By on August 20, 2020


As expected, the traditionally front-drive Lexus ES will enliven its rear axle for the 2021 model year.

Like its sister sedan, the Toyota Avalon, the ES range will see the addition of an all-wheel drive model motivated by the automaker’s stalwart 2.5-liter four-cylinder. A powerhouse it is not, but come winter, the ES 250 AWD could be a respectable motorist’s best friend.

Lexus announced this product as well as a sporty-looking Black Line Special Edition model Thursday. And because appearance packages rank mighty low on the interest scale, let’s dig into that AWD model.

The return of the ES 250 designation heralds a drop in power, but, thanks to a rear axle that decouples from the rest of the driveline when not needed, the car’s combined fuel efficiency of 28 mpg still tops that of the 3.5-liter units found in the FWD ES 350 models. An eight-speed automatic handles shifting duties. Power is rated at 203 horses, with torque remaining a mystery for now. In the AWD Avalon, the powertrain makes 205 hp and 185 lb-ft.


Being able to funnel 50 percent of the engine’s grunt to the rear wheels might just boost the appeal of a sedan that has the unfortunate distinction of being a sedan in 2020. All passenger car segments are in trouble; as such, Toyota, by adding optional AWD to the Camry, Avalon, ES, and even the Prius, hopes it can persuade some buyers to leave that tempting crossover in the rear-view.

Interestingly, Lexus decided to make the F Sport option available on the AWD model. Sportier looks, a firmer suspension, and 19-inch wheels can adorn your four-cylinder upper-midsize sedan, if you so choose.


As for the Black Line, it’s a front-drive, 3.5-liter V6 proposition only. There’ll also be just 1,500 produced for U.S. consumers. Based on the F Sport grade and arriving in three colors (Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0, Obsidian, and Ultra White), the Black Line ES 350 dons a two-tone interior with contrasting stitching, a rear lip spoiler, black side mirrors, and darkened wheels and lug nuts.

Underwhelmed? Don’t be! Black Line buyers will further distance themselves from their lowly ES 350 peers with a two-piece set of Zero Halliburton luggage. Inside these cases, a driver could place pants, shirts, and even a variety of drawers, plus a bottle of blended scotch whisky for that cold night in the cabin. Should you become separated from your carry-on and medium travel case, the “Zero Halliburton for Lexus” logo should leave no doubt as to their owner.


Elsewhere in the 2021 ES lineup, the ES 300h hybrid ditches its nickel-metal hybrid battery for a lithium ion battery, with the new unit now placed under the back seat. That should free up some trunk room.

A useful upgrade appearing in Luxury, F Sport, and Ultra Luxury models is blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, while all ES models see Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 as standard equipment. That bundle brings together a pre-collision system, lane departure alert with lane tracing assist, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control, and road sign assist.


[Images: Lexus]

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19 Comments on “Push and Pull: 2021 Lexus ES Gains All-wheel Drive...”

  • avatar

    I’ll give them credit that the “250” and “350” in the names still actually mean something. However, a 203hp 4-cylinder in a large-ish AWD Lexus is going to be 80s slow.

    • 0 avatar

      Probably but if they can get the torque rating to an acceptable level it shouldn’t be a sales issue.

    • 0 avatar

      Assuming the same speed as the Avalon, an estimated 8 seconds to 60 simply isn’t that slow.

      “’80s speeds” are more like 10-12 seconds to 60.

      *Is not sports car.*

      • 0 avatar

        “an estimated 8 seconds to 60”
        This won’t hit 8. The ES300h doesn’t hit 8 with more power, more torque, likely similar weight and the benefit of the 1ft rollout.

        *Is not sports car.*
        But it is a luxury car and taking 6+ seconds to do a 50-70 passing maneuver doesn’t seem especially luxurious to me. This will be in the running to be the slowest thing to ever wear an ES badge since 1990.

        Toyota has a transverse AWD V6 system for use on the TNGA platform, and they even have a transverse AWD V6 setup if they were worried about fuel economy. So they are just cheaping out on people here.

  • avatar

    I had an ES250 once. Beautiful deep skirt cast iron block, and a V6! Smooth as glass, lovely powertrain. Very smooth, linear acceleration where the power builds nicely with rpm. On the other hand, a big I4 with balance shafts and a psychotic transmission and an engine control system that ensures a jerky, non-linear, random shifting and very unsatisfying driving experience is a big “no thanks” at any price.
    Toyota sucks.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember chasing one of those 1980’s Lexus ES250’s down in my 1988 Bereta GT V6. Childs play!

      • 0 avatar

        The electronics in the steering wheel are already smoking.

        In the unlikely event of a frontal crash, you’ll always remember your Cadillac by the crest-shaped scar on your chest from the air bag.

      • 0 avatar

        Considering that the ES250 debuted in 1989, there weren’t a whole lot of them to find for street racing with. So, nice find!

      • 0 avatar

        155HP. But numbers never tell the tale, it was just a pleasure to drive and incredibly comfortable on a long drive. Great seats.
        A Camry with the 2.5 I4 is powerful but the delivery is so uneven and non-linear it’s just miserable to drive.

  • avatar

    For what it’s worth, a Subaru Legacy with AWD is generally about a second slower 0-60 than a similarly powered Camry without. If the FWD ES-250 was in the 7s, the AWD would be in the 8s, which isn’t too bad.

    • 0 avatar

      ” If the FWD ES-250 was in the 7s,”

      It’s not.
      A Camry 2.5L is 8.0 with the rollout. The ES300h (which is more powerful than this) is 8.3 with the rollout. This’ll probably pop close to 9. Although the biggest issue isn’t 0-60, it’ll be 30-50 and 50-70.

      There is also the issue that this is a *luxury* brand car, not a Subaru fighter.

  • avatar

    I didn’t like the 2.4L I4 in my (destroyed in car accident) Scion xB2. Thrashy. It just made more noise, not more oomph in the higher RPMs.

    Is this also true with the 2.5L?

  • avatar

    Ouch. This seems a bit stupid. Why did they not add AWD and keep the V6? Or just make that the standard powertrain.

    Now you get to choose do you want power, smoothness, buttery amazing Lexus 3.5L V6 (a unique selling point in this market of turbo 4s)

    or give all that up for AWD?

    I suspect the AWD is gonna win. In my part of the world I think almost everyone views it as a must have. It is helpful, don’t get me wrong, but everyone wants it. So AWD will win, they’ll say “see…nobody cares about the V6!” and in a few years the V6 will go out of production and you’ll get your choice of I4 with or without hybrid battery or AWD.

  • avatar

    What I do not understand is why does no Lexus ES model offer heated rear seats, not even in an option package, while it is available in the Toyota Avalon. I checked it in Specifications and Optional Packages on the Lexus site. Even some economy cars with leather or fake leather seats have heated rear seats now, for example the Honda Civic.

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