and the hybrid model makes for a very compelling alternative to more expensive green luxury cars.

The Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid are the bigger, more mature companions to the compact, sporty Lexus IS. Based on the Toyota Avalon architecture, the ES these days has adopted a more interesting shape and more engaging road manners, along with a new hybrid model.

Following a full redesign last year, the 2014 Lexus ES does a decent job of appeasing both of those customers–especially those who are in tune with the options available on modern premium sedans today. Unless you're in the 1 percent of canyon-carving driving enthusiasts, we think think that both the V-6 ES 350 or the ES 300h hybrid will handle well enough to satisfy.

While the 2014 ES models look pretty conservative on the outside—the new Lexus hourglass grille and a newfound curviness at the rear flanks are the exceptions—there's a lot to love inside. The ES's cabin has been completely redesigned, with a new sense of airiness and spaciousness thanks to a shelf-like horizontal design, and corners that have been pushed out (in a sort of anti-cockpit design). It resembles what Lexus did with its GS sport sedans, only it feels better done here, with the navigation system's screen fitting nicely mid-contour.

Of course there is 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 fleet-footed. With Lexus' incorporation of Drive Select modes (Eco and Power), you have a choice in how the hybrid system responds, and there's even now an EV-only mode. The big payoff comes at the pump, where the new ES 300h returns an EPA 40 mpg city, 39 highway (much better than the ES 350's 21/31).

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The ES isn't riding on the same wheelbase as the Camry; its wheelbase is now a couple of inches longer—think Avalon, lengthwise—which pays off in back-seat space. Thanks to its additional back-seat space, we might as well call it a large sedan. 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). Ride quality is slightly firmer, but the outside world, engine noise, and the road surface are all still supremely isolated from the cabin.

In addition to active-safety features like Rear Cross Traffic Alert and a Pre Collision System, the ES offers a host of high-tech entertainment and premium-luxury goodies on top of its standard kit. Major options for the ES include a hard-drive-based navigation system with voice command, Mark Levinson audio, upgraded leather and trims, a built-in backup camera system, and a next-generation Enform with apps. The only down side to getting the audio upgrade, or navigation, is the mandatory, mouse-like Remote Touch controller, which requires you to follow a pointer on the screen to make selections. For 2014, LED foglamps are now standard, the hybrid model's bamboo wooden trim is now offered on the ES 350, and the faux-leather NuLuxe seats can be both heated and ventilated. Lexus has also partnered with Apple to offer "Siri Eyes Free Mode" on 2014 models.

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2014 Lexus ES 350

Styling

It's quietly handsome, and the new Lexus ES has a refashioned interior with much more grace.

The ES was completely redesigned last year, and while the exterior only looks modestly refreshed, the interior looks like an entirely different car.

While the current ES looks sharper in front and back–especially above the rear wheels–the design is essentially just enough to look freshened over the last model, albeit the new direction remains a little stiff and formal.

Inside, the ES follows the design path already taken by much of the Lexus lineup, with a more horizontal orientation and a shelf-like centerline that bridges the top of the front doors. Only in the ES it’s not cockpit-like at all; while there's a wide center console separating the driver and passenger areas, the dash and door trims don't wrap or flow into each other. Instead, they form a pushed-out corner that serves to help maximize interior space. Yet the ES gets almost all the details right; we love the curviness atop the instrument panel (and the positioning of the hooded navigation screen), as well as the fluid, slightly curved nature of the lines and contours. The only thing we could do without is the overabundance of slightly tinted, matte-metallic trim and audio faceplate material; just like the piano black surfacing, this is simply too played-out.

The corners of the vehicle both in front and in back have been tucked a little closer than before, while corners are just a bit more squared-off, giving the ES a somewhat more trim look from some angles. From the front, the ES models get the new Lexus 'spindle grille’—we call it the hourglass grille—that tapers down to the bumper and then expands outward again below the bumper, continuing into the air dam, and more finely detailed headlamps with LED running lamps help punctuate. In back, the taillights now come to a point at a centerline that continues the beltline. All that said, the ES comes across as quite formal on the outside.

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7

2014 Lexus ES 350

Performance

The Lexus ES rides comfortably, and performance is strong and smooth--even with the hybrid.

Much like the cars that have come before it, the current Lexus ES allows performance to play second fiddle to comfort. It's relaxed–no question–but you may be surprised to see how athletic the ES can be when you really push it down the road.

