2019 Lexus ES: The Most Conservative Car in the Lexus Barn Lets Its Hair Down, Dons F Sport Label

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Long the preferred ride of the casual golf membership set, the Lexus ES enjoys a reputation of high reliability and very gradual change. Toss that cred out the window, as the 2019 ES undergoes what’s arguably the most significant revamp in its nearly three-decade-long history.

Revealed Wednesday in Beijing, the new ES rides atop a platform shared with its fellow Kentucky-built stablemate, the Toyota Avalon, and grows in all the time-honored ways. It’s longer, lower, and wider than the outgoing version. More power and more speeds come to the sedan’s sole powertrain, while the body undergoes a transformation that takes years off (the age of its perceived driver).

With this 2019 model, Lexus seems pretty determined to rid the ES of its longstanding image as a staid conveyance for those with high-performing mutual funds. How determined? There’s now, for the first time, an ES F Sport.

Under the hood resides a familiar 3.5-liter V6, now generating 302 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque — a 34 hp, 19 lb-ft increase from the previous model. Sending that power to the front wheels only is Toyota’s eight-speed Direct Shift automatic, which doesn’t have the greatest reputation around these parts. Dimension-wise, the ES adds 2 inches to its wheelbase, 2.6 inches to its overall length, and 1.8 inches in width, with a roofline a fraction of an inch lower than before. However, due to the drastically reshaped sheetmetal, the ES appears shorter than before.

The platform’s increased strength means a car with less flex, planted more firmly to the road thanks to an increase in track, especially in the rear (up 1.5 inches). A new multi-link rear suspension corrals wallow.

If this all sounds very similar to the 2019 Toyota Avalon tested earlier this week, that’s because it is. The two models are veritable twins beneath the skin. This means pleasant handling, effortless steering, and decent power, though we found fault in the eight-speed’s responsiveness. While that may be of no concern for returning ES owners, buyers targeted by the new F Sport model might find themselves rubbed the wrong way. Regardless, we’ll hold off on judgement until after we drive this particular car.

Going the F Sport route doesn’t gain a driver any extra power, but it does add an adaptive variable suspension that monitors the road continuously, selecting one of 650 levels of damping force to smooth out the pavement beneath its 19-inch wheels. A Sport + drive mode appears in this trim to firm everything up. Unthinkable in previous ES models, Toyota’s Engine Sound Enhancement feature pumps up the engine note in the cabin for a more visceral aural experience.

As before, there’s a 300h hybrid model on offer, pairing a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and electric motor with a continuously variable transmission. Lexus estimates a combined fuel economy of 44 mpg. Like with the Avalon, total system output is 215 hp. The gas-only model should see incremental improvements thanks to the eight-speed’s wider ratio spread.

For safety, both ES350 and ES300h carry the brand’s updated suite of driver assist features. New for 2019 is daytime bicyclist detection bundled into the car’s pre-collision system. In terms of infotainment, buyers can choose from a standard 8-inch screen or spring for a 12.3-inch unit with navigation feature. All inputs are controlled by a console-mounted Remote Touch Interface trackpad, we’re sorry to say.

Apple CarPlay enabled, the new sedan’s connectivity functions include interactions with Amazon Alexa, should you be the type who enjoys giving orders.

Much like the Avalon, the changes coming to the 2019 ES show the brand’s desire to lure a younger, upwardly mobile buyer while retaining the existing customer base. Whether or not this halts the model’s downward annual sales decline remains to be seen. The revamped sedan goes on sale in September, with pricing announced closer to that date.

[Images: Lexus]

Steph Willems
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  • Dukeisduke Dukeisduke on Apr 25, 2018

    So does this lend credence to the rumors of the GS being discontinued? The GS and ES are somewhat similar in size, but the RWD GS has always been targeted at the BMW and Mercedes-Benz owners, where the FWD ES was targeted at people who didn't care so much about performance and sportiness.

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    • 30-mile fetch 30-mile fetch on Apr 25, 2018

      @Lightspeed That wouldn't have done it, Lightspeed. The current GS debuted in 2013, peaked at 23K annual sales, and declined to a third of that by 2017. Lexus can't compete in the expensive horsepower war being waged between M and AMG, but the GS *was* a BMW 5-series beater in volume trims. The Lexus was reportedly far sharper and more engaging and for most of those years the V6 was standard compared to the BMWs little turbo four. BMW's sales for the inferior driver's car? 41K in 2017. This segment doesn't want a driver's car. It wants a German badge.

