For 2019, Lexus introduced an all-new ES350, and it’s a radical step up from the previous model. Due in part to the all-new Camry which the ES shares a chassis, it was the last sedan to get some bona fide’s in terms of performance and pizzazz.
There may some though, that kind of liked the previous models focus on the luxury and away from sport. What to do for them? Enter the ES350 Ultra Luxury.
Sleek and Sexy
Okay, there’s really not much difference exterior-wise between the Ultra Luxury and other ES350’s, but we don’t mind Lexus not being shouty that you laid out the extra bucks. This is still a handsome sedan, with a prominent Lexus spindle grille leaving no doubt what you’re looking at. The LED headlamps float above the cheekbones of the front fascia, and the coupe-like lines remind us of the voluptuous LC500 coupe (a convertible was recently announced!), and the rear carries the angled LED taillight treatment that has become another Lexus hallmark.
Giving a nod to the luxury, the 18-inch wheels and bit of trim have a bright chrome effect, and our tester’s Matador Red Mica gives a bold pop of color that turns heads in a sea of white, silver and grey sedans.
Welcome to Ultra Luxury
While the ES may share a chassis with the new Camry, inside, is much closer to the high-buck and high-fashion LC Coupe and LS Sedan. Lexus is taking luxury personally now and creating a more coupe-like environment that ever before.
Any new ES is a lovely experience, but the Ultra Luxury hits immediately with a rich smell that comes from the model’s perforated semi-aniline leather interior. For the extra cost above the ES300 Luxury, you also get power rear sunshade with manual rear door sunshades, and power open/close trunk with kick sensor. While that’s not a lot, you can’t really blame Lexus, the models already come loaded, so it’s not easy to find more to add!
It’s been a little while since we were in the new ES. We forgot how the little details add up – the subtle lines inside the trim, the sweeping stitching, the wave-like structures, door handle pulls that look like sculpture. Even the speaker grilles on the Mark Levinson audio system look like tiny works of art.
Settle into those comfy seats, and the gauges reinforce the family ties to the LC and LS, with a large digital display features a focused center combo tach/speedo, while the available heads-up display serves up info without looking away.
But you will look away, thanks to the big, bold and beautiful 12.3-inch hi resolution, split-screen info-tainment display that sweeps across the dash. Thanks to Apple CarPlay now being available, we enjoyed using our WAZE app on the big screen, and it looked stunning.
There are also a host of other tech-savvy goodies, including Wi-Fi, Siri Eyes Free, Amazon Alexa services, and subscription-free traffic and weather updates. You also have access to audio and climate controls and more. Sure, other vehicles have much of this now, but on the huge screen, it just looks so much better.
And it has never sounded better, thanks to the optional Mark Levinson PurePlay 17-speaker, 1,800-Watt Premium Sound Audio System. We often forget that way back in 1990, Lexus was one of the first to bring bespoke high-end audio as a factory option. A high-point in info-tainment!
The only low-point – access is still via Lexus’ touchpad controller, and it still remains somewhat fidgety in application, but you do get used to it after a while.
With all this tech and design to enjoy, we like being in the front, but riders in back will appreciate the adult-size, spacious and comfy seats.
And Say Hello to Performance
The big surprise in our last test of the ES was how much better a driver it had become. While it was always quiet and smooth, it had little or no interest in being driven hard, or even mildly enthusiastically.
Not anymore. Under the hood is a 3.5-liter V6 with a punchy 302 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft of torque. It moves out with authority, and the eight-speed automatic delivers crisp shifts through the paddle shifters, especially in Sport Mode. It’s also amazingly efficient – 35-40 mpg at freeway speeds with a light touch on the throttle. Amazing!
This is still a luxury cruiser, though, so the Ultra Luxury keeps things whisper quiet with goods like the optional 18-inch noise-reduction wheels, and standard laminated side glass.
Which is not to say it’s gone soft – the Ultra Luxury features special front and rear performance dampers that not only block out vibrations but give the vehicle an incredibly solid feel. Handling is progressive, the feel through the steering is excellent, and it’s a big sedan that’s easy to hustle along – even if it is too well-bred to encourage that sort of thing. While we think the F Sport model would be the enthusiast’s choice, the fact that something called Ultra and Luxury is still an excellent drive says Lexus has really stepped up its game.
Not every Lexus driver may be a car nut like us, but they’re probably all safety conscious, so the ES has the most comprehensive safety system ever offered on a Lexus, including a new low-light pedestrian detection and daytime bicyclist detection, to a built-in camera that helps provide road sign information. It all adds up to best-in-class protection, which is impressive.
You bet! Just kidding, but really, this is the top of the line for the ES lineup, so expect to pony up some extra green. But should you? That’s harder to say. The ES350 starts at $39,750 and the 44 mpg ES300h hybrid is just a tad above at $41,760. The ES350 Luxury starts at $42,155, and brings you perforated leather, wood accents and ambient lighting.
Our Ultra Luxury tester started at $43,150, but had plenty of extras, including Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Rear Pedestrian Detection and Panoramic Rear View Monitor ($1,900), Wireless Charger ($75), 18” noise reduction alloy wheels ($950), Heads-up Display ($500), Triple Beam LED headlights ($1,515), Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio Package ($3,000), Panorama Glass Roof ($500), Heated wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel with Windshield Wiper De-icer and Fast Response Interior Heater ($480), and Delivery ($1,025) for a grand total of $53,095.
Choosing competition is tough – most manufacturers don’t go for a super Luxury trim. Loading up an Acura TLX got us in at $47,000. A loaded Q50 3.0T got us up to $54,000. Going European brought us a well-equipped M340i sedan at $58,000. Overall, the ES350 is fairly priced amongst other Asian makes, and remains an attractive value against the Europeans.
And of course, there’s the intangibles like the well-earned reputation for quality, reliability, and customer service that means you’ll be happy with your ES350 for years to come.
The Lexus ES350 is a great luxury sedan, and surprisingly sporty. The Ultra Luxury brings an added feeling of big-ticket exclusivity that you can enjoy every day.
Posh, Polished, and Perfected. That’s the Lexus ES350 Ultra Luxury.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.