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The Best Yet: 2019 Lexus ES Test Drive Review

We recently went out to Nashville, Tennessee, but we didn’t go there for the tunes or the BBQ. We showed up for a car: the all-new, seventh-generation 2019 Lexus ES. It wasn’t just another vehicle launch, though. The 2019 ES is perhaps the most important ES ever. It’s the newest part of Lexus’s “Future Chapter,” in which Lexus vehicles will be as exciting as they are comfortable, as thrilling as they are soothing. It started with the LC coupe. The flagship two-door combines concept car looks with ample power and a genuinely amazing driving experience. Then came the new LS. We tested it at the Texas Auto Writers Association’s 2018 Texas Auto Roundup and found it to be a distinctively styled blend of luxury, speed, and athleticism.

The 2019 ES is the next part of Lexus’s story as a brand. As in many stories, the characters involved in the development of the ES faced a conflict. They had to improve upon the attractive design, relaxing comfort, and impressive features that the ES has always had while also making it more emotionally engaging than ever before to attract customers who may have never considered buying an ES in the past.

Lexus started by giving the 2019 ES a new foundation. The Global Architecture-K (GA-K) front-wheel-drive platform is laser screw welded and bonded together with 142 percent more structural adhesive than previous ES backbones for greater rigidity. A whopping 93 percent of its floorpan is covered with sound deadening material, so it’s even quieter than its predecessor. Compared to the 2018 ES, the new model is 2.6 inches longer, 0.2 inches lower, and 1.8 inches wider. Wheelbase length has increased by two inches, giving rear passengers more legroom.

The ES is available with two suspension setups. The basic hardware is a McPherson strut design in the front and a trailing arm multilink arrangement in the back. Depending on model selection, that can be paired with Swing Valve Shock Absorbers designed to dampen minute movements of weight supported by the suspension or a sophisticated Adaptive Variable Suspension.

Three models are in the 2019 ES lineup. The ES 300h hybrid is more advanced and powerful than the car it replaces. The ES 350 features an enhanced power plant and new gearbox. The first ever F Sport is based on the ES 350 and gets unique exterior and interior design elements. Its mix of standard and available performance enhancements make it the ultimate driver’s version of the ES.

2019 Lexus ES Exterior

The ES’s fresh outer styling (available in 12 colors) looks lean and taut. Its standard LED projector headlamps or available triple-beam LEDs headlights with Lexus’s Adaptive Front Lighting System point toward the most dramatic spindle grille ever fitted to an ES. The grille in the ES 350 and ES 300h is filled with vertical lines that follow the shape of the chrome frame around them; the F Sport’s grille contains a mesh comprised of L-shaped links.

A strong shoulder line starts at the front fenders, continues over the standard 17-inch and available 18- and 19-inch wheels (on the F Sport), and connects with the brightwork that tops the sharp LED tail lights. Pronounced contouring over the back wheels makes the rear fenders look flared, further adding to the ES’s athletic appearance. The 16.7 cubic-foot trunk on the ES 300h and F Sport is capped off with a spoiler.

2019 Lexus ES Interior

The inside of the 2019 ES is a blend of driver-focused features, new technology, and inspired design choices. Three interior themes are available: Chateau, Flaxen, and Black. The traction control and drive mode selectors flanking the center gauge cluster make it clear that Lexus is focused on not only making the ES more of a driver’s car, but also making it look the part. Those dials and the design of the main instruments (in the F Sport) were inspired by those in Lexus’s limited production, V10-powered LFA supercar. An available 10.2-inch head-up display makes seeing readouts such as speed and navigation directions even easier. That ease of access is designed to reduce eye movement, which Lexus has found contributes to driver fatigue.

The base multimedia system features an eight-inch color display, Voice Command, Siri Eyes Free, Google Voice Control, Wi-Fi, and the Lexus Enform App Suite 2.0 with Amazon Alexa functionality. We used voice commands to have Alexa tell us the weather forecast for Nashville. She even told us a joke when a Lexus representative asked her to.

