2017 Lexus ES

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz Senior Editor
June 23, 2017

Buying tip

Look to the Ultra Luxury Package for a truly inspiring, well thought-out interior.

features & specs

ES 300h FWD
ES 350 FWD
MPG
40 city / 39 hwy
MPG
21 city / 30 hwy
MSRP
$41,820
MSRP
$38,900

If it's cosseting luxury and a roomy interior you're after, the Lexus ES may be the car for you.

Perhaps the model that best represents traditional Lexus values, the automaker's ES sedan is a soft, comfort-minded counterpoint to the similarly-priced IS and the similarly-sized GS sport sedans in the company's lineup.

It's quiet, smooth, and polished, much in the way Lexus sedans have strived to be since the brand first launched here nearly 30 years ago. We've awarded the ES, which is available as the ES 350 and the ES 300h hybrid, a 7.5 out of 10 overall, giving it extra points for its interior, its top-notch safety record, and its overall refined demeanor. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

At its core, the ES isn't far removed from the Toyota Avalon, but the two feel quite different. Don't think of the ES as merely an Avalon with nicer leather and a choice of several real wood interior trims. Instead, it's more savvy and sophisticated. 

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For 2017, the big change is the addition of some valuable safety tech as standard equipment—making the ES one of few luxury cars to come standard with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. 

Lexus ES performance and styling

Most ES sedans are ES 350s, which means they utilize a 268 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 to send power to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic. It's not a ground-breaking engine with zippy turbochargers tied to a transmission with more gears than we have fingers to count, but this conservative setup works exceptionally well to deliver solid acceleration. 

The ES 300h, meanwhile, pairs a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-4 with an electric motor-generator system. It's remarkably vivid thanks in part to Lexus' Drive Select system that offers Eco, Power, and EV modes, giving drivers a choice in how the hybrid system responds, and even allowing short jaunts of all-electric driving.

The ES 300h returns an EPA-estimated 40 mpg city, 39 highway, 39 combined, which is much better than the ES 350's 21/31/24 mpg, so the real payoff comes at the pump since the hybrid is about $2,000 pricier. 

Down the road, the ES features nicely weighted steering and a suspension that gears more toward cushioning without feeling floaty. It's surprisingly athletic, if not especially nimble. Perhaps most importantly, road and wind roar are muffled very well.
 
The ES's look traditionally has been conservative, but a recent update gave it a more aggressive front fascia highlighted by LED headlights and a larger version of Lexus' signature spindle grille. These changes, teamed with the shape the car received with its 2014 redesign, mean the ES is no longer an accessory to slab-sided boredom. That said, we think its front end feels a little more grafted on than in, say, the smaller IS. 

Inside, the ES' shelf-like horizontal dashboard design that creates an airy environment. The infotainment system's screen fits nicely in the middle of the dash. The overall effect is a balance of spaciousness and elegance, amplified by the choice of several different wood species on higher-spec models.

Lexus ES comfort, safety, and features

While the ES is a mid-size car on the outside, its wheelbase is that of a large car—which really pays off in space for those in the back seat. There's enough room for three adults back there, if you need it. Room up front and spacious, too, and Lexus offers an extendable thigh support for taller drivers. Hybrid buyers get a little less trunk space and they lose the trunk pass-through for long items like skis.

An optional Ultra Luxury Package elevates the ES to true luxury status with gorgeous semi-aniline leather seats and exotic wood choices like bamboo. Careful attention to detail makes the ES feel like a truly special place to whittle away the miles. 

For 2017, Lexus has made standard a previously optional active safety package. The Lexus Safety System+ includes automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, intelligent high beam headlights, and adaptive cruise control. Lexus also offers blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts as an option. The IIHS gave the ES a Top Safety Pick+ award this year.

Standard equipment includes perforated NuLuxe leatherette upholstery, automatic climate control, keyless ignition, a sunroof, a HomeLink garage-door opener, a 4.2-inch color info display, and an eight-speaker audio system with a 7.0-inch screen, a rearview camera, HD radio (with traffic and weather data), Siri Eyes Free, Bluetooth streaming audio, USB/iPod connectivity, and satellite radio. For 2017, the spec sheet also includes an app that draws data from a user's paired smartphone to provide turn-by-turn navigation directions. 

