by Jared Rosenholtz
Nothing exudes value like America's favorite midsize luxury sedan: the Lexus ES 350. Equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 engine, it kicks out 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque, driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. At first glance, the A-1 build quality of the ES 350 is unmistakable inside and out, and along with its smooth and easy ride style, reveals its refined underpinnings and solidifies its standing as the top-selling midsize luxury sedan in the US. However, that doesn't mean it remains unchallenged, with some rivals offering better handling dynamics and a more user-friendly infotainment system. Top competitors include the refined and accomplished luxury sport sedan 2018 Infiniti Q50, and the highly efficient Toyota Avalon with which the ES shares some relation. Still, with a starting price of $38,950 the Lexus ES is a worthy contender that checks most of the boxes required for this segment.
There have been minimal upgrades and adjustments for the 2018 models; the updated Lexus Enform interface is now installed, and a new Premier package provides a wide array of additional features such as heated seats and exclusive 17-inch wheels. Also added to this year's line up, are the Lexus Enform Safety Connect and Enform Service Connect bundles, which are now complimentary for the first ten years of ownership (a huge step up from last year's one-year trial period). The ES 350 hasn't received a major redesign since 2012, though.
A familiar sight on the roads, the ES 350 has a sculpted, sleek body with an assertive front end and bold grille that boasts LED headlamps and daytime running lights. Elegant curves culminate in a striking tail-light cluster. The standard ES 350 features 17-inch aluminum wheels (although 18-inch upgrades are available as an additional purchase), stainless-steel front and rear door scuff plates, and a power moonroof.
An overall height of 57.1 inches and a width of 71.1 inches makes this sedan a fraction larger than the Infiniti Q50, but smaller than its corporate sibling, the Toyota Avalon. The same applies to its length, which at 193.3-inches is standard for mid-size sedans. Although the Infiniti offers a slightly longer wheelbase, the 111 inches on the ES 350 is more than sufficient to promote a smooth ride. With the use of lightweight, high tensile strength steel and a unitized steel frame structure, the ES 350 weighs in at an average curb weight of 3,571 pounds, midway between the above-mentioned rivals.
The Lexus ES is available in one of ten exterior color options, which remain the same as the previous year, including Eminent White Pearl, Silver Lining Metallic, Caviar, Nebula Gray Pearl, Obsidian, Matador Red Mica, and Nightfall Mica. It should be noted that the Satin Cashmere Metallic exterior color option can be combined only with select interior options. The sleek and sophisticated design of the ES 350 is best complimented by either the Obsidian or Eminent White Pearl color options.
While most luxury sedans favor rear- or all-wheel-drive, the Lexus ES 350 does things differently, favoring a comfort bias and a front-wheel drivetrain. Power is sourced from a 3.5-liter V6 engine plating up 268 hp and 248 lb-ft, all managed by a six-speed automatic transmission. The ES 350 undertakes the 0-60 mph test in a rather lethargic 7.1 seconds. From a standing start, the Infiniti Q50 3.0T reached 60 mph in five seconds flat whilst the FWD Toyota Avalon managed the same in 6.5 seconds. The Toyota is fitted with the same 3.5-liter V6 engine and six-speed automatic setup as the Lexus ES 350, yet performs quite a bit better. Top speed for the Lexus ES 350 and Toyota Avalon is estimated at 130 mph, but both are electronically limited. The ES 350 wasn't designed to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, but rather in as much luxurious comfort as possible - topped with a little bit of class and style.
As a standalone model, the ES 350 is available with only a single powertrain setup based on a 3.5-liter V6 engine capable of producing 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. It is solely available as a front-wheel-drive and features an efficient six-speed automatic transmission. Even though these hp and torque numbers are relatively low for a luxury sedan, the ES 350 still manages to deliver the good when necessary, even if not vying for top performance honors.
The V6 engine maintains ample power and feels smooth and responsive overall, whether accelerating from a standstill or needing to power through a few gaps in traffic - as well as overtaking on the highway. This engine proves to be more than adequate for a luxury sedan and carries the ES 350 effortlessly. The default six-speed automatic transmission performs admirably throughout too, with fluent and precise shifts that remain in line with the engine's power delivery in any driving situation.
