At some point we’ll stop being surprised, but the 2019 Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid is yet another Lexus that brushes away its old crusty image and drab driving experience in favor of something more engaging and characterful. While the ES remains a comfortable and well-made large sedan that’s mechanically related to the front-wheel-drive Toyota Avalon, it also feels like it was engineered by the same people that crafted the superlative LC sports car and the latest LS luxury sedan. In short, it drives like a Lexus, which now means something entirely different then it did for so long.
Key changes to the suspension and the steering, relative to the last ES, results in a car that transmits far more information to the driver’s hands and seat of the pants (especially the ES 350 F Sport). For a full-size sedan with a giant back seat, it impressively manages to shrink around you.
The ES 350’s V6 engine is also new this year, boasting a whopping 302 horsepower at a price point where most luxury sedans have turbocharged 4-cylinders that produce somewhere in the mid 200-hp range. They’re also far smaller inside. Revisions to the ES 300h’s hybrid powertrain also nets an extra 4 miles per gallon for an exceptional 44 mpg in combined driving.
Now, there will be some who will lament this change in direction. As such, the mechanically similar and legitimately luxurious new Avalon may end up being more your cup of tea. In the long run, though, we think the new 2019 Lexus ES is a more competitive and just-plain better luxury sedan.
What’s New for 2019?
The Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid have been completely redesigned for 2019. Read more about what changed in 2018 vs 2019 Lexus ES: What’s the Difference?
What We Like
Huge back seat; standard safety tech; surprisingly sharp driving manners; powerful engine for the money; thrifty hybrid model
What We Don’t
Frustrating Remote Touch interface; all-wheel drive is unavailable; cabin feels somewhat confining
$39,600 — $44,135
The 2019 Lexus ES 350 comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine good for a robust 302 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. An 8-speed automatic and FWD are standard. Estimated fuel economy is 22 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg in combined driving. This lowers to 22 mpg city/31 mpg hwy/25 mpg combined in the F Sport.
The ES 300h hybrid features an electric motor, a nickel metal hydride battery pack located under the back seat and a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. Total system output is 215 hp. Estimated fuel economy is 43 mpg city/45 mpg hwy/44 mpg combined. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, you’d save $650 per year on average by going with the hybrid rather than the V6.
Standard Features & Options
Both the Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h are available in base, Luxury and Ultra Luxury trim levels. The ES 350 is also available as the F Sport.
Standard equipment on the base ES 350 ($39,600) and ES 300h ($41,410) includes 17-in wheels, bi-LED headlights, automatic highbeams, a sunroof, proximity entry and push-button start, forward-collision warning with pedestrian/bicycle detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, 8-way power front seats (with 2-way power lumbar), NuLuxe simulated leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, four USB ports, the Remote Touch infotainment system (an 8-in display, touchpad controller), 4G Wi-Fi, Lexus Enform emergency communications, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa connectivity, and a 10-speaker sound system with a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and HD and satellite radios.
The Premium package adds automatic wipers, heated and ventilated front seats, a power-adjustable steering wheel and driver memory settings. This package is included in all of the below packages.
The Luxury (ES 350 $42,255; ES 300h $44,065) includes the Premium package plus leather upholstery, heated mirrors, acoustic side glass, wood trim and ambient interior lighting.
The Ultra Luxury (ES 350 $43,250; ES 300h $45,060) adds all of the above plus an upgraded suspension, a handsfree power trunk, upgrade leather upholstery, manual rear side sunshades and a power rear sunshade.
Finally, the ES 350 F Sport ($44,135) includes the Premium package plus unique styling and interior trim, 19-in wheels, the Ultra Luxury’s upgraded suspension, enhanced engine noise, a digital gauge cluster (shared with the LC and other F Sport Lexus models) and sport seats. Exclusive options include an adaptive suspension and a sport steering wheel available with or without heating.
There are a multitude of stand-alone items available, but their availability depends on the region in which you live. Some may also only be available in conjunction with other options or packages.