The newest version of Hybrid Synergy Drive makes its way into the ES 300h, where it incorporates 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. There's a drive mode selector–with Sport, Eco, EV and Normal modes–much like the selectors included in the CT200h and now-discontinued HS250h. 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.

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. 

The ES 350 accelerates strongly with its 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6—essentially the same engine as in the Camry V-6, but with even more noise- and vibration-quelling measures. And it winds through the gears of the six-speed automatic transmission with such a seamless flow of power that on a straight road the speed can creep up on you, more so than in performance models. but 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 one responsive, fine, and very refined powertrain.

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.

The only dynamic area that we had issue with in both of the ES models was the feel of the brake pedal. In ES 350 models it was just too spongy, and lacked the reassuring firmness that some other premium sedans get as calipers apply pressure. ES 300h models have regenerative braking that helps recover excess energy as you decelerate or brake, but as we’ve noticed in some hybrids there’s a dead zone where the transition between regen and brake-pad application isn’t as smooth as it could be.

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10

2014 Lexus ES 350

Comfort & Quality

The ES' plush interior has lots of space--maybe a little less headroom than before--and it's quiet, save for some hybrid gas-engine noise.

Thanks to a long-standing 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.

While the ES 350 is a perfect ten in terms of refinement, you do have a bit more engine noise in the ES 300h, especially when you drive it a little harder or go to make a quick pass, and the four-cylinder engine kicks on with a raspy sound—although it’s never boomy and it’s surprisingly just as well isolated from powertrain vibrations as the V-6. 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.

Lexus has made the centermost rake of the steering column a little closer to horizontal this time, and combined with seats that have a greater range of adjustability—as well as longer cushions for the front seats and available extendable thigh bolsters—the effect is the The new ES has about four inches more rear legroom, and its wheelbase is now two inches longer than the Camry on which it's based.

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.

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.

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9

2014 Lexus ES 350

Safety

No crash-test ratings have been reported, but the Lexus ES shares its architecture with the highly rated Toyota Avalon.

The 2014 Lexus ES carries over its 2013 ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), when it was given five out of five stars in all categories, except for rollover tests, where it received a four-star rating.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the ES a "good" rating in all the tests it's performed, but it hasn't put an ES through its new small-overlap crash test--which means the ES drops its Top Safety Pick designation.

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. 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. 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.

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2014 Lexus ES 350

Features

We're fans of the Lexus ES' opulent levels of interior trim, but something better than Remote Touch must exist, right?

The Lexus ES 300h and ES 350 are offered in only one trim–one that's loaded with tons of standard features–but there's plenty of room to add options, ranging from entertainment systems to active-safety features.

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–although these apps can be updated via the dedicated data stream, and new ones will be made available later.

There's one down side to this advanced interface, which works otherwise very well: Included with the navigation system is the Remote Touch controller, a trackpad-like, mouse-like system that requires you to follow a pointer on the screen to make selections. 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.

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.

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9

2014 Lexus ES 350

Fuel Economy

The Hybrid's exceptional gas mileage gives the Lexus ES top green ratings.

New last year, and available as a gas-electric hybrid for the first time in that 2013 model year, the Lexus ES earns some of the best fuel economy ratings of its size class. The efficiency comes with levels of refinement and quietness you'd expect from a Lexus, too.

The Lexus ES 300h hybrid is the version that tops the EPA's gas-mileage ratings. The agency says it earns 40 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, and 39 mpg on the combined cycle. We've driven the hybrid extensively, as we have driven Toyota's Prius and the Camry Hybrid, both related in theory. By all that experience, we think drivers can reach those EPA levels with a reasonable amount of caution--driving more gently, using the ES 300h's enhanced efficiency displays as a guide.

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.

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March 19, 2017
2014 Lexus ES 350 4-Door Sedan

Solid, quiet Where's the power tilt

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This es 350 was a Lexus off-lease car. I bought it because of the excellent performance of the 2007 es 350 that I traded in. I was disappointed that so many items are not standard on a supposed luxury brand... + More »
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April 17, 2015
For 2014 Lexus ES 350

wolf in sheep's clothing

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The finest car I have ever driven. Rock solid,comfortable, and fast enough to jeopardize my drivers license.
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Styling 7
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 10
Safety 9
Features 8
Fuel Economy 9
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