2021 Lexus ES

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
October 7, 2020

Buying tip

AWD editions have lower base prices, but the Lexus ES 300h solves our value equation, with room left over for Lexus’ high-end sound system, one of our favorites.

features & specs

ES 250 AWD
ES 250 Luxury AWD
25 city / 34 hwy
25 city / 34 hwy
25 city / 34 hwy

The 2021 Lexus ES grabs some of the LS’ spotlight with its sleek shape and its sky-high hybrid economy.

What kind of car is the 2021 Lexus ES? What does it compare to?

The 2021 Lexus ES is a four-door mid-size sedan that bridges the gap between premium and luxury features and finishes. It’s also a step between sporty sedans and the more traditional full-size family cars of the past. It’s in step with core Lexus virtues, but with sharp handling and great gas mileage thrown in for good measure.

Is the 2021 Lexus ES a good car?

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It’s an exceptional car in many ways. If you don’t need a crossover SUV’s space and height, the ES is the kind of car we’d recommend, as much for its hybrid economy as for its stellar safety record. We give it a TCC Rating of 7.3 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.) 

What’s new in the 2021 Lexus ES?

Lexus has added an all-wheel-drive model, the ES 250. It’s also made blind-spot monitors standard on all but the base model. What hasn’t changed is its style. Though it shares some running gear with the Toyota Avalon, the ES has a cohesive, attractive shape all its own. It’s the best-looking Lexus sedan, one with a cabin that’s composed of beautiful materials with an enduring appeal, though some of its controls drive us to distraction.

Power comes from a 4-cylinder engine in the 215-horsepower ES 250, with its standard all-wheel drive; that’s upgraded to 302 hp in the strong-running ES 350. Either can be upgraded to crisper handling with the F Sport package, and it doesn’t irritate the ES’s essentially composed ride or its accurate but uninvolving steering. We’d pick the ES 300h, which has a hybrid 2.5-liter inline-4 that nets 44 mpg on the EPA combined cycle while it delivers excellent long-distance road manners. 

At nearly 196 inches between its front and rear ends, the Lexus ES has room for five adults inside, with heated and cooled leather seats in front on more expensive versions, and true three-across rear seats on all models. The trunk’s 13.9 cubic feet, a little small for the class, but interior storage is better. Crash-test scores have been excellent, and the ES has standard automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control.

How much does the 2021 Lexus ES cost?

The ES 250 AWD costs $40,925, and comes with all-wheel drive, an 8.0-inch display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a synthetic leather interior, power features, and automatic emergency braking. We think the $43,260 ES 300h hybrid is the best bet, with its soaring fuel economy and its luxe equipment, but it’s possible to spend more than $55,000—though at that price, Lexus’ fantastic Mark Levinson audio is included.

Where is the Lexus ES made?

In Kentucky and in Japan.


2021 Lexus ES


The Lexus ES does the best job of interpreting the brand’s complex design language.

The last subtle Lexus came and went a half-decade ago. Now, Toyota’s luxury brand is all about hourglass figures, asymmetric cabins with two-tone trim, and drama. 

Is the Lexus ES a good-looking car?

We think so. The ES synthesizes all its lines better than any other Lexus sedan, and that gets it a 7 here, with a point extra for the interior and exterior.

The ES looks more balanced than the LS flagship, more balanced really than anything else in the Lexus lineup save for the striking LC coupe. The ES brandishes a huge grille that streaks back toward the hood, flanked by brash headlights that needle their way into a muscular body with scant bloat. It’s taut and lithe and appealing from just about every angle. F Sports get larger wheels and some different details, plus different exterior trim. 

Inside, the ES sedans wrap an expansive dash around the driver. A standard 8.0-inch or an optional 12.3-inch screen sit up high on the dash, atop a cluster of climate controls. Lexus snaps a sharp line across the horizon to divide those surfaces, and pays careful attention to finishes and materials to give the ES an elegance that rises above its price. That said, the darker hues inside the F Sport don’t work as well as the mocha and espresso tones in other ES models.

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2021 Lexus ES


The Lexus ES shows off its range, in more ways than one.

Lexus builds the ES in a few different ways, each with a specific performance footprint. As a family, the four-doors split the difference between plush cruiser and sporty sedan unusually well. From the new base edition to the F Sport, each has a personality of its own. We give it a 7 for performance based on the best-selling ES 350.

Is the Lexus ES 4WD?

The ES 350 is no longer the entry model. Lexus has added a 203-hp 2.5-liter inline-4 to the lineup, coupled with an 8-speed automatic and a new all-wheel-drive system also found in the Toyota Avalon. We haven’t driven this model yet, though the similar Avalon AWD didn’t suffer much from its lower power output, which isn’t far off from the ES Hybrid in quoted horsepower or curb weight.

How fast is the Lexus ES?

That hybrid ES 300h swaps in a hybridized 2.5-liter inline-4 paired with a nickel-metal hydride battery and an electric motor. It’s perfect for low-emissions driving and effortless low-speed cruising. Lexus says its 215-hp net output can tackle the 0-60 mph sprint in about 8.1 seconds, with just a passing ripple of hard-working 4-cylinder sound to go with it. The hybrid drivetrain is the best choice, we think, for the way most drivers will consume their ES miles.

