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Lexus ES review: The best used small luxury car


We reviewed the 2019 Lexus ES350 with the F Sport trim. And, well, well … it looks like the ES has traded staid and anonymous from past models for truculent and extroverted in the 2019 version. In F Sport trim or otherwise, this generation of ES looks much better than those that came before it. Our test car, which was finished in Ultrasonic Blue Mica livery coupled with 19-inch smoked graphite wheels, especially so. The spindle grille is the only polarizing part of the exterior styling; some love it while others find it garish and off-putting. Whatever camp you fall into, there’s no denying that Lexus has a handsome sedan on its hands.

Is the Lexus ES a good car?

The ES350 is an excellent small luxury car, and it’s never been more engaging to drive. But the bigger wheels and tires, plus a set of paddle shifters, do not a sports sedan make. While we might have expected a more responsive driving experience from our tester car, it does lean towards the more aggressive side of the spectrum than ever.

But guess what? We’re good with that.

Except for the LFA and RC F/GS F hardcore sports cars, Lexus isn’t about bouncing off the curbing at our local racetrack or chasing Porsches down our favourite backroad. With that in mind, we think Lexus nailed the balance of providing all the hallmarks people expect from its vehicles: extreme refinement and comfort with just the right amount of spice added. 

Does it look familiar? Is the ES similar to the Toyota Avalon?

Park the two side by side, and the kinship is obvious. They share the same mechanical bits, from the drivetrain to the brakes to the suspension components, amongst other stuff. After test driving both cars, we were surprised at how much the Avalon has closed the gap on its upmarket sibling. Yet the Lexus badge demands more luxury than a Toyota would, so the ES has parts that are more befitting of its premium placement. 

Both interiors look to be pretty nice places to be. What’s different?

In the Lexus, the materials feel a little more premium, the leather bits just a little softer. Both have incredible audio systems, but again, we’d give the edge to Lexus for sounding incrementally clearer and richer. 

When it comes to the dashboard layout, it’s hard to fault the Avalon’s sharp and simple analogue layout, but we give the nod to the ES with its LFA-mimicking sliding tachometers and the way it changes its look as you escalate driving modes from “normal” to “sport” and all the way up to “sport +.” We normally prefer a crisp needles-and-dials setup like the Avalon’s, but it’s hard to fault the digital readouts in the ES350. 

There is one area where the Avalon emerges as the clear winner over its upmarket corporate stablemate, however, and that’s the infotainment system. The Avalon is a straight shooter, using a combination of buttons and a touchscreen that works so well you might never need to consult your owner’s manual to figure it out. The ES350 uses the same Remote Touch method employed in most Lexus vehicles, and it’s just as frustrating to use. We did get used to it over the course of our test, but we would still have to take our eyes off the road to perform simple tasks like changing the radio station. 


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