If it's cosseting luxury and a roomy interior you're after, the Lexus ES may be the car for you.
Perhaps the model that best represents traditional Lexus values, the automaker's ES sedan is a soft, comfort-minded counterpoint to the similarly-priced IS and the similarly-sized GS sport sedans in the company's lineup.
It's quiet, smooth, and polished, much in the way Lexus sedans have strived to be since the brand first launched here nearly 30 years ago. We've awarded the ES, which is available as the ES 350 and the ES 300h hybrid, a 7.5 out of 10 overall, giving it extra points for its interior, its top-notch safety record, and its overall refined demeanor. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
At its core, the ES isn't far removed from the Toyota Avalon, but the two feel quite different. Don't think of the ES as merely an Avalon with nicer leather and a choice of several real wood interior trims. Instead, it's more savvy and sophisticated.
For 2017, the big change is the addition of some valuable safety tech as standard equipment—making the ES one of few luxury cars to come standard with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.
Lexus ES performance and styling
Most ES sedans are ES 350s, which means they utilize a 268 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 to send power to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic. It's not a ground-breaking engine with zippy turbochargers tied to a transmission with more gears than we have fingers to count, but this conservative setup works exceptionally well to deliver solid acceleration.
The ES 300h, meanwhile, pairs a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-4 with an electric motor-generator system. It's remarkably vivid thanks in part to Lexus' Drive Select system that 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.
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 since the hybrid is about $2,000 pricier.
Inside, the ES' shelf-like horizontal dashboard 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, amplified by the choice of several different wood species on higher-spec models.
Lexus ES comfort, safety, and features
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 for long items like skis.
An optional Ultra Luxury Package elevates the ES to true luxury status with gorgeous semi-aniline leather seats and exotic wood choices like bamboo. Careful attention to detail makes the ES feel like a truly special place to whittle away the miles.
For 2017, Lexus has made standard a previously optional active safety package. The Lexus Safety System+ includes automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, intelligent high beam headlights, and adaptive cruise control. Lexus also offers blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts as an option. The IIHS gave the ES a Top Safety Pick+ award this year.
Standard equipment includes perforated NuLuxe leatherette upholstery, automatic climate control, keyless ignition, a sunroof, a HomeLink garage-door opener, a 4.2-inch color info display, 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 satellite radio. For 2017, the spec sheet also includes an app that draws data from a user's paired smartphone to provide turn-by-turn navigation directions.
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. Lexus keeps adding buttons to its system, which should make it easier to use; this year, a "back" button is part of the package to help users sort through myriad menus.