When I got the window sticker for the latest test car to enter the RFD Garage, I lamented “Why is it beige?!”. I’m amazed that cars are even painted beige anymore, unless, and this is quite disturbing, people are buying them. Still, the more I got to know the latest ES hybrid, the more I started to take a liking to it.
Jacob showed us the non-hyrid version of the Ultra Luxury ES recently, but this is the first ES that I’ve driven in some time, so I wanted to take a quick trip down memory lane. The ES has been in production since 1989 and is currently in it’s seventh generation! Now, over time I’ve always seen the ES as a bit beige, as basically a slightly more luxurious Camry. A good car to be sure, but never particularly interesting.
The original ES, the V20 generation, was incredibly similar to it’s Toyota cousins with just some exterior and interior trim and material changes. The second generation XV10 was a bit more elegant and improved the ES lineage, but in my opinion, still looked like a Camry. The XV20, as the generational name implies was an evolution on the previous-gen ES. It was the XV30 that started to establish more of an external differentiation from the Camry. And boy was it ugly. By the fifth generation, it was more of the same, and from a distance I’d potentially say I was looking at a Camry.
By generation six, the Lexus ES started to look like part of the family. With the new spindle grill perpetuated across the lineup, for better or worse, there was some decent resemblance to the up-market GS and LS sedans. The ES also parted ways with the Camry and now shared its basics underneath with the Toyota Avalon!
The seventh generation, called the XZ10 came out just this year and I have to say, it’s not bad looking. Still sitting on a shared platform with the Avalon, the ES now has the long hood elegance of the larger LS. From a distance, you’ll really just have to rely on your perspective on relative size to tell them apart. The new ES is now a pretty serious luxury car, and Lexus just loaned me one for a week.
Lexus does things a little differently than some other automakers. You choose your vehicle, an ES in this instance, then you choose which type you want. So for 2019 you could basically choose from the V6 ES 350 or hybrid ES 300h. both come with standard trim or Luxury and Ultra Luxury options. Opt for the non-hybrid and you’ll also get to check the box for the F Sport version. But that’s not available with the hybrid that we tested. Note, all ES models are FWD.
For the purposes of this review, I’ll focus on the Ultra Luxury. You’ll get all the features that come on the Luxury model (which also includes the Premium Package) such as wood trim with ambient lighting, perforated leather interior trim, driver’s-seat power cushion extender, and 12-way power-adjustable front seats. The ES Ultra Lux includes perforated semi-aniline leather interior trim, 14-way power-adjustable front seats, power rear sunshade with manual rear-door sunshades, power open/close trunk with kick sensor, and lateral performance dampers.
The Ultra Luxury starts at a claimed $45,210 which is a lot of car for the money. However, once you start building your ES 300h UL you’ll noticed that there are quite a few “required” packages like:
- Navigation Package – $1,820
- Blind Sport Monitoring (etc.) – $1,900
- 18-inch Split Spoke Alloy Noise Reduction Wheels – $950
- Heated wood/leather steering wheel – $480
- Delivery, processing, fees, fees, fees – $1,025
That brings the real starting cost of a 2019 ES 300h Ultra Luxury to $51,385. Which is less cheap, but in typical Lexus fashion you feel like you’re getting good stuff for your money. And this is the top-of-the-line ES after all.
All told, our test car hit $54,405 with the addition of triple-beam LED headlights ($1,515), wireless phone charger ($75), a10.2 inch heads-up-display ($500), and the additional upgraded Mark Levinson Audio Package ($3000 but bundled with navigation).
Previous experiences in the ES have been ho-hum. It really did feel like a modified Camry. The new one though, that’s a different thing. Lexus has managed to capture the essence of the larger LS in the smaller and less expensive ES. There is something about a long hood that makes a car look stately, and the ES has that. Plus, love or hate it, the front spindle grill immediately identifies the ES as part of the Lexus family.
Around back, things aren’t quite as dramatic, and that’s OK. The rear is fairly similar to the Avalon in which it shares it’s platform, albeit with a bit more Lexus flair. Overall it’s a well executed, if a bit busy, exterior.
On the inside, things are as expected, it’s a $50K Lexus after all. It’s even got a power trunk!
Everything is built from incredibly nice materials and where you would expect it to be. The dash design is not similar to what you would find in higher end Lexus models. Even elements from the cool LC 500 that we tested earlier are there, like the gorgeous door handles.
From a technical standpoint, things weren’t bad. The navigation system welcomed me to each new state (or district in D.C.’s case) as I arrived. That would be cool on a cross-country trek, but traversing the DC, MD, VA region, where you cross over, and back, often, it wasn’t particularly helpful.
Like most systems with one screen, it trapped me inside of Apple CarPlay on a regular basis. Sadly, you’re either in, or you’re out, there is no option to see something else off to the side, even though it has a little pop-up screen on the right. Some automakers have allowed the user to also see your radio station off to the right, so if you want to use CarPlay to run Waze on the main screen, you can still see your SiriusXM station off to the right. But in the ES, Apple takes over the entire screen. It looks fantastic, but it always wanted to play music from my playlist when I didn’t ask it to.
I intentionally didn’t include a “driving” section to this review. There isn’t anything specifically noteworthy to say. Not saying it’s bad, it definitely isn’t, but there isn’t anything interesting to say. The 300h only has 215 horsepower, much less than it’s fully petrol powered 302 horsepower sister the ES 350. I never felt like it was dangerously under powered, it accelerated onto the highway just fine, but it won’t wow you with power.
Overall, the latest ES is huge step forward for the model, which is an important one for Lexus. While SUVs rule the day, there are still a lot of people looking for a midsize luxury sedan. And the ES 300h is a very good one.