Buyers can also opt for 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), and the next generation of Lexus' infotainment system with apps. Lexus' Remote Touch control 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. Lexus keeps adding buttons to its system, which should make it easier to use; this year, a "back" button is part of the package to help users sort through myriad menus. 

6

2017 Lexus ES

Styling

Though it's a little disjointed outside, the ES comes alive with its beautiful interior.

Though the Lexus ES' basic silhouette dates back a few years, Lexus saw fit to add a dose of visual excitement inside and out last year. 

We're not totally convinced that the look works outside, where the brand's signature front fascia feels tacked on, but its interior reaches for the stars and succeeds. We've scored it a 6 out of 10 for its styling. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Lexus made its spindle grille more prominent last year when it most recently refreshed the ES. It's bigger, with more chrome trim than before, with its hourglass shape starting out wide before tapering into the bumper and eventually growing outward again at the bottom of the bumper. There's more aggression, which might imply performance but doesn't quite succeed given this sedan's sedate demeanor. At the rear, you'll find taillights that have taken on an L-esque theme, while trapezoidal tailpipe outlets provide a clean finishing touch.

It's not longer dull like it once was, but the ES still feels a little less than cohesive outside.

Thinks improve big time inside, where a horizontal layout for the car's dashboard sets a space-efficient theme.  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 navigation screen. The curves and contours are great, but we could do without the overabundance of matte-metallic trim; as with piano-black trim, too much of it isn't a good thing. Fortunately, higher-spec models glimmer thanks to their extensive wood trim (seen in the Luxury, and Ultra Luxury packages that adorn most ES models). 

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2017 Lexus ES

Performance

The Lexus ES isn't a corner carver, but it rides well and its engines are robust.

Following tradition, the 2017 Lexus ES emphasizes comfort over sportiness, which should delight shoppers turned off by the comparatively stiff rides seen in so many luxury sedans these days. 

We've awarded the ES extra points for its comfortable ride quality and its smooth and strong engines—even the hybrid gets up and goes while sipping fuel. It's a 7 out of 10 for its performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

While it retains a relaxed driving demeanor, you might be surprised by how athletic this model actually feels when hustled. Base models ride on 17-inch alloy wheels, but most ES sedans we've seen feature 18s with smaller sidewalls, which firm up the ride without degrading its ride quality. It feels buttoned down but not uncomfortable. On the highway, the ES tracks straight and predictably, while its steering is firm but far short of heavy. It's politely athletic, a rare breath of fresh air in a segment that has pushed some cars to become sportier than their buyers want. 

Lexus has also done a stellar job of isolating out noise from the wind, road, and engine (except for a refined engine growl when accelerating in the 300h). 

Underhood performance

The ES is available in two flavors, and they both provide a different driving experience. The V-6-powered ES 350 is the smoothest and fastest thanks to 268 horsepower underhood. Sure, the engine is the same used in several Toyotas, but that's just fine—Lexus has stuffed in some extra sound deadening to better muffle things. The V-6 is exclusively front-wheel drive; no all-wheel drive ES is on offer. The only transmission is a 6-speed automatic, which might be down a couple of cogs compared to its rivals, but it works very well. A control knob dials in the feel of zippier acceleration when needed, but we like it just fine in standard mode.

The ES 300h—which pairs a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-4 with an electric motor-generator system—is surprisingly vivid. Lexus' Drive Select system offers Eco, Power, and EV modes, so you can choose how the hybrid system responds. Sport mode steps up the responsiveness, while 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.

Brake-pedal response is the one area that we'd like to see improve. 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.

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9

2017 Lexus ES

Comfort & Quality

A relaxing refuge, the Lexus ES has a beautiful interior with excellent space for adults.

In many ways, the Lexus ES sets the standard for interior comfort—especially at its price point. 

We've given it extra points for its comfortable seats front and rear, its upmarket materials, and even for its big infotainment system, bringing it to a 9 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

But there's a caveat with that in-car tech, which is easy to sort through but requires using a complicated controller that feels awkward. Instead of a knob or a touchscreen, Lexus' system features a mouse-like controller that controls a pointer on the screen. At best, it's annoying—but in reality, it's distracting. Last year, Lexus added buttons to either side of the "mouse" and this year again there's an additional "back" switch that should help things. At least the screen is large and its menus are intuitive. 