That said, the ES 350 remains the most popular version, thanks to its 302-hp 3.5-liter V-6 and its 267 pound-feet of torque. It’s more than up to the task, even with about 3,700 pounds to move. The engine couples to an 8-speed automatic transmission that fires off quick shifts, and offers a manual shift mode that reveals the unexpected competence of the big sedan on winding roads.

That’s the ES’ secret. No matter which model you choose, good steering effort and a well-damped ride serve up a driving experience that falls on just the right side of plush. Firmer responses can be had with the F Sport package and its adaptive dampers; it doesn’t harm the ES’ charm, but it holds on to gears longer and adds weight to the steering, just enough to notice. Lexus has more intentionally sporty sedans in its showroom, but the ES F Sport offers the best compromise between driving joy and commuting pleasure.

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2021 Lexus ES

Comfort & Quality

Well-wrought and spacious, the Lexus ES exudes quality.

With a very spacious and well-finished interior that can seat up to five passengers, the Lexus ES misses only a point here for trunk space, to register a 9 for comfort and utility.

At nearly 196 inches long, the ES wraps its sleek body around a cabin that’s suitable for up to five adults. Those in front have the best view and the best seats—their chairs get synthetic or real leather wrapping, multi-way power adjustment, and heating and cooling on many versions. We’ve spent hours of interstate driving in the ES, without touching the controls for a better position. It’s virtually fidget-proof, once it’s dialed in for comfort.

With 39 inches of rear-seat leg room, there’s no need to slouch in back, either. The ES has ample head and knee room, and it’s wide enough for adults to sit three across for more than a few minutes without complaint.

Where the ES pulls up shy is in trunk space. Hybrids and non-hybrids have the same 13.9-cubic-foot space for bags and boxes; it’s somewhat less than similarly sized sedans. To make up, Lexus slathers the ES cabin with aluminum and wood trim, soft leather and convincing synthetic upholstery that’s pleasing to the eyes and to the fingertips. The controls themselves can get confusing, but the mocha or espresso two-tone trim smooths it all over.

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2021 Lexus ES


The Lexus ES nails its safety SATs.

How safe is the Lexus ES?

Very safe. Both the IIHS and the NHTSA give the Lexus ES top scores, so we give it a 9 for safety. 

The NHTSA grades the ES at five stars overall, with a four-star rating for frontal protection. The IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick+, but only when it’s fitted with costly LED headlights in the top models; the base LEDs earn an “Acceptable” score.

All ES sedans have good outward vision, and now come with standard automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control, while blind-spot monitors are available inexpensively where they’re not standard.

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2021 Lexus ES


A good feature set is offset slightly by a frustrating infotainment interface in the 2020 Lexus ES.

You’ll spend nearly $41,000 to buy the least expensive Lexus ES, but at least it feels worth the money. We rate the lineup at 7 out of 10 on account of its good standard and optional equipment and its warranty coverage, though the kludgy control interface forces us to retract a point.

How much is a fully loaded Lexus ES?

The new ES 250 comes with all-wheel drive, 17-inch wheels, synthetic leather upholstery, power front seats, a sunroof, and a price of $40,925. The 8.0-inch touchscreen comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Options include leather, automatic park assistance, adaptive dampers, premium audio, and 18-inch wheels, as well as a 12.3-inch touchscreen, navigation, and heated and cooled seats.

Base ES 350s include synthetic leather on the seats, power adjustment up front, a power moonroof, an 8.0-inch screen, Apple CarPlay compatibility, a trio of USB ports, and streaming Bluetooth. Add in the collision-avoidance tech and we’re happy with its standard features. 

Hybrids cost about $1,900 more and come with about the same equipment, though they don’t offer the F Sport package. For about $4,500 on top of the ES 350, it adds adaptive dampers, 19-inch wheels, and a host of styling changes. 

Which Lexus ES should I buy?

We think the $43,260 ES 300h hybrid is the best bet, with features like those in the base ES 300 and the super fuel-economy advantage of its hybrid system.

Options are grouped into packages and some are available as stand-alone items. Those worth noting include a 12.3-inch screen that includes navigation, a heated steering wheel, adaptive headlights, and Mark Levinson audio. An ES with that gear would be our choice, though upsized wheels and a panoramic roof are also available.

We don’t like the ES’ control interface, which features a laptop-like touchpad that is a challenge to use at a stoplight, let alone while on the go—but Android Auto is finally included. Every Lexus comes with a 4-year, 50,000-mile warranty, which extends to 6 years and 72,000 miles for the powertrain. It also includes the first two service visits for free.

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2021 Lexus ES

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy soars in the Lexus ES hybrid; it’s average in other editions.

Is the Lexus ES good on gas?

One version of the 2021 Lexus ES will use about half as much fuel as one other, so consider your commute distance and driving style before buying.

We rate the lineup at 5 out of 10 based on the ES 350, still the best seller in the range. It earns EPA ratings of 22 mpg city, 32 highway, 26 combined; as an F Sport it dips to 22/31/25 mpg. The new 4-cylinder ES 250 gets scored at 25/34/28 mpg. The ES 300h, our pick in the lineup, gets an impressive 43/44/44 mpg. 

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The Car Connection Consumer Review

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MSRP based on ES 250 AWD
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Expert Rating
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Styling 7
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 9
Features 7
Fuel Economy 5
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