Luxury and comfort are what the ES 350 is all about, most prominently displayed in its smooth and tranquil ride quality. With the use of lightweight, high tensile steel in the framework, it presents excellent body rigidity, allowing suspension engineers to focus on outright comfort. The end product is a serene ride that feels pretty close to perfect.
The front suspension employs opposite-wound coil springs to help enhance straight-line stability. It also effectively neutralizes any jitteriness caused by rougher road surfaces. Bumps and ruts are also nicely absorbed, and owing to the long-wheelbase the chassis remains settled over undulations. There's not much feedback through the wheel, but with light steering, the ES 350 is easy to pilot around turns, responding acutely to inputs and instilling trust in the driver. While a fine-tuned suspension provides ample handling prowess, many competitors do offer better handling and a sportier drive overall.
If you're looking for a bit more performance from your luxury sedan then you'll be glad to know that the ES 350 features an innovative drive mode select that can adapt to suit your needs. Activating the Sport Mode will increase steering and throttle response for a cheekier driving feel, whilst the ECO Mode optimizes efficiency and draws a little less power from the engine.
Gas mileage estimates from the ES 350 aren't too impressive, receiving EPA estimates of 21/30/24 mpg on the city/highway/combined driving cycles respectively. Identical to the Avalon's gas mileage, these estimates are a little below average for the segment. Many rivals come with smaller, more fuel-efficient base engines as opposed to the large 3.5-liter V6 engine in the ES 350. Regular 87 octane unleaded gas is recommended for use in the 17.2-gallon fuel tank, which allows for a total range of 413-miles under varied driving conditions. There is a hybrid version of the ES 350 (which we review separately) for the more environmentally conscious as well as those prioritizing fuel economy.
Although the ES 350 is one of the more affordable luxury sedans on the market, Lexus still manages to deliver exceptional build merit along with high-quality materials and luxurious surfaces overall; this culminates in a modern interior that exudes class and comfort. The cabin is spacious throughout, and ample room in the rear is a highlight of the ES 350. The seats are well-cushioned and supportive enough for comfortable all-day driving, however, the optional heating and cooling feature in the front seats prove ineffective. Most physical controls are ergonomically laid out, but the optional Remote Touch controller is a joystick-like knob that makes operating the infotainment system difficult and distracting for the driver.
The Lexus ES 350 seats a maximum of five occupants in luxurious comfort. Ingress and egress require some effort due to the low, sleek design, but it is otherwise easy to live with on a day to day basis. The driver is positioned with ample all-around outward visibility and in easy reach of the steering wheel, pedals, and controls. The ten-way power-adjustable front seats and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel make it easy for driver's of all shapes and sizes to find an optimal position in the pilot seat. Head- and legroom is sufficient throughout the cabin and legroom in the rear remains unhindered by the positioning of the front seats. Taller occupants may experience a little discomfort with the optional panoramic sunroof equipped as headroom is slightly diminished by a sloping roofline, but it only impedes minimally into what can best be described as a cavernous amount of headspace.
There is a wide range of interior colors and material options available for the ES 350, including Black, Parchment, Stratus Gray, and Flaxen, which can be had in NuLuxe or genuine leather. Noble Brown is only available in the synthetic leather option. Depending on the color and materials selected, the trim and finishes can be featured in Piano Black, Espresso Bird's-eye Maple, Matte Honey Bamboo or Linear Dark Mocha wood. The majority of surfaces are plush and well-padded, covered with soft-touch materials, and featuring seats in perforated leather or NuLuxe faux leather with contrast stitching.
The ES' trunk measures 15.2 cubic feet, which would easily fit a family-sized household's monthly shopping. While that capacity is average for the segment, the utility is hampered by the non-folding rear seats, leaving you only one trunk configuration to work with. The middle rear seat does feature a ski pass-through that slim, longer items could fit through. Ultimately, the ES 350 is not really versatile, and while that might not be the prime consideration for a midsize sedan, it may have a bearing on your decision.