While the ES is a mid-size car on the outside, its wheelbase is that of a large car, and that really pays off in space for those in the back seat. It has enough leg room for adults to fit comfortably back there and is wide enough for three across, if you need it. Even the base ES comes with 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. We especially like the feel of the semi-aniline leather in the Ultra Luxury Package, although it comes at a price. 

The ES 350 is a perfect 10 for its refinement, but you do get a bit more engine noise in the ES 300h. If you drive the hybrid a hard or make a quick pass, the inline-4 tends to kick on with a raspy sound. We also noticed a little more whine from the electrical components in the hybrid than in other Lexus and Toyota hybrids; that's the one downside to making the rest of the ES 300h so darn quiet.

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

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9

2017 Lexus ES

Safety

New standard safety tech augments an already solid package.

The already strong-performing Lexus ES has added a slew of important safety features for 2017, which helps nudge it up to a 9 in our ratings. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The highlight for this year is that the formerly optional Lexus Safety System+ package is now standard. That means that automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, intelligent high beam headlights, and adaptive cruise control are all part of the picture. Lexus also offers blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert.

Lexus makes standard 10 airbags on all models, including front and rear curtain bags and rear seat-mounted side airbags. Additionally, Lexus Safety Connect adds telematic services including roadside assistance, emergency assistance, a stolen vehicle locator, and automatic collision notification; these services require a subscription (one year is included with purchase).

Federal testers rate the ES as a five-star overall performer, although it only receives four stars for its frontal crash protection—a surprise given that the IIHS denotes it as a Top Safety Pick+ in its barrage of demanding tests. 

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2017 Lexus ES

Features

We're not big fans of the ES' infotainment, but base models are well-equipped and dealers deliver a kid-gloves experience.

Both the ES 350 and the ES 300h offer a wide range of options, but they're well outfitted even in base configuration for around $40,000.

We like their standard equipment and we award them more extra points for their customizability and the terrific buying and service experience traditionally offered by the brand's dealership network. That brings the ES to an 8 out of 10 for its features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The ES 350 and the ES 300h essentially mirror one another when it comes to standard equipment. There's a moonroof, a 7.0-inch infotainment system with eight speakers and Siri Eyes Free capability, dual-zone automatic climate control, and leatherette upholstery. 

From there, the Premium Package adds in a power-adjustable steering wheel, glossy wood trim, memory for the driver's seat, and perforated leatherette seating surfaces. The Luxury Package goes further with air conditioned and heated seats, leather upholstery, and additional wood trim. 

Finally, the Ultra Luxury Package brings semi-aniline leather, ambient lighting, and a large panoramic moonroof. 

Big options include a navigation package, Mark Levinson-branded audio, LED headlamps, and a panoramic moonroof.

One thing to note is that Lexus, like its Toyota parent, specifies cars with specific option combinations to make shopping easier for consumers. This varies from region-to-region, so to get a truly bespoke ES, you'll need to find a dealer willing to place a factory order for you. 

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2017 Lexus ES

Fuel Economy

The ES 300h hybrid is a genuine fuel sipper, but even the standard ES 350 is decently efficient.

You'll get the best numbers from the Lexus ES 300h hybrid, but since most ES models sold are instead powered by the brand's V-6 in the ES 350, we've rated this model a 6. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The ES 300h comes in at an impressive 40 mpg city, 39 highway, 40 combined. We think that drivers will be able to reach the official ratings provided they drive conservatively, using the efficiency displays in the instrument cluster as a guide.

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For those who aren't as swayed by high fuel economy numbers, there's still the Lexus ES 350, which is powered by a strong V-6 engine. The ES 350 is smooth and surprisingly quick, and yet it gets reasonably good ratings of 21/30/24 mpg.
 
One note: The ES' fuel economy figures are slightly different this year compared to last, despite no mechanical changes. That's because the EPA has changed the way automakers report fuel economy—the car is the same.  
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7.5
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 6
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 9
Features 8
Fuel Economy 6
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