Test Drive: 2019 Lexus ES

The vehicle turns 30 with many big questions in tow

by Andrew Maness

The 2019 ES marks a new chapter for both the stalwart sedan and Lexus overall. While it’s now riding on the same solid GA-K platform that underpins two other dramatically improved models—the Toyota Camry and Avalon—the bigger news is that the ES is now available in F-Sport, in addition to the base ES350 and ES350 Hybrid options. Clearly the addition of the F-Sport trim is intended to help Lexus achieve their mission of bringing the median age of their buyers down from 60-something. However, they, like every other luxury automaker still cranking out traditional sedans, don’t want to upset their loyal base, so no truly radical changes have been made. Instead, everything that was positive about the ES has been further refined and many of the negatives have been addressed as well. The 2019 ES has one glaring flaw, and it’s found in each of the models and that’s the infotainment interface.

The screen on the dash may well be crisp and nicely integrated, but controlling it via a tiny trackpad that’s an ergonomic nightmare is a big problem. While it’s frustrating to use, it’s also rather unsafe because of the amount of attention it requires. The addition of Apple CarPlay certainly helps mitigate the issue, but CarPlay isn’t ideal itself, so what you’re left with is a legitimately great system with a clunky interface. Until Lexus goes back to the drawing board on their controller and/or adds touchscreen capability this will be a sticking point on the ES, not to mention their vehicle line-up as a whole.

Infotainment woes aside, the 2019 ES is an admirable mid-size luxury sedan. It wears the latest iteration of the brand’s signature “Spindle” grille better than ever, especially in F Sport form. In fact, this new ES is one of the best-looking vehicles Lexus has released in quite some time—a claim made possible by a longer, lower and wider chassis. Shorter front and rear overhangs give the ES a more athletic stance and the extra room inside is easily noticed when compared to the previous model, an example of which Lexus wisely had onsite. Side by side there is no question the new car is better looking and thankfully the improvements don’t stop at the cosmetic level.

Of the three variations, the ES F Sport is appropriately the most fun to drive. The base model 350 and the hybrid are solid, but are only adept at comforting you while in transit. The F Sport brings with it further enjoyment, but falls short of introducing excitement to the drive. Not entirely surprising given that it offers no bump in power over the other two ES variants. It does, however, have an adaptive variable suspension that keeps the car in line even when someone is using the delightfully chunky F Sport-specific steering wheel to try and upset it.

It’s all but guaranteed that we’ll never see a full-blown ES F sport sedan (because who buys mid-size performance sedans anymore when there are midsize performance crossovers?) however one can’t help but wonder what a supercharged 6 or V8 powered ES F would be like. Combining a serene and comfortable cabin such as this with a truly rowdy engine would make for a really compelling vehicle. With legitimate aggression on tap when you want it and a very satisfying sound-system to provide a soundtrack for when you just want to cruise, there’s not much more to ask for in a performance sedan. We can be thankful that Lexus is concerned with handcrafting reliable cars that appeal to a younger demographic and won’t break the bank. This is easily the best ES to date, and it wouldn’t be surprising to be saying the same thing 30 years from now as Lexus continues to improve simply by moving forward.

Images courtesy of Lexus