In-cabin storage is fairly decent, with wide door pockets in the front doors, two concealed cup holders between the front seats, and a cavernous center console below the center armrest which also features a small removable tray. The glove box is rather slim, although deep and could manage to hold a tablet or thin purse. In the rear cabin are two cup holders set in the center fold-down armrest, and two seatback map pockets.
The ES 350 comes equipped with an extensive range of features, which is expected of a standalone model. Notable features include a color LCD multi-information display with Meter Link, and dual-zone climate control with interior air filters, a smog sensor, and an automatic recirculation mode. Additionally, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, backup camera, SmartAccess with push-button Start/Stop, drive mode selector, rain-sensing windshield wipers with de-icer and a power moonroof are included on every vehicle. Perforated front seats are ten-way adjustable, and the Lexus Enform Safety Connect emergency communications system is installed as standard. This incorporates forward collision warning and mitigation system, adaptive cruise control, and a lane departure warning with intervention.
The infotainment system is a little dated in the ES, featuring an eight-inch display with a multipurpose control knob. It is calibrated to incorporate voice commands and Bluetooth capability, Scout GPS Link with MapStream and TurnStream, and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player and satellite radio. This system does not support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality but does have Siri Eyes Free connectivity for a compatible iPhone which enables access to email and text messages. This also synchronizes your music collection to create customized playlists. In the center console, a 12-volt power outlet and dual USB ports are located for device charging, and a 12-volt power outlet in the rear cabin is located behind the center console. An available 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound upgrade equips an 835-watt system for enhanced audio enjoyment.
J.D. Power awarded the 2018 Lexus ES 350 with an above-average predicted reliability score of four out of five, where most new vehicles receive on average three out of five. No recalls have been commissioned by Lexus, and no complaints have been logged for the 2018 variants.
Lexus offers the buyer a four-year/50,000-mile basic limited warranty with roadside assistance for four-years/unlimited miles. The powertrain and restraint system is covered for six-years/70,000-miles and corrosion perforation protection is covered for six-years, regardless of mileage.
The NHTSA scored the ES 350 at a five-star overall crash-test rating, while the IIHS evaluated the ES 350 and rated it as good, the highest ranking available, for all crash tests. Awarding the ES 350 as its Top Safety Pick in the midsize luxury car segment for 2018, the IIHS is confident of the vehicle's capabilities overall.
Safety features include a total of ten airbags situated throughout the cabin, as well as standard driver assistance features such as a rearview backup camera, adaptive cruise control, vehicle stability control, automatic high beams, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and the Lexus Enform Safety Connect system which adds automatic collision notification and emergency services request. The standard pre-collision warning program consists of a forward-collision warning system, automatic emergency braking, and pedestrian detection.
The Lexus ES 350 has been masterfully equipped to deliver exactly what it was designed to, which is an exemplary driving experience for families or executives. It does so at a very competitive price as well, featuring great value for money relative to competing entry-level luxury sedans. With a comprehensive selection of vehicle and safety features as standard, along with a host of advanced driver-assist elements, whatever isn't included off-the-floor can be added by means of additional packages. It is reasonably fuel-efficient for its class, and the vehicle delivers smooth and easy driving during most conditions. The build quality is superior inside and out, and its spacious cabin has been designed with sleek, modern styling and luxurious materials throughout. Overall the Lexus ES 350 is a great everyday commuter and proves to be a pleasant place to spend extended amounts of drive-time. Although other sedans may offer superior handling dynamics and a sportier drive, the ES holds its own for supreme comfort. At the price point of the ES 350, rivals struggle to deliver as much luxury and comfort.
The 2018 Lexus ES 350 has a starting MSRP of $38,950 excluding delivery, processing and handling fees of $1,025 and exclusive of tax, licensing, registration, and any dealer specific incentives. There are no varying trim levels and no optional engine or transmission alternatives, but the manufacturer does offer some additional bundles and features for purchase.
