By on December 28, 2018

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport

3.5-liter DOHC V6 (302 horsepower @ 6,600 rpm; 267 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm)

Eight-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

22 city / 31 highway / 25 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

10.9 city, 7.5 highway, 9.4 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

18.1 (observed mileage, MPG)

Base Price: $45,160 (U.S) / $50,975 (Canada)

As Tested: $50,810 (U.S.) / $56,975 (Canada)

Prices include $1,025 destination charge in the United States and $2,175 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

First impressions have a way of biting you in the ass. After seeing the trailer for the first time, I declared with absolute conviction that a movie about a slow-witted Southerner who blunders his way through a tumultuous period in American history would leave theatre seats as empty as store shelves before a Category 5 hurricane. Alas, Forrest Gump was not the colossal flop I predicted.

Nor was the suddenly sportified Lexus ES 350 that appeared in my driveway the embarrassing wannabe I envisioned after learning my tester wasn’t the basic ES 350. (Testers are rarely ever basic, sadly.) All new for 2019, Lexus’s most conservative passenger car gains not just a version of the new TNGA platform shared with the equally new Toyota Avalon, but also the F Sport badge found elsewhere in the Lexus lineup.

While dressing up traditional sedans seems to be a compulsion at Toyota these days, this ES 350 F Sport, red leather and all, managed to throw a number of assumptions back in my face. Some … but not all.

Image: Steph Willems

Oh yes. I was prepared, based on past experiences with new Toyota products, to find the seats comfortable, interior volume and power sufficient, the eight-speed a hunter (but not always a gatherer), and handling far better suited for boulevard cruising than impromptu hooning. And, in many respects, right I was.

For those who don’t follow such things, the F Sport badge brings 19-inch wheels shod in 40-series rubber, additional drive modes, tuned suspension (there’s a new rear multi-link setup on all ES trims, with available adaptive dampers reserved for F-Sport buyers), a trunklid spoiler, plus various other add-ons, not the least of which is the optional red perforated leather adorning the seats and various interior surfaces. Who is this ES kidding, I thought — there’s a declining number of sedans in which motoring enthusiasts like to get their kicks, and the ES most definitely ain’t one of them.

[Get new and used Lexus ES 350 F Sport pricing here!]

Another prediction was that everything that makes this sedan an F Sport would cancel out — or at least water down — the model’s otherwise pleasing attributes. Like the upcoming TRD Camry and Avalon, Toyota didn’t discover new ponies for this specific trim, though the returning powerplant for all non-hybrid ES models did. The 3.5-liter V6 now generates 302 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, up from 268 hp and 248 lb-ft. Toyota’s Direct Shift eight-speed automatic (a unit I bitched about in the supposedly sporty Avalon XSE) handles the cog juggling.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

But something weird happened after picking up the car. After a couple of brief, wintry stints behind the wheel (weather was an absolute pisser the week I had the thing) I realized the seventh-generation sedan was a solid piece of work. Nor, I should add, was it an embarrassment. It just wasn’t a sports sedan, though I had already gathered that.

Mercifully, and unlike the Camry TRD, Lexus remembered that ES sedans came from the factory with a certain ingrained dignity, so the luxury division decided to preserve it. Outwardly, the car’s go-fast trappings are subtle. The spoiler is a low-profile affair, and the attractive 19-inchers come dressed in a pleasing shade of graphite. Amidst all the desperation in the sedan segment, Lexus remembered who really buys this thing — and it isn’t your boss’s 26-year-old punk son.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

As for the design, well, Lexus isn’t giving up on that spindle grille. The entire face is a collection of barbs fired towards a point eight inches distant from the front badge; good or bad, you make the choice. It’s distinctive, at least. Again, mercifully, Lexus confined the drama to the nose and rear — a modest amount of creasing separates this car’s flanks from that of its staid and slab-sided predecessor, but the beltline remains flat and formal. The IS is still your go-to for overwrought styling.

Overall, the new ES stretches an extra 2.6 inches stem to stern, with most of that new length residing between the axles. Rear-seat occupants rejoice. It’s wider, too, by nearly two inches, and two-tenths of an inch lower.

Far less subtle is the interior, at least with the red leather. You get used to that in a hurry, though — to these eyes, the redesigned cabin is quite an attractive place to spend time. Comfortable, too. Firm and moderately bolstered sport seats offer good lower back and thigh support. Legroom and headroom abounds both front and aft — I didn’t come close to scraping my scalp in the rear seat, and I’m 6’4″. Surrounding you are soft-touch materials interspersed with long expanses of real aluminum trim that look great when contrasted with the two-tone leather. Occupants are greeted by a lengthy 12.3-inch infotainment screen offering a vivid display, and the sedan’s conventional shifter selects “D” without taking you on a confusing journey.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

It’s all quite calming, really. That is, until it comes time to use the infotainment system’s touchpad controller. As my educational background contains zero courses in brain surgery, safecracking, or classical piano, moving that indicator across the screen often proved a chore. Sometimes the indicator would overshoot; other times, it stayed fixed in place. Meanwhile, your gaze is directed away the road. Also irksome is a drive mode selector placed on a knob protruding from the dashtop like a periscope handle. Being long of leg, this meant reaching.

