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.