2016 lexus es-350
Starting at
$38,100
Engine
3.5L V6

Power
268 hp
EPA - est City/Hwy
21/31
Seats
5


2016 Lexus Es 350 The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review
Kirk Bell

Kirk Bell

Editor

DISLIKES
  • "Remote" brake feel
  • Distracting Remote Touch interface
  • Conservative exterior
  • Leather no longer standard

The 2016 Lexus ES is is more comfortable, roomy, and practical than the sport sedans it is priced against, especially the 300h Hybrid, which delivers excellent fuel economy for far less than its "green luxury" rivals.

The 2016 Lexus ES is a comfort-focused luxury sedan based on Toyota's Avalon architecture. The ES serves as a softer, more comfort-minded counterpoint to the performance-oriented IS and GS sport sedans in the Lexus lineup. Yet the ES family does a decent job of appeasing both the comfort-oriented luxury shoppers and the ones who expect a little more savvy and sophistication than the Lexus they're trading in. Serious driving enthusiasts will pass the on the ES, but for the vast majority of luxury shoppers, both the V-6 ES 350 or the ES 300h hybrid feel quick and responsive.

There is a difference in how the two ES models accelerate. The V-6 models are still the quickest and smoothest, but the ES 300h—which pairs a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-4 with an electric motor-generator system—is surprisingly vivid. Lexus' Drive Select system offers Eco, Power, and EV modes, giving drivers a choice in how the hybrid system responds, and even allowing short jaunts of all-electric driving.

While it retains a relaxed driving demeanor, you might be surprised by how athletic the ES has become when it needs to hustle. The ride is firm enough to create a buttoned-down feel, but not so much as compromise comfort. Straight-line tracking is quite predictable, and the steering is nicely weighted and fairly quick. In total, the car has a surprisingly athletic, if not nimble, character, though we would like better brake pedal feel. The refinement is still there, too, as wind, road, and engine noise (except for a little engine noise when accelerating in the 300h) are very well controlled.

The ES's look has traditionally been conservative, but a 2016 update gives it a more aggressive nose highlighted by LED headlights and a larger version of Lexus' signature spindle grille. These changes, teamed with the shape the car received with its 2014 redesign, mean the ES is no longer an accessory to slab-sided boredom.

Inside, the ES features a shelf-like horizontal design that creates an airy environment. The infotainment system's screen fits nicely in the middle of the dash. The overall effect is a balance of spaciousness and elegance. While the ES is a mid-size car on the outside, its wheelbase is that of a large car—which really pays off in space for those in the back seat. There's enough room for three adults back there, if you need it. Room up front and spacious, too, and Lexus offers an extendable thigh support for taller drivers. Hybrid buyers get a little less trunk space and they lose the trunk pass-through.

In addition to the styling updates, the ES is offered with a new active safety package. The Lexus Safety System+ package adds a automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, intelligent high beam headlights, and adaptive cruise control. Lexus also offers blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts.

Standard equipment includes perforated NuLuxe faux leather upholstery; automatic climate control; keyless ignition; a sunroof; a HomeLink garage-door opener; a 4.2-inch color info display (up from 3.5 inches last year); and an 8-speaker audio system with a 7-inch screen, a rearview camera, HD radio (with traffic and weather data), Siri Eyes Free, Bluetooth streaming audio, USB/iPod connectivity, and satellite radio.

Buyers can also opt for a hard-drive-based navigation system with voice command, Mark Levinson audio, upgraded leather and trims (or NuLuxe seats that can be heated and ventilated), and the next generation of Lexus' infotainment system with apps. Lexus' Remote Touch control interface is the only down side to stepping up to this setup, as its awkward, mouse-like controller has you follow a pointer on the screen. The addition of two enter buttons this year may make it easier to use.

The ES 300h returns an EPA-estimated 40 mpg city, 39 highway, 39 combined, which is much better than the ES 350's 21/31/24 mpg, so the real payoff comes at the pump.

Styling
7.0

The conservative exterior is offset by a graceful interior.

The ES has been the most conservatively styled Lexus, but it adds a bit of visual excitement for 2016. The spindle grille becomes far more prominent this year. It's bigger and features chrome trim. It has an hourglass shape that starts out wide, tapers into the bumper, then expands outward again below into the air dam. The front fascia is also new and more aggressive, and the front end now features LED headlights. At the back, the taillights take on an L theme, and the exhaust outlets are now trapezoidal instead of round. New wheel designs are also offered.

These changes, along with those made for the 2014 redesign, mean the ES is no longer an accessory to slab-sided boredom.