Maybe it’s just my tired retinas, but the available 10.2-inch head-up display, while bright, left me feeling cross-eyed after every glance.

Is it even worth your time toggling the drive selector to Sport or Sport +? Well, you don’t need to. With this latest ES, burying your foot in default mode calls up a respectable — but not overwhelming — surge of power, often with a slight lag from the Direct Shift gearbox. This lag is most apparent if the hammer falls while coasting at moderate speeds in Normal or Eco mode; dialing up either sport mode drops you down a cog seemingly at all times, and locks out 7th and 8th. The intrusive hunting seen in past Lexus testers (ahem, RX 350) was thankfully absent.

I suppose those with a slight penchant for aggressive driving could leave it in Sport + their whole lives and go to town on the paddle shifters (throttle-blipping makes for speedier than expected, but still not DCT-like, downshifts). Or, perhaps they’d just leapfrog the ES in favor of something more engaging and purpose-built. Something rear-drive, with a bit more off-the-line punch.

For others, F Sport might be all the personalization they need.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

Besides playing musical chairs with shift points, firming up the already weighty steering, and swapping the digital tach to a sportier layout, passing 5,000 rpm in Sport + turns the tach ring into a glowing orange pumpkin, complemented (in a manner of speaking) by artificially enhanced engine roar pumped into the cabin.

Oh, how I laughed the first time this happened.

Keep in mind that the F Sport does its mainstream luxury duty by keeping things peaceful at all other times. Minus those brief moments of autotuned enlightenment, engine and road noise is quite muted, and you can’t help but notice the windows seal shut like fresh rubber baffles on a Welrod pistol. Noise/vibration/harshness is slight, even in cold weather and on bad roads. Lexus deserves additional kudos for installing a meaty steering wheel that’s among the most comfortable I’ve ever grasped, and the new steering rack conspires with re-angled front struts to keep the car tracking almost eerily straight at high speeds.

While the new platform, rear suspension, and extra bracing lends the sedan an exceptionally solid road feel, it’s too bad Lexus didn’t dial in an extra helping of feedback for those holding the wheel. But is this what ES buyers really desire? Less cocooning? I’d hazard a guess and say … no. Suffice it to say Lexus struck a good balance here, leaving drivers feeling confident and in control in most motoring situations, and maybe a few outside the norm.

The car did surprise me in one key area. With big hoops at each corner and a suspension dialed towards sport, broken pavement didn’t upset the serenity nearly as much as I’d assumed. Cornering displays little in the way of wallow. True, I didn’t notice the adaptive dampers firming up in Sport + mode, but that’s probably because the car likes staying flat at all times. Perhaps a spin on a more serpentine road would bring it to the forefront.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

Still, that’s not where you’ll find this sedan. Nor is it a place the car really compels you to seek out.

Ultimately, the new ES is a vehicle that doesn’t hand over its plushness or competency in favor of satisfying the mature buyer who likes playing Dad-left-me-his-car-let’s-crank-this-bitch once in a while. To do so would be a dereliction of duty. Instead, the F Sport trim simply adds a touch of spice to an improved dish, and looks good doing it.

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

 

Image: Steph Willems/TTAC

[Images: Steph Willems/The Truth About Cars]

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34 Comments on “2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport Review – Skipping Early Supper for Step Class...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    As I mentioned in the Velum Venom I don’t think the world is crying out for more sport. I think we need a “Brougham” more than we need “Eurosport”.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I have wondered if we are ready for the return of the driving couches that isolate you from the road. I think the proliferation of “Brougham” trimmed pickups support this. Wonder if there are enough buyers to support it.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Like you said, I think they’ve moved on from sedans to pickups.

        I don’t see a comeback for the Huggy Bear sedan. Coupes might be another story, though.

      • 0 avatar
        Dynasty

        Considering how bad the roads are many places, there are ample people to support a Brougham Renaissance.

        But not until the marketing departments sends out the memos saying it’s okay to have a smooth comfortable car.

        In the meantime, low profile tires, and that ring in germany somewhere inspired suspensions will be the driving factor.

        • 0 avatar
          jatz

          “In the meantime, low profile tires, and that ring in germany somewhere inspired suspensions will be the driving factor.”

          Car guys, like SJWs, have had a hideous and undeserved influence upon mainstream trends and the industries that mindlessly adopt and enforce them.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      For people who don’t care about chassis dynamics, there are now cars far more comfortable, roomy, easy to drive and practical than any brougham ever was. They’re called CUVs.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Practical? Sure. Comfortable? Not a chance. Is there a crossover on the same planet comfort wise as say, an 80’s Olds 98?

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Suckas HATE my 98!

