Sometimes, you just want someone else to take care of everything.
And if your car can do that, all the better, right? For me, luxury isn’t about being pampered. What good is a million dollar interior if the car’s navigation gets you lost?
I’m not alone. Buyers are increasingly asking for convenience, intuitive technology and for cars to do things the way they want as if there were a human assistant in the passenger seat (even when there is a human in the seat next to you— one who is useless at navigation and finding a radio station). Lexus is listening and the 2019 ES350 shows it.
Who This Car is For
- Singles or couples who want a luxury car
- Buyers who want the Lexus dealership experience
- Buyers who want the reliability of a Lexus
- Drivers who may have rear seat passengers and need space for them
- Drivers who love a luxury car but also occasionally want a fun, sporty drive experience
- Dog owners who want rear climate control and a roomy back seat for their pup
What This Car Costs
- Lexus ES 350 base price, including the new infotainment system $36,900
- Luxury edition, $42, 255
- Ultra-luxury edition which adds premium leather, wood accents, and ambient lighting: $43,250
- Upgrade to hybrid, $1,810
The Big News in the New Lexus: A New and Much Improved Infotainment System
Lexus has long been a proponent of a mouse-driven infotainment system. There are distinct advantages to a system like this: the screen can be placed so that it’s easy to for your eyes to adjust as you glance back and forth between the road and the screen, the screen doesn’t suffer from glare and you don’t suffer from all those hideous fingerprints on the screen.
I love this.
But the prior system’s mouse-driven operation was a challenge. It could be clunky to use and take some time to master, and even though sensitivity settings can be customized, the cursor could be jumpy. Finding the function you wanted could require your full attention, not what you want when you’re driving.
The new touchpad system is much more intuitive and exacting; it was easy to find and select the things I wanted on the touch screen, to scroll around and to roll through the menus. When the cursor was near an option it ‘popped’ right to it so I could be less exacting and still on target with my touchpad navigation. And, buttons allow you to select the map, the menu or to go back a step quickly.
Another Huge New Feature: Safety Systems Designed For the Future of Driving
We are seeing new safety features added to cars all the time, and while they are certainly great for safety, they are just as much about the future of driving. These automatic, smart, sensitive systems can help you drive better with less stress and more control to protect the people, animals and things around us.
Lexus parent company Toyota has been a proponent of innovating and bundling safety systems in new cars so that drivers can learn to implement them as they become accustomed to all the new tech in a car, and that eventually when these systems combine to create autonomous driving, we’re used to them.
And, there’s the pure safety factor: these systems prevent crashes and injuries.
Among the features in the Lexus Safety System + in the ES 350 are:
- Pedestrian detection, even in low light
- Surround view camera
- Bicyclist detection
- Rear cross traffic alert
- Road sign assist
- Lane trace assist
- Automatic high beams
- Lane change assist
- Blind spot monitoring
- Stability control
Apple Car Play. Finally!
We have been waiting for this for a while (and sorry Android users, you’ll have to wait a bit longer). Apple Car play has finally been added to the app suite. Simply plug in your phone via USB and Car Play is displayed in the infotainment selections. Select it and you can send and answer texts, play a Spotify playlist, make calls and navigate via Apple Maps, which is a great thing.
Even though the Lexus ES350 Ultra Luxury edition includes navigation, I prefer Apple Maps. You can send destinations to your phone then select them in Apple Car Play. Your destinations are stored on your phone, so if you set a destination while you were on the train and now you’re driving there, it’s still in the app. Best of all, systems upgrade with your phone, not your car, so improvements are regular and seamless.
Spoiler Alert: The Refined Interior Is Designed to Spoil
Here’s the thing about luxury: When you expect it, you really expect it. You expect premium materials, smart design, and intuitive technology. The redesigned Lexus ES hits all these points. In addition to the redesigned touch-pad infotainment system, the new interior of the ES offers more comforts and technology as well as refined details, including:
- Leather upholstery on the seats, panels, and armrests
- An elegant color palette that lends a light feeling to the cabin: Chateau beige leather keeps things light while dark carpets hide dirt and a dark dashboard makes illuminated buttons and screens easy to see
- A refined steering wheel design with wood inserts (I really love the hefty feeling of the wood and leather steering wheel)
- Normal, sport and eco drive modes, which are are on a selector to the right of the driver information cluster
- A wider panoramic sunroof
- Head up display with road sign assist—it reads the speed limit signs!
- Two USB ports up front (before they were in the armrest) one in the armrest and two for rear seat passengers—YAY
- New modern-feeling graphics on the drivers information screen and infotainment screen
- A wider, more modern infotainment screen
- Apple Car Play
- Premium Mark Levinson sound system keeps the cabin filled with your favorite music
A Refined and Modern Look on the Outside
Probably one of the most prominent elements of the new Lexus ES350 is the muscular but elegant exterior design. Lexus designers have given the sedan a sharper, edgier look with crisp lines, distinct details and a unique angled, vertical front grille. The car’s silhouette, from the front hood to the rear spoiler, has a new and more elegant and classic look.
It’s the grille that I especially liked; I never got tired of looking at it. Framing the grille are the Lexus standard ‘lightening bolt’ headlights that dovetail with the angles of the grille, and running lights in the lower front bumper. Altogether, these elements create the look and feel of motion on the face of the ES.
The model we test drove was a color called Sonic Titanium, which gleamed despite the falling dust and raindrops. A paint that can take weather changes in stride and still look good is a brilliant thing.
Easy on the Road — Until It’s Time to Put it to the Test
The 2019 Lexus ES350 is equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that generates 302 horsepower and max torque of 362. This is a nice powerful engine for a car this size, meaning that it can be comfortably demure on most drives, such as sitting in traffic on the Thruway or enjoying the fall color along the Palisades Parkway. During much of my test drive, I found myself on roads like this. In urban and suburban highway driving I really appreciated the full stop adaptive cruise control: set the system and the ES comes to a full stop when traffic does. If you’re stopped for more than a few seconds, just tap the accelerator or hit the resume button to start moving again.
On those rare occasions (at least it seems rare) that the road ahead is empty of cars and full of curves, pop the Lexus into sport mode for a little more fun. The suspension and steering become more responsive and the engine pushes a little more power into the lower gears. Paddle shifters add to the fun, especially on hilly roads.
And then, let the ES 350 do its thing for you, both on the fun curves and hills and on the crowded highways and city streets. Because that is the true meaning of luxury: Intuitively providing what you want, when you want it, or maybe even before you know.
What We Loved
- Hands-free power trunk
- Head up display
- Apple Car Play
- Newly redesigned infotainment system with touchpad control
- Multiple drive modes
- USB ports up front and two in the back
- Quiet, comfortable ride
- Panoramic Sun Roof
- Gorgeous new exterior design
- An abundance of safety features
- Adaptive cruise control with full stop
What You Need to Know
- Infotainment system can take time to learn
- Seating for 5, more comfortable for four
- Fuel economy: 22 MPG city/33 MPG highway
- Premium fuel recommended
Disclosure: Lexus provided the ES350 Ultra Luxury for this test drive; all opinions are 100% my own.