2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport: Could it BE any more refined?
Price: $57,768 as tested ($44,135 for the F Sport trim level). $1,065 for blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic detection; $1,515 for triple beam LED headlights; $500 for the head-up display; $550 for the hands-free trunk. More mentioned below.
Conventional wisdom: Consumer Reports likes the “ride comfort, smooth powertrain, quietness, interior ambience,” but not the “confusing controls, cramped rear seat.”
Marketer’s pitch: “Boldly styled. Meticulously refined.”
Reality: Not as ugly as it once was. Still fun and luxurious. Any more refined and it’ll just blow away.
What’s new: The next generation of Lexus midsize sedan gets longer, lower, and wider — much like its Toyota cousins — while still retaining all the fun and performance of a Lexus.
Up to speed: The new 3.5-liter V-6 engine certainly moves the sedan enthusiastically. The 302 horses bring 60 mph on in 5.9 seconds, according to Motor Trend.
On the curves: And the fun doesn’t have to stop when there’s a bend in the road. With the Adaptive Variable Suspension ($750), the ES 350 has Sport and Sport+ settings, but even Normal offered plenty of road hugging and tight cornering ability. (I’m usually not at all about Normal.) Just sail around the empty off-ramp turns.
Shifty: The 8-speed transmission has a shift mode, and it operates through the gearshift or paddles on the steering wheel. Both worked fine, but so did automatic mode — so well that I just thought, “OK, why bother? Lexus doesn’t even want us shifting when we’re racing these things.”
Back to a stop: And the brakes in the test model were among the best I’ve felt. Even hard stops happened smoothly and with no sense of jerkiness.
Friends and stuff: We set off to visit Sturgis Kid 3.0’s apartment, and I heard 6-foot-2 Sturgis Kid 4.0 sigh with satisfaction at the roominess of the backseat. Not even the rear headroom could disappoint for the lanky young lad. I don’t know what Consumer Reports was smoking that week, but cramped it was not.
The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat also remarked how comfortable her front seat was.
Seriously, if your goal is to impress your family or friends, there are worse ways to do it than with an ES 350. They’re becoming a little less scowly, and even the scowliest front ends are forgiven once everyone is comfortably seated.
Cargo capacity is a healthy 16.7 cubic feet.
Driver’s Seat: The driver will enjoy plenty of comfort as well. The seat feels just right, and even the steering wheel grip is soft and supple.
Play some tunes: Here’s the catch. For the bargain price of $3,000 for the Mark Levinson infotainment system, Lexus forces us to use the blasted touchpad to get around the large, lovely infotainment screen. It has gotten better, but it’s still like wearing boxing gloves while aiming for fingertip precision.
Simply finding your favorite station can be a challenge. Upon first drive, the nice Lexus controls asked me to let it find AM stations for me; that’s great, I thought. Unfortunately, the Lexus wasn’t catching KYW at Chez Sturgis, so it wasn’t offered in the list of choices once the search was done. It’s the only AM station I want.
So I said forget it, and moved into 2019, kissing Traffic on the 2s goodbye for a week. Sad. Why can’t Lexus just put a dial on the dashboard for tuning? There’s one for volume, plastered forlornly between heater controls. (Note to self: Try the Lexus voice commands. They work brilliantly in Cadillacs.)
The screen is huge, of course, and the sound is awesome. As are the graphics.
Keeping warm and cool: Lots of fussy buttons control the HVAC, and a fussy up-down slider controls the temperature.
Fuel economy: I averaged 22 mpg while putting the ES 350 through its paces time and again. I put regular in it, though I probably shouldn’t have, and it worked just fine. But if they want premium, they need to put a notice on the gas cap.
Where it’s built: Georgetown, Ky
How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the ES 350 reliability to be 4 out of 5. That’s really bad for a Lexus.