There are ten speakers in the standard audio setup; Lexus offers an impressively clear Mark Levinson system with 1,800 watts of power routed through 17 speakers as an upgrade. We experienced a demo of it and enjoyed its immersive surround sound mode – no matter how high the volume was. According to Lexus, “The new ES is the first Lexus product to offer Apple CarPlay™ phone functionality, enabling drivers to control their iPhones® through the dashboard display screen or with Siri Eyes Free® voice control. ES models with the optional 12.3-inch navigation display will offer CarPlay starting from launch, while the standard Lexus Multimedia display system will add CarPlay functionality starting with October production.”

A variety of option packages increase the ES’s levels of comfort and convenience. The Premium Package includes features such as a power tilt/telescoping wheel with memory, heated and ventilated front seats, and rain-sensing wipers. The Luxury Package keeps those and adds 10-way power front seats, leather for both rows, ambient interior lighting, and wood trim on the doors, console, and instrument panel. In the Ultra Luxury Package, there are semi-aniline leather seats, manual rear door sunshades, a power rear sunshade, and a hands-free power trunk. F Sport models are equipped with F Sport pedals, front seats, gauges, and shift knob. The texture of the F Sport’s eye-catching Hadori aluminum trim was meant to bring the look of traditional Japanese swords to mind. We think it looks pretty… sharp.

Lexus engineers strived to make the ES quiet, but didn’t want to make it unnaturally devoid of sound. In our opinion, they struck a nice balance. The two extra inches of wheelbase made the back seat a comfortable place for this 5’10” writer, who had plenty of legroom and, thanks to carve-outs in the headliner, more than enough headroom.

2019 Lexus ES Performance

The ES 300h hybrid is powered by a new Atkinson cycle 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with D4-S port and direct fuel injection; a lighter, more compact, and more potent electric motor; and an all-new 29.1-kW nickel metal hydride battery. That last component is now small enough to fit under the back seat instead of cutting into the trunk’s storage capacity. The gas engine generates 176 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque; the battery bumps total system horsepower up to 215. That’s processed by a CVT transmission. Lexus has calculated that the ES 300h is capable of getting 44 city, 45 highway, and 44 combined mpg.

For 2019, the ES 350’s 3.5-liter V6 gets both port and direct fuel injection. Output has increased to 302 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. A new eight-speed automatic turns that into forward motion. Fuel economy ratings, according to Lexus, are 22 city, 33 highway, and 26 combined mpg for the ES 350 and 22 city, 31 highway, and 25 combined mpg for the ES 350 F Sport.

The ES F Sport gets two additional driving-focused upgrades: a Sport S+ mode that puts the throttle, transmission, electric power steering, and dampers in their most aggressive settings, and engine sound enhancement to let more of the V6’s gas-powered audio fill the cabin.

We drove all three models of the ES on the beautiful Natchez Trace Parkway that winds through Tennessee. Ride quality was characteristically composed and gentle, even when we had the F Sport in Sport S+ mode. Each car, especially the F Sport, held the road remarkably well. The ES seemed to glide from turn to turn, much like its big brother, the LS. The enhanced V6 had plenty of power and its new gearbox had a pleasing eagerness to downshift when we wanted to pick up the pace. When we were zooming through the NTP’s seemingly endless tunnels of lush green foliage in the F Sport, its Sport S+ drive mode made the steering delightfully heavy. Our inputs grew more deliberate as the right pedal got closer to the floorboard. The ES made us want to drive all 444 miles of the NTP as fast as possible. It’s too bad the sections we drove through had a 40-mph speed limit.

2019 Lexus ES Safety

Every 2019 ES comes standard with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0. Its many features include 10 airbags, automatic high beams, Lane Departure Alert with steering assist and road edge detection, and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Road Sign Assist. The Pre-Collision System can still detect oncoming vehicles, but now it can also detect bicyclists during the day and pedestrians in low-light situations. Another new feature is Lane Tracing Assist, which is able to sense lane markings to keep the ES in its lane. If there aren’t any road markings in place, LTA can, in certain conditions and when the radar cruise control is operating, make the ES follow the car ahead of it.

2019 Lexus ES Overall

We’ve read each part of Lexus’s Future Chapter and we’re hooked. The newest development in its story going forward, the 2019 ES, is a real page-turner. It has all of the qualities that made the previous ES so lovable and successfully combines those with more engaging, driver-focused attributes. We expect the base price to be around $39,000. Official pricing will be released closer to launch, which will be in September. That’s when you’ll be able to learn even more about the 2019 Lexus ES at an AutoNation-affiliated Lexus dealership.

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