        • 0 avatar
          CaddyDaddy

          No unibody ridding on 22″ wheels with series 50 tires will ever give you the comfort and isolated ride of a BOF vehicle with ample sidewall tires. A lowered RAM 1500 or F-150 with a trunk would sell like hotcakes.

          My 08′ Explorer has a far better ride and NVH vs a new Explorer. It’s Physics.

          • 0 avatar
            jatz

            “A lowered RAM 1500 or F-150 with a trunk would sell like hotcakes.”

            They already do because regular folks don’t want them lowered. Maybe regular wheelbase versions with a shorty covered bed we could call a trunk for easier garaging.

            They could be the new sedans for a nation too frazzled to want dynamic driving.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Is that an actual color in an interior? I for one am shocked.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Yep, they’ve been doing this for some time now. I have a feeling someone in their interior design department is a Loverboy fan.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Get_Lucky_(Loverboy_album)#/media/File:GetluckyLB.jpg

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    Steph, is the touchpad required to tune radio stations and adjust the volume? If so, it’s a major fail and one that I’m surprised Lexus would make.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Just spent some time in a previous gen ES loaner. There are some quibbles but overall I was surprised how much I loved it. Smooth V6. Nice seats. Just ate bumps and potholes. My outside world stress melted away. I have to imagine this new one is a big improvement judging by the Camry improvement on this architecture as well.

    However I do not understand the F Sport. And I’m sorry but speaker engine noise is so so so lame. Embarrassingly lame.

    Direct shift 8 speed? Is this a dual clutch unit?

    And I’ve come to conclude that as good as Toyota and Lexus are at most things automotive , their infotainment is hands down absolutely the worst piece of trash for sale today. Graphics and speed are lacking. The touch pad or mouse interface is terrible. Nothing flows logically. And they make you use it for things like changing radio presets. Honestly it is the worst of any car I’ve experienced. Almost bad enough to make you want to buy something else.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I rather like the new ES, but that interior color doesnt belong in a Lexus intended for adults. Maybe I am wrong, I dont imagine anyone specifically asking for a red interior. More like, “Well we have this one over here with a red interior that we can give you a few thousand off on”.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Love seeing red leather return to interiors, hate that this thing is apparently going to replace the GS. Touch-pads (mouse) and screens? how did we let car design go so wrong? Do like Lexus sticking with non-turbos as long as they can. But yeah, my beloved GS, they’re letting it whither. Lexus needs to offer the V8 in the mid-range GS, rather than asking a fortune for it in the GSF.

  • avatar
    thejohnnycanuck

    Nicest ES yet. I’d like to see a comparison test of this new ES and an XSE V6 Camry to see what the extra $15K really gets you besides one extra horsepower and a grille that looks best from behind the wheel.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    40 seires rubber on an ES. That’s what’s most wrong with this picture.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I like this. In particular, visibility at the front looks excellent. The A-pillars are thin, the mirrors are mounted on stalks, and there’s only the smallest triangle at the base of the front door.

    The design also looks crisp and taut. I daresay that between this, the new LC and the new LS, Lexus has finessed its spindle grille into something attractive.

    I do wish it came in an AWD version, which is the one thing the TLX has on it. TNGA can definitely support AWD, but the floor stampings might not. Maybe they’ll make a performance-hybrid AWD version (basically using the RX 450h’s powertrain).

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Looks like a Mazda 9

    Lexus is kind of like Acura to me in that the things it does no longer make sense. GS was their best sedan… killed it. Market for hopped up ESs is just about zero; those people bought GSs. IS engine lineup is a mess and the top dog is no longer competitive. LS looks like a Buick. LC is sexy though. And that infotainment interface……………………… unbelievable.

    Bums me out to have to write off a whole brand that’s done such great things. But I refuse to support that track pad. I don’t care how good the rest of the car is.

  • avatar
    Dr. Michael Hoyes

    After recently selling my fully loaded, low mileage 2013 Lexus ES, I happily purchased the 2019 ES F Sport. I suppose I’m one who doesn’t find the touchpad that challenging…the items I want to change using the pad take a lower priority to driving (used to fly fighter jets, so “AVIATE, NAVIGATE, COMMUNICATE” were/remain priorities, with “aviate” now “drive”). I miss a few of the perks I formerly had, but love the feel of the F Sport, and would do it again! I also like the HUD, as that’s something I used to have in jets! :) Since I preset my channels, I use the steering wheel to change, and I don’t do a lot of “surfing.” I also like being able to remote start on cold days. Have had for 2 months.

  • avatar
    Dynasty

    Why??????????????????

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Great, now I’ve got “working for the weekend” stuck in my head. Incidentally I saw on behind the music or some such show that he actually couldn’t get those pants on so that’s actually his 13 year old daughter wearing them, which is somewhat creepy if true.

  • avatar
    legacygt

    This car should not exist. Lexus has an advantage over just about every other carmaker in the mid-sized sedan segment. They are the only one with 2 cars. The ES and the GS. The GS deserves F Sport treatment. The ES should be soft and comfortable and reasonably priced.

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