  • ThomasSchiffer ThomasSchiffer on Apr 25, 2018

    The Toyota Avalon and the Lexus ES are both not sold in my country. Based solely on the media photos of these two vehicles, I will have to give the beauty award to the Avalon, which strikes me as quite an attractive vehicle. Yes, I find the Avalon attractive. You read that correctly. What bothers me the most on the design of the ES Lexus is the incredibly short wheel-to-wheelwell styling. A stretched, longer bonnet and a longer wheel-to-wheelwell styling would have worked some wonders for this design, in my opinion.

  • Tassos Obsolete relic is NOT a used car.It might have attracted some buyers in ITS DAY, 1985, 40 years ago, but NOT today, unless you are a damned fool.
  • Stan Reither Jr. Part throttle efficiency was mentioned earlier in a postThis type of reciprocating engine opens the door to achieve(slightly) variable stroke which would provide variable mechanical compression ratio adjustments for high vacuum (light load) or boost(power) conditions IMO
  • Joe65688619 Keep in mind some of these suppliers are not just supplying parts, but assembled components (easy example is transmissions). But there are far more, and the more they are electronically connected and integrated with rest of the platform the more complex to design, engineer, and manufacture. Most contract manufacturers don't make a lot of money in the design and engineering space because their customers to that. Commodity components can be sourced anywhere, but there are only a handful of contract manufacturers (usually diversified companies that build all kinds of stuff for other brands) can engineer and build the more complex components, especially with electronics. Every single new car I've purchased in the last few years has had some sort of electronic component issue: Infinti (battery drain caused by software bug and poorly grounded wires), Acura (radio hiss, pops, burps, dash and infotainment screens occasionally throw errors and the ignition must be killed to reboot them, voice nav, whether using the car's system or CarPlay can't seem to make up its mind as to which speakers to use and how loud, even using the same app on the same trip - I almost jumped in my seat once), GMC drivetrain EMF causing a whine in the speakers that even when "off" that phased with engine RPM), Nissan (didn't have issues until 120K miles, but occassionally blew fuses for interior components - likely not a manufacturing defect other than a short developed somewhere, but on a high-mileage car that was mechanically sound was too expensive to fix (a lot of trial and error and tracing connections = labor costs). What I suspect will happen is that only the largest commodity suppliers that can really leverage their supply chain will remain, and for the more complex components (think bumper assemblies or the electronics for them supporting all kinds of sensors) will likley consolidate to a handful of manufacturers who may eventually specialize in what they produce. This is part of the reason why seemingly minor crashes cost so much - an auto brand does nst have the parts on hand to replace an integrated sensor , nor the expertice as they never built them, but bought them). And their suppliers, in attempt to cut costs, build them in way that is cheap to manufacture (not necessarily poorly bulit) but difficult to replace without swapping entire assemblies or units).I've love to see an article on repair costs and how those are impacting insurance rates. You almost need gap insurance now because of how quickly cars depreciate yet remain expensive to fix (orders more to originally build, in some cases). No way I would buy a CyberTruck - don't want one, but if I did, this would stop me. And it's not just EVs.
  • Joe65688619 I agree there should be more sedans, but recognize the trend. There's still a market for performance oriented-drivers. IMHO a low budget sedan will always be outsold by a low budget SUV. But a sports sedan, or a well executed mid-level sedan (the Accord and Camry) work. Smaller market for large sedans except I think for an older population. What I'm hoping to see is some consolidation across brands - the TLX for example is not selling well, but if it was offered only in the up-level configurations it would not be competing with it's Honda sibling. I know that makes the market smaller and niche, but that was the original purpose of the "luxury" brands - badge-engineering an existing platform at a relatively lower cost than a different car and sell it with a higher margin for buyers willing and able to pay for them. Also creates some "brand cachet." But smart buyers know that simple badging and slightly better interiors are usually not worth the cost. Put the innovative tech in the higher-end brands first, differentiate they drivetrain so it's "better" (the RDX sells well for Acura, same motor and tranmission, added turbo which makes a notable difference compared to the CRV). The sedan in many Western European countries is the "family car" as opposed to micro and compact crossovers (which still sell big, but can usually seat no more than a compact sedan).
  • Jonathan IMO the hatchback sedans like the Audi A5 Sportback, the Kia Stinger, and the already gone Buick Sportback are the answer to SUVs. The A5 and the AWD version of the Stinger being the better overall option IMO. I drive the A5, and love the depth and size of the trunk space as well as the low lift over. I've yet to find anything I need to carry that I can't, although I admit I don't carry things like drywall, building materials, etc. However, add in the fun to drive handling characteristics, there's almost no SUV that compares.