Mountain Wheels: Lexus throws boring out the window with a reinvigorated ES sedan
Let us take a brief but welcomed break from the world of SUV largesse and spend a few moments concentrating on what I would consider one of the most vastly improved and updated automobiles I have seen in years.
For a long, long time, the Lexus ES was something of a bland anomaly in the upscale Japanese manufacturer’s lineup. For many years running, it seemed little more than a marginally Lexus-ized version of the Toyota Avalon: some six generations as a pleasant but unmemorable, longer-wheelbase family sedan, the inoffensive entry point to the Lexus family.
For 2019’s seventh-generation of the “entry-level executive sedan,” ES got a complete do-over, giving it the size, grace and the full run of modern-day Lexus looks and amenities, producing a radically transformed and actually engaging long-distance cruiser. ES has now emerged as a 2020 model; my experiences earlier this fall with a 2019 ES350 with the F Sport appearance package, retailing for a combined MSRP of $50,575 suggested a lot of work went into ES’s major makeover.
ES now looks very much like the rest of the RS racer-derived family of sedans and smaller SUVs, continuing with the significant stylistic work of the LC coupe and the massive LS. That means a long, lower and tougher-looking design that strikingly incorporates the very brash new look of the spindle grille, with a specific mesh pattern and a bolder look for the F Sport model.
Here, combined with curved, off-the-body headlamps, a broad, flat hood, super-extended side mirrors and darkened, graphite-coated silver wheels, as well as a tastefully pronounced upper body line, ES is suddenly, well, sexy. It is a shocking change. Overall, the vehicle is indeed 2.6 inches longer, 1.8 inches wider, plus a 2-inch increase in wheelbase and increases to front and rear track, all of that incorporated as part of Lexus’s new global architecture platform.
The smoothed and softened body is accentuated by dark chrome window trim, a very large integrated air splitter on top of the trunk, plus bold tail lamps and oversized exhaust ports.
I really put the long-distance equation to the test with a weekend Interstate highway roll up to Central Wyoming, where you can legally cruise at 80 mph for a long, long time. Over the course of 500 miles, I got over 28 mpg with the ES’s 3.5-liter V6 and a new eight-speed transmission.
It’s not quite the organ-loosening power of the car’s bigger sedan relatives, but re-engineering of the redline now means 302 total horsepower, up 34 horsepower from the old version of the V6 – complete with a window sticker rating of 31 highway mpg.
It’s fully capable of comfortable, confident thrust for the highway. I simply left it in the normal drive setting; F Sport models add adaptive variable suspension to electronically smooth and optimize the ride, and gain a higher Sport-plus and custom mode for those who would like to really see what the more rigidly bonded chassis is capable of doing. It is also ridiculously quiet inside
True to ES’s heritage, the back seat is absolutely gigantic. No, there’s no full cabin sunroof or even the rear seat heaters I found on a Jetta, but the soft but sporty elevated seating, extra-ample rear legroom and more and more of the audacious red leather that’s part of the F Sport flash all make things quite striking for your passengers.
In the front, it is very much ultra-modern Lexus, with seating that might be just a little low to access for what I am guessing is still the ES’s perhaps older demographic — or they might be in for a bit of a shock on how sporty the car has become.
That means a fully engaged, wrap-around cockpit-styled interior, fully digital displays and a massive console with unbelievably deep cupholders and a double-opening armrest storage box.
Lexus has crafted a graceful line of temperature controls and the radio tuner coyly hidden inside the volume control (it took me four hours of driving to figure that one out). Everything here is contemporary, clean and not overwhelming, with a super-wide, deep-set navigation and information screen.
The F Sport rendition then of course throws an extra level of gloss on top of things, with smoked chrome highlights (even the starter button), loads of red leather and red stitched highlights and a chrome bar that extends around the cabin. None of it looks at all like the ES you might remember.
Minor tweaks to differentiate the 2020 models include the addition of Android Auto in the infotainment system and the ability to add the blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert as an a la carte option for your ES.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at email@example.com.
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