The 2018 ES 350 is a standalone model equipped with almost everything expected from an entry-level luxury sedan. It has a very capable 3.5-liter V6 engine under the hood, which produces a compelling 268 hp and 248 lb-ft delivered to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. Standard on the ES 350 you'll find SmartAccess with push-button Start/Stop, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, ten-way power-adjustable perforated front seats, and rain-sensing windshield wipers with a de-icer function. Standard entertainment and comfort elements include an eight-inch display tethered to a default eight-speaker sound system all of which functions are operated via a multipurpose control knob. To keep occupant comfort and mood high, it is also fitted with a power moonroof and features dual-zone automatic climate control.
3.5-liter V6 Gas
There are various optional packages and accessories available for the Lexus ES 350, including a $1,495 Navigation Package which equips the sedan with a multimedia color display Navigation system with Enform App Suite. This comes with a one-year complimentary subscription to Lexus's Enform Remote Touch and Destination Assist. The Navigation/Mark Levinson Premium Audio Package is also available and includes features from the previous package as well as a Mark Levinson 15-speaker, 835-watt premium surround-sound audio system with Clari-Fi technology, for $2,615.
The exclusive Premier Package cost an extra $1,480 and allows for the inclusion of Espresso Bird's-eye Maple, Bamboo or Linear Dark Mocha wood interior trim in the cabin. It also equips a leather steering wheel that can power-adjust for rake and reach, and provides remote keyless entry, heated and ventilated front seats, and 17-inch split-ten-spoke alloy wheels. Another option is the Luxury Package, which can be installed for a further $1,670 and tops the features from the Premier package with embossed-stitch perforated leather-trimmed interior, and a wood-trimmed console. Finally, the $3,500 Ultra Luxury Package equips the Sedan with all features from the Premier and Luxury Packages as well as embossed-stitch perforated semi-aniline leather interior trim, a power rear sunshade with manual rear-door sunshades, panorama glass roof, drivers-seat power cushion extender, ambient interior lighting, and Lexus Memory System for the front passenger's seat.
On the grounds that the Lexus ES 350 is a standalone model, there is no selection of trim options to decide from. The existing model is comprehensively equipped although any of the customization options are beneficial in terms of adding convenience and luxury features. We'd recommend upgrading with a couple of packages, namely the Premier Package for a power adjustable steering wheel and heated/ventilated seats, as well as the Mark Levinson sound upgrade - if you're going for luxury you may as well go all out.
Both the Lexus ES 350 and Toyota Avalon are fitted with the same 3.5-liter V6 engine, kicking out 268 hp and 248 lb-ft, and are built on the same FWD platform, sharing many similarities. Both vehicles also offer an exceptional ride quality and comfort-oriented drive, though the Toyota may deliver a slightly sportier feel versus the Lexus's comfort bias. The Avalon is flawed in the indifferent placement of some controls and the overuse of cheaper materials which are glaringly obvious throughout the cabin. The ES 350 does a better job of concealing hard-touch areas and presenting a more plush interior. The Avalon is available in a range of trim options, some more affordable than the Lexus. As both vehicles are very similar, it comes down largely to preference, and the fact that overall, the ES 350 is simply much more refined. The ES is better but is more expensive, so if you're budget conscious the Avalon will suit you just fine.
For those looking for a sporty, performance-based sedan, the Infiniti Q50 is undoubtedly going to be a better choice over the ES 350. At only a slight price jump, the mid-level LUXE trim in the Infiniti range has access to a larger and more powerful turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine which produces 300 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. Paired to a seven-speed automatic gearbox, the Q50 is also available in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, whereas drivetrains options are limited to one variant in the Lexus sedan. On the other hand, the stronger, faster engine on the Q50 implies a less fuel-efficient vehicle in the long run. The Q50 also strives to provide an image of comfort and quality, although we feel the ES 350 pulls this off in a much more effective, natural manner. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Lexus carries a reputation for style and good quality vehicles in general. The infotainment system in the Q50 is a little more intuitive than the ES 350s, but not by much. Based purely on performance, the Q50 is the better option. We remain unconvinced of its superiority when it comes down to overall quality, however, and if comfort and quality are up your alley, the Lexus can't be beaten.