2015 Lexus ES350 Review
The Lexus ES350 is one of the brand's all-time sales heroes. Over the last 20 years, the ES has been a staple on the best-selling, most-loved and best-resale-value ranks of all luxury cars.
Since the most recent refresh of the ES350 in 2012, the car has averaged around 72,000 sales a year -- which is a mighty impressive total that averages out to 25-percent of overall 2013 and 2014 Lexus brand sales.
ES Share of Total Lexus Sales
2015 YTD *
Data Source: GoodcarBadcar.net
What that chart shows is an all-star of a luxury sedan - a car that does everything so well you would be hard-pressed to justify spending more on an Audi A6 or Mercedes E350 - let alone a BMW 740i.
In the fast-forward world of luxury car tech and sophistication, though, is the all-star ES350 still up to the challenge in 2015?
Let's find out in this full road test review, with headings: Exterior, Interior, Performance, Pricing and Summary. We've also thrown in a colors guide and a look at the new-for-2015 ES350 Crafted Line.
Keeping the Lexus ES excellent is one challenge, but keeping it on buyer radars is an equally large obstacle.
The 2012 redesign brought the Lexus ES350 to the vogue in Lexus style with a full-frame spindle grille, arrowhead LED lighting accents, and an overall nose revamp to move the grille edge forward. This more-vertical look makes the ES350 seem remarkably rear-drive with short overhangs - the true luxury-car proportions we all know from 300-paces away for BMW and Mercedes.
These changes are effective, but are more visual tweaks than an outright redesign. From the pure profile, you can still see the ES350 is a front-drive vehicle.
Even so, the changes did not stop there. Some really cool lower sills flip upward ahead of the back axle, with more clever surfacing in the lower rear bumper to update the shape of the very-familiar ES with some of the elan and coolness of the Lexus IS and GS sedans.
In back, all very conservative still. But internal LED optics in the brake lights are fresh, and the scale and size of the ES350 means most would assume it costs $60,000 or so. It is a very large and blocky shape, much like the flagship LS460 for most eyes, with only the sharpest car-guys knowing which is which.
As a whole, the Es350 is still a solid piece of appealing design, fits in at any golf-club or posh valet line, and even feels vaguely sporty with the test-car's Atomic Silver paint and optional 18-inch alloys in liquid silver ($880).
The cabin of the ES350 is its real selling point. Smooth and serene, the design is actually very, very modern. A totally-new dashboard for the 2012 model-year brought the low-cowl style of the most relaxing luxury cars. This smooth and large cabin is where we pile on $7000 worth of safety, comfort and convenience options atop the ES350's $38,000 base price.
The safety features spec'ed here are:
-- $500 blind-spot and cross-traffic alert
-- $1000 lane-departure warning and automatic high-beams
-- $500 intuitive parking assist
-- $200 automatic wipers
They are all nice to have and easy to use, especially the automatic high-beams. Adaptive cruise would be nice to complete the safety suite.
In terms of comfort and convenience options, this ES350 included:
-- $1400 Luxury package with heated and cooled seats, maple trim for dash, and other niceties
-- $400 wood option for steering wheel and shifter
-- $200 power rear sunshade
-- $1800 for hard-drive-based navigation and Lexus Enform concierge 1-year subscription.
This last feature is fantastic. Press a roof button, and the helpful people at the other end input your destination address right into the car's nav system. It works well and we used it a few times versus the gamble of voice-input destinations. These are always tricky to know if they will work, and always frustrating. The Lexus system is no different in that regard.
What is never tricky are the Lexus ES's electronics and gadget controls. Unlike almost all of the German luxury brands lately, the Lexus owner will not need an intensive, week-long course with their dealership to learn how to put it in park, operate the remote trunk hatch, or change the settings on the audio system. The Lexus makes all this stuff very second-nature, and that simplicity is a major selling-point for traditional buyers.
The cabin feels outstanding with these features, and is a serene treat when cruising. This ES350 and its quad-cam 3.5-liter V6 will also really move when you floor the throttle, however. It is at least 2.5-seconds quicker to 60-mph than the even-smoother ES300h hybrid model. For quick drivers though, the ES350 is tops.
The ES350 is quoted by the EPA with a 21-mpg city rating plus a 31-mpg highway rating. The ES300h tested previously here scored about a 35-mpg city and 33-mpg highway.
HD DRIVE VIDEO REVIEW
Our test ES350 came in with a loaded price of $45,230 including its destination charge. For all the roominess and comfort on offer, this is a solid value for a car that is almost always in-demand.
A normal and classy palette of colors to choose among in the ES - along with the very-cool ES Crafted Line with a new ultra-white paint and gloss-black detailing.
We really enjoy the ES350 for all these merits, and continue to recommend it to almost anyone who wants a smooth, easy and luxurious vehicle that delivers its owners terrific value. Value first-hand when buying, value in quietness-per-dollar while you own it, excellent fuel-economy, plus great reliability and industry-best resale value. Those are alot of huge thumbs-ups for the ES350.
But we do have a few places where the ES350 should improve itself in the future, to keep pace with the impressive Buick Lacrosse, new Chrysler 300C, Hyundai Genesis and others.
Style-wise, conservative and clean lines are clearly still on the agenda for an eventual ES refresh for the ~2017 model-year. The ES350 would benefit from updated headlamp tech. Its LED fogs are cool, but the halogen low and high-beams are not a match for the industry, or Lexus's, best LED tech. The same applies to the rear of the car, where more modern LED graphics would dramatically help keep the ES350 stylish and cutting-edge.
The cabin similarly needs a few updates. The wood steering wheel is a trend that has now firmly gone out-of-style, and for good reason. Holding a -clear-plastic-wrapped section of any steering wheel is pretty icky on the fingers, and feels very 2005.
The ES350 also needs dramatically more-posh rear seats. Yes, the back seat is huge and comfortable. It has a decent arm-rest and excellent legroom. But where are the goodies? Power side window-shades, heated and cooled seating back there, USB and 12-volt plugs are needed, and perhaps an individual climate-control. The days of two vents in the back of the center console are past for most luxury-car shoppers.
The most posh buyers might also be surprised at the lack of adjustment in the ES350's seat positions, or the manual-close-only trunklid. Gasp!
Performance-wise, we'd also like to see the ES350 evolve with more than six-speeds for its automatic transmission.
Simple tweaks, and nothing major. Lexus is surely working on all these upgrades and more.
Until then, the ES350 is still a real gem of a car. With the room of the LS460 in back, the look of luxury all-around, and cabin tech that takes no training to operate -- the ES350 is still quietly excellent. A Lexus all-star for good reason.