by Frank S. Washington
DETROIT – Let’s face it, the original Lexus ES luxury sedan was designed to not offend anybody. That means from a design standpoint, the luxury sedan didn’t appeal to anybody. But all that has changed.
We don’t know that any nameplate in Lexus’ lineup has benefitted more from the brand’s style change fueled by the adoption of the spindle grille. These days you love or hate the new Lexus look. From the street reaction, most folks we ran across while test driving the new 2019 ES 350 were all in favor of the new style.
The front-wheel-drive sedan used an all-new platform that lowered and widened its stance, and made it longer too. The wheels had been pushed closer to the corners than ES models before it. For the first time in its seven generations, designers used a flat roof to lower the stance even more and provide for better aerodynamics.
Lexus said thanks to a two-inch longer wheelbase and wider tracks front and rear and enhanced the 2019 ES 350’s ride and its performance capabilities. The ES’ spindle grille had a vertical pattern and satin plated trim. That theme is repeated at each corner of the bumper to give the ES a wide, planted look.
The front fascia design team gave the ES slim headlamps with distinctive “L” shaped marker lights. The standard design, which we had, featured a single LED projector beam retained the signature “L”-shaped marker lights.
From the side, the ES350 had a low hood line; the roofline remained low and sleek thanks to what Lexus called relaxed A-pillars that flowed smoothly to the sharply slanted C pillars. A long, uninterrupted shoulder line that extended from the top of the front wheel arch all the way to the corner of the trunk served as a contrast to the smooth arc of the roofline and gave the ES a refined sense of sportiness. On more than one occasion onlookers stopped for a second peek at the car, some asked what kind of car it was. That is how much the 2019 ES 350 has changed.
The car had LED tail lamps wrapped around the quarter panels to provide a continuous style line from any angle. The lights featured a distinctive three-dimensional, L- shaped design. The side of the ES was integrated into the rear end by drawing the shoulder and bumper corner lines into the point at the inner edge of each taillight.
Finishing off the rear end is a lower valence that highlights the wide stance through the use of chrome exhaust finishers at each corner. On the F SPORT model, a trunk lid spoiler adds a tasteful hint of performance while dark accents along the taillights and lower valance are more subtle indications of its sporting nature.
Under the hood was a 3.5-liter V6 that was both direct and port injected. It made 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. The engine was mated to a direct shift eight-speed automatic transmission.
This combination provided more than enough power. The 2019 ES350 had plenty of oomph for those burst of speed needed on expressways and it could cruise at speeds that would incur the wrath of authorities effortlessly.
The car got 22 miles per gallon in the city, 33 mile per gallon on the highway and 26 mile per gallon combined.
We thought the transmission silky smooth. Downshifts were precise and accomplished without a lot of hesitation. And the gearbox could be manually shifted using the shifter in the console or the paddle shifters attached to the steering column.
Inside, the ES 350 used a derivative of the instrument layout of the now defunct LFA supercar. Comfort, eco and sport ride modes could be selected via a knob on one side of the speedometer cowl and the anti-skid control could be turned off via a knob on the other side. There was a small TFT screen in the left hand corner of the instruments; we had it configured with a huge digital speedometer in the center.
The two-toned interior was dominated by a huge 12-inch infotainment screen. That could be split into three panes to convey information to the driver. It sat so far back in the dash that it was not practical to make it a touch screen.
There were heated and cooled front seats along with a heated steering wheel. The seats could be set on automatic and the car read the outside temperature and adjusted the seat temperatures the seats.
We had the Ultra Lux trim line. It had performance dampers front and rear, power rear sunshade, a hands free power open and close trunk, heated and ventilated front seats, wood trim, ambient lighting, power tilt an telescoping steering wheel, a memory driver’s seat, rain sensing wipers, the Lexus memory system for the driver’s seat, sideview mirrors and steering wheel and 14-way leather drive and 10-way passenger power sears including 4-way lumbar support for the driver. Three was a bunch of creature comforts that came with this package.
There were two USB jacks at the head of the center console along with an auxiliary jack. A wireless charger was in the center console. The car also had a moonroof. There were two more in the rear with a 12V plug. Those rear seats were comfortable, spacious and there was plenty of headroom.
It was relatively easy to slip through the wide doors and get in the back seats. We though the manual sides for the rear side windows an unexpected treat for rear seat passengers who want some privacy.
This car had 18-inch split five-spoke alloy wheels, a navigation system, blind spot monitoring, cross traffic alert, pedestrian detection, 360 degree and overhead camera view, Apple CarPlay satellite radio, voice controls and the Lexus Enform app suite. And that is just some of the creature comforts on the 2019 ES 350 Ultra Lux. The only challenge is that this sedan had been transformed into a top notch luxury car in the age of crossovers.
Our test vehicle was priced at $50,959.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com