The profile and side sheet metal are quite attractive and contemporary. The profile remains a bit formal, but with the smooth, organic sculpting of the sides, it's definitely not homely.

A shelf-like horizontal layout for the dash definitely sets a space-efficient theme inside, and corners that are pushed outward help with the sense of space. The navigation system screen fits mid-contour, up top, and we appreciate the curviness of the instrument panel, as well as the positioning of the hooded navigation screen. The curves and contours are great, but we could do without the overabundance of matte-metallic trim; as with piano-black trim, too much of it isn't a good thing.

The conservative exterior is offset by a graceful interior.

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Performance
7.0

The ES offers a fine balance between ride and handling, as well as ready power from both powertrains.

Just as it always has, the 2016 Lexus ES places comfort over performance on the priority list, and that's perfectly fine for most shoppers who might consider this roomy sedan. While it retains a relaxed driving demeanor, you might be surprised by how athletic this model has become when you really need it to hustle. The ride is firm enough to create a buttoned-down feel but not so much as to mess with comfort. Straight-line tracking is quite predictable, and the steering is nicely weighted and fairly quick. In total, the car has a surprisingly athletic, if not nimble, feel.

Lexus has also done an excellent job of isolating out noise from the wind, road, and engine (except for a little engine noise when accelerating in the 300h). That adds to the car's refinement.

There is a notable difference in how the two ES models accelerate. The V-6 models are still the quickest and smoothest, but the ES 300h—which pairs a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-4 with an electric motor-generator system—is surprisingly vivid. Lexus' Drive Select system offers Eco, Power, and EV modes, so you can choose how the hybrid system responds. Sport mode steps up the responsiveness, while Eco increases the fuel economy. EV mode allows the car to travel short distances at low speeds without the use of any gasoline; it's good for stop-and-go traffic and creeping into the driveway.

The ES 300h demonstrates Toyota's experience in making a hybrid system smooth and unobtrusive, yet responsive. Provided you drive the 300h relatively softly—just with traffic, for instance—the system goes about its business in the background. The transitions between electric and gasoline-electric operation are that seamless. However, ask for more performance on a curvy road or when merging with high-speed freeway traffic, and the hybrid powertrain lets itself be known.

The ES 300h's real payoff really comes at the pump, so buyers should determine whether the vastly lower fuel efficiency of the ES 350 is worth its somewhat sportier feel.

Thanks to its 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, the ES 350 can move very quickly. It's essentially the same engine as in the Camry V-6, but with added measures that help cut noise and vibration. It revs eagerly through the gears of the 6-speed automatic with such a seamless flow of power and so little noise that the speed can creep up on you on a straight road. Shifts are a little lumpier on gentle takeoffs, but this is an exceptionally responsive, refined powertrain.

Brake-pedal response is the one area that we'd like to see improve. Over a couple of drives of the ES, we've found the pedal feel to be way too spongy, lacking any reassuring firmness. In ES 300h hybrid models, there's a different version of the same issue, as they have regenerative braking that helps recover excess energy, and the transition between brake regen and the brake pads themselves isn't as smooth as the other aspects of this car's driving interface.

The ES offers a fine balance between ride and handling, as well as ready power from both powertrains.

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Comfort & Quality
10.0

Plush, accommodating, and quiet, the interior of the 2016 Lexus ES is a relaxing refuge.

Thanks to a longstanding reputation for plush interiors, quiet cabins, and silky rides, the 2016 Lexus ES sedan will be coveted for its interior comfort.

While the ES is a mid-size car on the outside, its wheelbase is that of a large car, and that really pays off in space for those in the back seat. It has enough leg room for adults to fit comfortably back there and is wide enough for three across, if you need it. Even the base ES comes with a 10-way power driver seat, while the available 12-way seat brings extendable lower cushions, a feature some of our long-legged editorial team would definitely opt for.

The ES 350 is a perfect 10 in refinement, but you do get a bit more engine noise in the ES 300h. If you drive the hybrid a hard or make a quick pass, the inline-4 tends to kick on with a raspy sound. We also noticed a little more whine from the electrical components in the hybrid than in other Lexus and Toyota hybrids; that's the one downside to making the rest of the ES 300h so darn quiet.

Get the ES 300h and you only give up the trunk pass-through and a little bit of trunk space. We saw no significant difference in actual backseat packaging or space.

Lexus' Remote Touch control interface is the one knock we have against the interior. It features an awkward, mouse-like controller that moves a pointer on the screen. Even with the haptic feature (which helps you feel your way through menus) turned on, we find it highly distracting. The good news is Lexus added buttons on both sides of the mouse this year to improve its function. The previous version required more manual dexterity than you should need to operate a car's controls.