These options include 18-in wheels, parking sensors, enhanced parking sensors with pedestrian detection and a surround-view parking camera system, a blind spot warning system, the hands-free power trunk, a panoramic sunroof, upgraded “Triple Beam” adaptive LED headlights, a head-up display, the power rear sunshade, wireless smartphone charging, a Mark Levinson audio system upgrade and a navigation system that brings with it a 12.3-in display for the Remote Touch system.
Every ES comes with an impressive list of safety features beyond the typical stability control, antilock brakes and 10 airbags. Standard accident avoidance tech includes forward-collision warning with pedestrian/bicycle detection and automatic emergency braking, an advanced lane-keeping assist system and a parking automatic braking system. Blind spot monitoring is optional.
The new ES has yet to be crash tested by a third party.
Behind the Wheel
Key changes to the suspension and steering design have yielded a luxury sedan that’s far more responsive and communicative. Yes it’s a big sedan, but in the F Sport at least, it manages to shrink around you. The 2019 ES feels fundamentally different when behind the wheel than past versions, a feel that is consistent with its pricier LS and LC siblings. The ES is still FWD, though, which results in some pulling from the steering wheel when aggressively sampling the 302-hp V6 (a sensation known as torque steer). AWD would correct this, but it’s not available — most competitors offer it and would be a benefit in snowier climates (or to further improve handling)
The hybrid version has a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine, it’s paired with an electric motor fed by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack mounted underneath the rear seat. Together, these components produce 215 horsepower, which is enough to scoot the ES 300h to 60 mph in a claimed 8.1 seconds.
In terms of the ride, we only tested the F Sport with the adaptive suspension option, and although we found it perfectly comfortable and well damped, you definitely do feel road imperfections more than in ES models of the past. Without driving a standard model we just don’t know if the latest ES will continue to offer the degree of comfort repeat customers have come to expect.
It will, however, offer the same impeccable cabin construction. The various new buttons, knobs and switches may not be made out of the same high-end glossy materials as those in the LS and the LC, but they move with the same rich fluidity. We also like the functionality of the deep center armrest bin, clever cupholders, available smartphone charging pad and separate smartphone holder.
We do not like, however, the Remote Touch interface that is standard on every ES. Its touchpad controls constantly frustrate, and although Apple CarPlay is thankfully now standard, the marriage between these Lexus and Apple systems is hardly happy, and certain functions such as selecting a Playlist are nearly impossible to accomplish. If there’s one reason to seriously think twice about the ES, it’s Remote Touch.
As far as the 300h hybrid is concerned, comfort is excellent, front and rear. The Lexus ES can be difficult to classify due to the disparity between its price and its size, but no matter what you might read elsewhere, this is a full-size car with lots of interior room. Normally, I’m not a fan of Lexus’s NuLuxe seat upholstery, but as long as it offers ventilation it’s usually an acceptable substitute for the real deal.
Aside from the observed fuel economy, the Lexus ES 300h meets or exceeds dynamic expectations. It’s not particularly rewarding to drive, of course, unless you strongly value comfortable seats, a serene cabin, and a mix of ride and handling that isolates you from lousy pavement while feeling secure and trustworthy when taking the road less traveled. In other words, this car is perfect for daily commuting and long road trips.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 Toyota Avalon — Also all-new for 2019 and mechanically related to the ES 350, the Avalon won’t offer the style, brand recognition or driving experience of its Lexus sibling. It will save you money, though.
2019 Buick LaCrosse — If the new ES 350 has become a little too sporty and less comfort-focused for your liking, the Buick LaCrosse is a handsome, well-made large sedan that can seriously be considered an ES alternative.
Used Lexus GS — If you’re looking for a used Lexus sedan with a little more driving verve, we’d suggest skipping a used ES and instead consider the GS. It’s a bit bigger, more luxurious, and yes, more engaging to drive.
If you don’t care about performance, seriously consider the hybrid. You should save enough on gas to earn back the 300h’s modest price premium within three years, while also making far fewer trips to the gas station. If you do care about performance, get the F Sport. It makes the ES feel like a junior LS, which is a very good thing.