The Lexus ES has a long history that stretches back to 2007, and it has seen plenty of ups and downs in that time. In 2019, it followed in the footsteps of its Toyota platform-mates in getting a redesign that brought in a lower, wider, and sportier look. Though it looks better than ever, it still struggles to shake those Toyota roots. Can it overcome this to give buyers a legit alternative to the Audi A6 or Mercedes E-Class?
I spent a week in the range-topping 2020 Lexus ES 350 Ultra Luxury to find out.
There is no denying Lexus’ revamped lineup stands out in the luxury space, and the ES 350 is one of the newest of the bunch, having debuted in 2019.
Of course, the 2020 ES 350 boasts all the traditional Lexus styling bits we’re used to, including its massive spindle grille, sharp headlights, striking check mark daytime running lights, wraparound taillights, and more. But the ES takes a more timid approach to better appeal to its older demographic.
Let’s be honest with ourselves — Lexus is not marketing the ES 350 Ultra Luxury to young executives. This rig is primed for long coastline road trips with a retiree behind the wheel. And we’re cool with that.
Lexus embraces this with a sleek design that includes a long hood, a swoopy roofline, and a C-pillar that reaches deep into the rear fenders. Matching this sleek silhouette is equally sleek sheet metal down the sides with limited creases and lines, unlike its more youth-focused siblings, the GS and IS.
Despite its focus on pleasing the older crowd, there is still something uniquely sexy about the ES 350 Ultra Luxury. Maybe it is just the fact that it oozes luxury or perhaps it was the sharp Sunlit Green paint job my tester had.
Inside, the ES 350 is less impressive with its recessed dashtop infotainment screen, chunky steering wheel, and relatively bland dash styling. This is one sedan that feels older on the inside than it looks on the outside.
While it may not have looked impressive inside, the 2020 ES 350 felt impressive behind the wheel. The seats were super supportive, outside noise was kept to a dull hum at the most, the steering was weighted perfectly, and the ride was nothing short of sublime. It felt like a big luxury rig.
Though Lexus intends this big rig for empty nesters, it still has ample rear seat room with up to 39.2 inches of rear legroom. This is more than enough for the grandkids or to haul your fellow retirees to the local IHOP for a cup of Joe and a short stack.
Features & Tech
The 2020 ES 350 Ultra Luxury lives up to its name with tons of features and tech. This includes semi-aniline leather upholstery, rear sunshades, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a booming Mark Levinson audio system, navigation, heated and ventilated seats, and much more.
The audio system was of particular note because I often find every little flaw in them. This one was very well-balanced. Even at full volume, it filtered the buzziness out, allowing the highs to remain crisp and the bass to thump with the best of them.
It also has all the required safety gizmos, like adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and more. Plus, at nearly 200 inches long, this can be a tough rig to back into a space, but with its 360-degree camera, it was a cinch.
The infotainment interface is typical Lexus garbage with the finicky touchpad that likes to force the cursor to hop all over the place. Lexus has started to finally work on this, and I got my first taste of it in the new RX — but more on that in my future review.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The 2020 Lexus ES 350 gets its bite from a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that cranks out 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. This power flows through an eight-speed automatic transmission on its way to the front wheels for a 6.6-second 0-to-60 sprint time. While that is not too quick for this class, this V-6 engine delivers this zippiness with no complaining, making it feel much more powerful than it really is.
Handling is not as terrible as one may think this big sedan would be. It holds pretty well at around 60 percent, but things can get a little hairy if you have to make quick adjustments. The key to driving this luxury sedan with a little spirit is knowing your intentions and picking the right spots.
Fuel economy is OK for a V-6-powered luxury car at 22 mpg city, 32 highway, and 26 combined. It is especially good for long road trips with its eight-speed transmission that keeps the revs low at highway speeds.
What Would I Do?
I am not going to lie; I had a blast behind the wheel of the ES 350. I felt spoiled in this big luxury sedan, but paying over $43,000 for a loaded up Toyota Avalon is a bit of a bummer. Fortunately, I can look past the badge and see the value in this midsize Lexus, so I was OK with it. Some buyers, though, may not be as willing to look past its evident Toyota roots.
For those buyers, you may want to take a peek at the Volvo S90, Audi A6, or Mercedes E-Class. But keep in mind that with its Toyota roots, you get a lot of bang for your buck, so you’ll spend a lot more to get one of these rigs with the same equipment.