We squeezed our oil straight out of live dinosaurs with our bare hands back then, if I recall correctly, and it was a simpler time; unencumbered with the level of gadgetry and electronic user interfaces of today. I believe the year was 2001
It was also the first time I’d seen a Lexus up close (or any luxury auto, for that matter). I liked it then and I like the vehicle to this day, give or take a few minor points.
Performance tweaks and enhanced handling compliment a serenely quiet cabin, and if upgraded with one of the option packages available the ES does a great job of capturing the spirit of the luxury the brand.
Why, let’s take this one here, for example – an ES 350 (the 350 is the gas-only trim of the vehicle, not to be confused with the ES 300h, which is a hybrid) with the company’s ‘Ultra Luxury package’.
The basics are these: the latest generation is a front-wheel drive sedan powered by a 6-cylinder engine that brings a potential 302 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque, now channeled by an 8-speed automatic transmission (the outgoing gen used a six-speed).
Riding on the company’s GA-K global platform, the ES is slightly lower and wider, and made stiffer with the addition of more high-strength steel throughout.
My test car, wrapped in a paint job called “Nightfall Mica” showed off the exterior changes the new platform ushers in, slimmed-down headlamps and more angling of the A and C pillars enhance the car’s low and sleek appeal.
Driving the ES is a great combination of smoothness and performance. Lexus all about the ride, and I can’t say I’ve ever driven any of their marques that didn’t stack up any of their German luxury competitors, but the 2019 ups the ante with a revised suspension at both front and rear.
It handles deftly, with the suspension and overall rigidity contributing to a maneuverable and responsive experience on the roads and in the curves, and improved power steering setup.
Lexus says that the changes to the steering have also allowed more adjustability of the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, which is a good thing.
And! While we’re while we’re on the subject, check out the wheel. Strongly reminiscent of the steering in Lexus’ LC halo coupe, as is the cluster with protruding, machined knobs for the drive-mode selector.
The interior is as expected with the ES, nearly flawless and well executed throughout. A two-tone treatment for the leather upholstery in the test car called “Chateau” was genuinely pleasant to look at, and the seat comfort is very good, especially the front row (rear seat passengers also get some additional room as part of the GA-K platform).
Put it all inside a magnificently quiet cabin and top it off with a Mark Levinson premium audio system resonating from 17 speakers (part of the aforementioned Ultra Luxury package), and the ES stands out as it intended to, as an introduction to the brand.
Overall, it isn’t hard to like most everything about the car, and really my big complaint is I don’t like the touchpad interface. I don’t know if I like the touchpad any less than the previous version of the company’s Remote Touch, but I don’t it more either; instead finding it fiddly and imprecise.
Also, entry and exit from the rear doors is a bit of a crunch for taller people, owing to the redesign.
While this isn’t the trim I would choose if I were buying (I’d get the hybrid ES 300h, because fuel econzo, know what I’m saying?) my test car made a solid case for itself.
The Ultra Luxury package on this one, which added everything I want for my entry-lux sedan, pushed that up by over ten grand, bringing the as-driven price of the test car to $61,701 (including freight and PDI)