Lexus has a simple goal with its redesigned 2019 ES sedan: transform the image of the car.
One of the company’s most popular models, the Lexus ES is viewed as dull and boring, nothing more substantial than a fancy Camry. Relatively affordable yet surprisingly roomy, the ES is also difficult to classify. One major research firm insists on grouping it with “compact premium cars” even though it shares its platform with the full-size Toyota Avalon.
Introduced at the 2018 Beijing Motor Show, the new 2019 Lexus ES is even larger than before. When it goes on sale in September of 2018, it returns in ES 350 and ES 300h model series, the former gaining a new F Sport trim in an effort to underscore the dynamic transformation beneath its sheet metal.
Attractive and inoffensive
Longer, lower, and wider than the car it replaces, the new 2019 ES is designed to a “provocative elegance” theme, according to the automaker.
Overall, the look is a familiar one. From the bold grille to the tidy tail, the ES’s styling themes mimic other Lexus models. I can even see some previous-generation Camry in the way the bodywork swells forward of the rear wheel wells. A faster roofline and tapered greenhouse put some visual weight over the car’s rear wheels, while a lower hood and shorter front overhang add balance to the front-drive luxury sedan.
Lexus bolts on 17- or 18-inch wheels for the ES 350 and ES 300h. Choose the ES 350 F Sport for standard 19-inch wheels, as well as a unique grille treatment and other styling modifications intended to express its extra sportiness.
Buyers will choose from 12 paint colors, including two new ones: Moonbeam Beige and Sunlit Green. Ultra Sonic Blue Mica is exclusive to the F Sport.
Though it breaks no new ground, the 2019 Lexus ES is nevertheless attractive and inoffensive – so long as you like its grille.
Roomier, quieter, and safer
Lexus promises that the new ES will be roomier, quieter, and safer, and that the interior will display a high level of craftsmanship.
A driver-centric dashboard makes the ES feel sportier from the driver’s seat. Cockpit-style instrumentation, an available 12.3-inch infotainment system, and a triangular climate and stereo control panel add a distinctive appearance, and Lexus uses a mixture of stitched surface material, wood, and metallic trim to decorate the cabin. The F Sport trim features exclusive Hadori aluminum trim, with fluctuating wave patterns for a 3-D appearance.
Though the new ES is lower than before, and features a more rakish roofline, Lexus promises that the car retains its roomy rear seat. The seating hip point is lower than before, a longer wheelbase preserves rear legroom, and the headliner is designed to maximize headroom.
Far more than the exterior of the car, the new interior is what has the power to transform the image of the Lexus ES. That, and improvements in the car’s driving dynamics.
300+ horsepower V6, or 44-mpg hybrid
Yoshiaki Ito, chief test driver for Lexus, succinctly summarized the engineering team’s performance goal: “We want every kind of driver to feel a sense of complete control when they are behind the wheel of the ES.”
To that end, the new ES is moved to the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, shared with the redesigned 2019 Toyota Avalon and a number of other existing and upcoming models.
Much stiffer than what the previous ES used, this front-drive vehicle architecture allowed Lexus engineers to fine-tune the new model’s ride and handling to achieve the company’s objectives. Highlights also include a new multi-link rear suspension design, rack-mounted electric power steering, and, in F Sport guise, an adaptive suspension, a Sport+ driving mode, and an engine sound enhancement system.
The most popular model is the ES 350, which gets a direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 engine making 302 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque. Those figures rise by 34 hp and 19 lb.-ft., respectively, over the previous ES 350. An 8-speed automatic transmission powers the car’s front wheels.
The most efficient model is the ES 300h. For 2019, it gets a new hybrid drivetrain that pairs an Atkinson-cycle 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with a smaller and more powerful electric motor, and a more compact nickel-metal hydride battery housed beneath the car’s rear seat. Total system output measures 215 horsepower, and Lexus predicts 44 mpg in combined driving.
Truth be told, the outgoing ES 350 wasn’t bad to drive. Certainly, it was no sports sedan, but it wasn’t a sloppy mess, either, especially when fitted with upgraded 18-inch wheels. Given the changes for 2019, especially in F Sport trim, it is easy to predict that the new ES will be the most fun one ever assembled.
Upgraded safety and infotainment technologies
Not only is the new ES promising more smiles by the mile, it will likely prove to be the safest example of this model ever built.
Promising “class-leading safety technology,” the automaker will install into every new ES a standard Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 package of driver assistance and collision avoidance systems. The usual suspects are present and accounted for, though the company does not define whether or not it includes a blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert system. New features that debut with the 2019 ES including bicyclist detection capability and improved pedestrian detection at night.
Lexus is also offering the latest version of its infotainment system with the new ES. An 8-inch display screen is standard, and a 12.3-inch screen is included with the optional navigation system.
Drivers operate both versions using the company’s Remote Touch Interface (RTI) track pad, which is designed to work in similar fashion to a computer mouse, correlating input from your fingertip on the pad to action on the screen. Sensitivity levels are adjustable, and speaking from experience the pad sometimes does not recognize dry fingers so keep moisturizer handy.
Highlights include standard Apple CarPlay (a first in a Lexus) and Siri Eyes Free voice control, as well as Amazon Alexa for natural language commands from car-to-home and home-to-car. A Verizon-powered Wi-Fi hotspot is available with the optional navigation system, which also includes over-the-air software and data updates.
Potentially, the only stumble here is that RTI track pad interface. Personally, I find systems like Audi’s MMI, BMW’s iDrive, and Mazda Connect easier and more natural to use – after a steep acclimation period, of course. And all three of those automakers are moving to touchscreen displays.
Does the new 2019 Lexus ES move the needle?
Lexus characterizes the redesigned ES as a big step forward for the model. The car is more dynamic to behold, and, in theory, to drive. It retains what existing ES owners love about their vehicles in terms of comfort and size, while adding a dash of spice for people who view the vehicle as too boring.
Based on preliminary information, these things are all true. However, I am unconvinced that it matters.
Lexus ES loyalists will buy this new version of the car, and they will love most things about it. The company might even attract new customers with the F Sport’s racier look and tuned performance.
But at the end of the day, this is still a Lexus ES, a practical and value-laden choice with some polarizing details that could easily repel as many people as it attracts.
First Pictures: 2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport
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