Plush, accommodating, and quiet, the interior of the 2016 Lexus ES is a relaxing refuge.

Safety
9.0

The 2016 Lexus ES is a safety standout thanks to excellent safety ratings and an impressive list of active-safety features.

The highlight for 2016 is the addition of the Lexus Safety System+ package that comes with automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, intelligent high beam headlights, and adaptive cruise control. Lexus also offers a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.

Lexus makes standard 10 airbags on all models, including front and rear curtain bags and rear seat-mounted side airbags. Additionally, Lexus Safety Connect adds telematic services including roadside assistance, emergency assistance, a stolen vehicle locator, and automatic collision notification; these services require a subscription (one year is included).

The 2016 Lexus ES has earned exceptionally good remarks from federal and independent safety monitors. The NHTSA has given the ES a five-star overall rating, including four stars for frontal crash protection and five stars for rollover safety. The IIHS has given the 2016 Lexus ES its Top Safety Pick+ designation thanks to its top, "Good" ratings in every crash test, including the difficult small overlap front crash test. The Lexus ES earned a top "Superior" front crash prevention rating, when equipped with optional safety features.

The 2016 Lexus ES is a safety standout thanks to excellent safety ratings and an impressive list of active-safety features.

NHTSA 5-Star Safety Rating

2016 Lexus Es 350 Models

Overall Rating

5/5

Overall Frontal Barrier Crash Rating: (4/5)
Overall Side Crash Rating: (5/5)
Overall Side Barrier Rating: Not Rated
NHTSA Roll-over Resistance Rating: (4/5)

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Ratings

2016 Lexus Es 350 Models

Side Impact Test Good
Roof Strength Test Good
Rear Crash Protection/Head Restraint Good
IIHS Small Overlap Front Test Results Not Tested
IIHS Moderate Overlap Front Test Results Not Tested


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Features
8.0

The opulent trims and generous equipment are appealing, but Lexus' Remote Touch control interface is not.

Offered in a single trim, the ES 350 and ES 300h come loaded with standard features. Yet they offer plenty of options, ranging from high-end audio to a host of new active safety features.

Standard equipment includes perforated NuLuxe faux leather upholstery; automatic climate control; keyless ignition; a sunroof, a garage-door opener; a 4.2-inch info display (up from 3.5 inches last year); and an eight-speaker audio system with a 7.0-inch screen, a rearview camera, HD radio (with traffic and weather data), Siri Eyes Free, Bluetooth streaming audio, USB/iPod connectivity, and SiriusXM capability.

The most notable optional features are the hard-drive-based navigation, Mark Levinson audio system, and the most current version of Lexus' connectivity suite, Enform. The system offers access to Bing, MovieTickets.com, iHeartRadio, OpenTable, Pandora, Facebook Places, and Yelp smartphone apps. There's also an app to remotely locate, start or lock the car. Opting for this infotainment suite also brings Lexus' Remote Touch interface, which we don't love.

Option packages start with the Premium package, which includes a power-adjustable steering wheel; real wood trim; and memory for the driver's seat, steering wheel, and outside mirror. A Luxury package adds leather upholstery, extended wood trim, and heated and ventilated seats. The Ultra Luxury pack adds semi-aniline leather upholstery, a driver's seat cushion extender, a panoramic sunroof, window shades, ambient lighting, and memory for the passenger seat.

The opulent trims and generous equipment are appealing, but Lexus' Remote Touch control interface is not.

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Fuel Economy
7.0

Those in the market for a fuel-efficient luxury car need look no further than the hybrid ES 300h.

If you focus in on the ES 300h hybrid, the 2016 Lexus ES lineup delivers some of the best fuel economy ratings available in a a roomy sedan. The efficiency comes with levels of refinement and quietness you'd expect from a Lexus, too.

The best fuel economy is offered by the hybrid model. According to the EPA, the ES 300h rates 40 mpg city, 39 highway, 39 combined. We think that drivers will be able to reach the official ratings provided they drive conservatively, using the efficiency displays as a guide.

For those who aren't as swayed by high fuel economy numbers, there's still the Lexus ES 350, which is powered by a strong V-6 engine. The ES 350 is smooth and surprisingly quick, and yet it gets reasonably good ratings of 21/31/24 mpg.

Those in the market for a fuel-efficient luxury car need look no further than the hybrid ES 300h.


Fuel Economy Information

Ratings Based on 4 cyl, 1.8 L, CVT

42

Combined

2.4 gals/100 miles

43

City


40

Highway


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