Lexus is on a mission to change its reputation. The automaker's current lineup is sportier than ever, and that includes the 2014 Lexus ES 350. But while the recently redesigned ES features more aggressive exterior styling than its predecessor, calling it a sports sedan would of course be a stretch. This front-wheel-drive, Camry-based cruiser is still focused on gliding over bumps and keeping the outside world at bay.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. Many drivers have no interest in sacrificing ride quality for sports-car performance. So if a smooth ride, ample space and luxurious comfort are your priorities in a sedan, the latest Lexus ES should be on your shortlist.
With a starting price well under $40,000, the 2014 ES 350 also offers excellent value. And although the hybrid-powered ES 300h tops the $40,000 mark by a few bucks, its superior 40-miles-per-gallon fuel economy will earn you most, if not all, of that money back over time. Throw in excellent retained value, and you have one of the best dollar-for-dollar luxury sedans on the road. Things may be changing at Lexus, but the ES continues to embody the company's traditional values.
What's New for 2014?
The ES receives LED fog lights and available bamboo trim across the lineup (previously limited to the ES 300h).
What We Like
Spacious, quiet and comfortable; excellent hybrid fuel economy; up-to-date technology; perfect crash-test scores
What We Don't
As exciting as a nap on the couch
The front-wheel-drive Lexus ES 350 is motivated by a familiar 3.5-liter V6 rated at 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic is the only transmission offered. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the ES 350 returns 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway.
The ES 300h features a hybrid gas/electric power system consisting of a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, an electric motor, a battery pack and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). This is the same system in the Camry Hybrid. Total output is 200 hp. EPA rates the ES 300h at a whopping 40 mpg city/39 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Lexus ES is offered in two trim levels -- the ES 350 with the conventional V6 and the ES 300h with hybrid power.
The ES 350 ($37,380) comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, dual exhaust tips, xenon headlights, LED running lights/fog lights/taillights, a sunroof, heated exterior mirrors with puddle lamps, keyless entry/ignition, synthetic leather upholstery (NuLuxe), piano-black interior trim, 10-way power front seats, three selectable driving modes (Normal, Eco, Sport), dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal garage door opener, a 3.5-in color driver information display, Bluetooth and an 8-speaker sound system with iPod/USB connectivity, a 6-CD changer and satellite radio.
The ES 300h ($40,260) gets different 17-in alloys, a concealed exhaust outlet, hybrid badging and hybrid-specific gauges and information displays.
Standalone options include a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure alert, a collision-mitigation system with adaptive cruise control, heated seats (NuLuxe upholstery only), a heated wood and leather steering wheel, bamboo interior trim, a power trunklid, parking sensors, a power rear sunshade and 18-in wheels.
The Navigation package adds voice recognition, a rearview camera, a hard-drive-based navigation system, Enform mobile-app integration, the mouse-like Remote Touch controller and an 8-in central display screen. This package can be bundled with the Mark Levinson audio system, which includes an 835-watt surround-sound setup with 15 speakers and DVD audio/video.
The Luxury package tacks on driver-memory functions, a power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, heated/ventilated seats and leather upholstery, while the Ultra Luxury package throws in ambient lighting, a driver-seat cushion extender and a panoramic sunroof.
Trunk space in the ES 350 is 15.2 cu ft, dropping to 12.1 cu ft in the ES 300h due to the rear-mounted battery pack.
The 2014 Lexus ES comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and eight airbags (front, front-side, front-knee, and full-length side-curtain). The Safety Connect telematics service includes emergency roadside assistance, a stolen vehicle locator and more.
The ES garnered perfect 5-star ratings across the board in government crash tests, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety likewise deemed the ES Good (the highest possible rating) in all tested categories.
Behind the Wheel
The ES's dashboard was overhauled last year, now featuring modern yet still classy lines with high-tech instrumentation. Material quality is very good, including exposed stitching on some surfaces. The available Remote Touch interface takes getting used to, but software refinements have made it easier to use.
The front seats provide adequate support, while rear-seat passenger space is exemplary, particularly with legroom. The standard NuLuxe upholstery looks nice enough and will likely hold up better over time; we'd consider skipping the optional real stuff.
Under the hood, the ES 350's tried-and-true V6 may just be a Camry transplant, but it's still a fantastic engine, ripping to redline with a velvety snarl when provoked. This may not be typical ES-driver behavior, but hey, it's nice to know that the performance is there. The ES 300h's hybrid system also comes from the Camry, but with 40 mpg on tap, it's still unique in the luxury segment -- and there's adequate power for freeway merging and the like.
On the road, the ES feels more responsive than ever, but that's not saying much. At heart, this Lexus remains a classic luxury car with a creamy, tranquil ride, and that's the way ES buyers like it. Frankly, we like it, too. With all the hubbub about cornering speeds and g-forces these days, it's refreshing to get into a car that's just about making you feel as comfortable as possible.
Other Cars to Consider
Cadillac XTS -- The big Caddy is more expensive than the Lexus, but you might find its expressive styling worth the stretch.
Toyota Avalon -- Priced lower than the ES, the roomy, stylish Avalon offers the same powertrains and many of the same features.
Hyundai Azera -- With all the bells and whistles, the Azera stacks up well with the ES 350 and costs less.
The 2014 ES 350 is a pretty good deal right out of the box. See if you can keep the price under $40,000 -- that's not much more than some top-of-the-line family sedans, and you're getting Lexus cachet and resale value, too.