Vehicle: Lexus ES 350 (Ultra Luxury Package)
MSRP as tested: $59,950 CAD
Specs: Naturally Aspirated 3.5L V6 @ 302 hp, 267 lb.-ft. torque
0-100kmh as tested: 6.6 seconds
Want the smoothest, quietest, and most comfortable executive car there is for under $60K? The Lexus ES might just be it. With an extremely plush ride, well-appointed interior, supremely comfortable seats, and a cabin so quiet it’ll make Tesla owners jealous, there is no better car for your money if pure comfort is your only objective. Granted, the ES does have its flaws (most noticeably its hard-to-use infotainment system, exclusively FWD setup, and non-folding rear seats), and it still isn’t quite as dynamic as some sportier German offerings, but it more than makes up for these shortcomings with a starting price of $20,000 CAD less than most competitors.
When it comes to comfort, the ES is shines bright above the rest. The moment you close the door you're cocooned in a plush luxurious pod completely isolated from the rest of the world. Even at low speeds, you get a sense of just how much engineering Lexus has put into the car to keep it as isolated and smooth as possible; there's an eerie lack of steering or engine vibrations, light steering makes the ES effortless to manoeuvre, and the car feels almost like an electric car in the way it silently glides forward. During highway cruising the car remains whisper quiet and relaxed, with acceleration feeling effortless and transmission shifts so subtle they're barely noticeable.
Under the hood of the ES350 is Lexus's tried-and-true naturally aspirated 3.5L V6 (also found in the IS 350 and RX 350), and though some will blindly claim this powertrain is outdated, it works surprisingly well on this luxury sedan and feels far more refined than any of the turbocharged 4-cylinders found in base model competitors. It delivers silky smooth and effortless acceleration that lesser displacement engines simply can’t match, a satisfying 302 horsepower, and as an added bonus, sounds pretty darn good too (not that you’ll be able to hear much of it with how well insulated the cabin is). Fuel economy is surprisingly decent at 9.1L/100km, and that combined with the engine's stellar reliability record and the fact that it can use non-premium 87 octane gas, means it's pretty economical to run too. Sometimes, old school really is better than the new.
But it's driving dynamics where the ES has been most improved. Whereas the previous generation ES felt like a mushy sponge to drive, Lexus has really sharpened up the ES’s handling for this generation, giving it a significantly sharper steering rack while still retaining its signature ultra smooth ride. It isn’t quite sporty (comfort is definitely still the priority, especially in this Ultra Luxury spec), but it does handle respectively given its size, making this luxury cruiser effortless to drive while still relatively responsive and predictable around a turn. Pop the ES into sport mode and its steering becomes much weightier, throttle response sharpens, and the instrument cluster graphic changes to glow white and red, giving the ES a little more personality.
Build quality has always been Lexus’s forte, and this interior is no exception. Not only is it impeccably well-built, but materials are also high quality, touch points are all well-padded with plush leather, and everything feels chunky and solid in a good way. The design is modern and sleek with a good blend of high quality leathers, aluminium, and gloss wood. Best of all, everything is also engineered to be beautiful yet durable, practical, and ergonomic; there's not a single piece of gloss black or chrome trim to get all smudged or scratched up, buttons and dials are intuitive and are all perfectly within reach, the wireless phone charging pad is in a logical location unlike some other cars, and even the cupholder's base is adjustable to accommodate different height drinks.
Further enhancing the serene ride are the many available amenities, comfortable and supportive seats, and spacious rear seats which offer best-in-class legroom at 39.2 inches. Trunk space is also best in class at 17 cubic feet of space, but there’s a huge catch; the rear seats don’t fold down, so fitting larger items might be a bit of an issue.
Tech is also competitive; the ES comes standard most safety features including auto lane keep and adaptive cruise control. Other optional highlights include a 10.2 inch heads-up display, Enform Remote which lets you start, unlock, and check on the car via your smartphone, and the excellent Mark Levinson Surround Sound audio system.
Unfortunately the same can't be said for the infotainment system, which would be fine if not for the convoluted trackpad system. As a Lexus owner myself, I've gotten quite used to the trackpad which Lexus dubs Remote Touch, but even then I still find myself struggling to make certain inputs. I really wish Lexus would just give the ES a touchscreen like they did in the 2020 RX, but then again the screen is positioned a bit too far away to comfortably reach. Oddly, we also noticed that the backup camera resolution is not the best, made especially evident when displayed on the large 12.3 inch screen (see below).
This isn't your grandfather's ES anymore. Gone is the conservative styling, replaced by a bold aggressive look with a large spindle grille up front, chiseled body lines, sharp 'L shaped' lights, and a lower + wider profile with a swooping roofline. Also new for this generation is the addition of the F-Sport package, which enhances handling and takes the aggressive exterior design even further with sportier design cues.
Recommended Build: ES 350
Our tester was the fully loaded ES 350 Ultra Luxury Package, which is a $14,850 package that adds all the goodies, highlights of which include heated and ventilated semi-aniline leather seats, noise reduction wheels, rear door shades and power rear window sunshade, triple-beam LED headlamps, wireless charging, panoramic moonroof, the excellent Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound Audio system, and much more. Even fully loaded, the ES comes in at a cool $59,950, which is still lower in price than most of its BASE model rivals such as the BMW 5-Series ($67,000), Mercedes E-Class ($63,000), and Audi A6 ($62,400).
For most buyers the Luxury Package ($10,950) will probably represent the best value, giving you everything the Ultra Luxury Package does except the Mark Levinson Surround Sound system, head-up display, rear door shades, power trunk, and a few other minor differences.
To build your own ES, visit: https://www.lexus.ca/lexus/en/build-price/es