Review: 2015 Lexus ES 350
The Lexus ES 350 is one of the top selling luxury sedans in the country. Why? We tested it to see if it lives up to the sales hype.
Under the Hood
The 2015 Lexus ES 350 features a standard 3.5-liter 6-cylinder engine that produces a respectable 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque. That power runs through a 6-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission to the front wheels. Drivers can customize their experience behind the wheel using the brand’s Mode Select to choose a driving mode. ECO mode makes adjustments to maximize fuel economy while Sport mode sharpens the ride for a more engaging experience. Normal mode is designed to strike a balance between the two.
The ES 350 shares enough characteristics with other Lexus vehicles you know it is part of the family. It does this while managing just enough uniqueness to stand alone as its own machine; and, it does so nicely. The IS and ES lines were designed to satisfy two different customers in the same category which Lexus refers to as entry-luxury. The IS is for the sport luxury customer while the ES is for those looking for flagship luxury in a more affordable package.
If the IS turns heads as a looker like the athlete who happens to have model looks, the ES garners a more refined appreciation like the character actor who regularly gets cast as a handsome man. It has the solid good looks of a vehicle that belongs at the top of the marque.
The front end of the ES 350 bears the distinctive hourglass shaped Lexus grille as well as the brand’s L-shaped LED daytime running lights. Smooth sheet metal down the sides whisper sophistication while the rear glass slants just enough to give a coupe-like profile. We found the ES to be, depending on the angle you are viewing, unremarkable at times and striking at others.
The inside of the ES 350 was comfortable. All four seats were road trip comfortable and offered plenty of legroom and hip room. Head room in the rear seats was good, even with the raked rear glass. The front seat headroom, especially for the driver was not great. Both of our test drivers are average height and both remarked on the low roof. We did not bump heads or scrape them while seated, we just constantly had the feeling the roof was lower than it should be. Think of the tall guy who is not tall enough to bump the top of the doorway, but is tall enough to duck in self-preservation every time he walks through one.
Leather trimmed seats also contributed to the feeling of luxury and is an available option. Lexus’s NuLuxe is now standard across ES trim lines. NuLuxe is a leather option we have found in other Lexus vehicles to be comfortable and close enough to leather in appearance and feel we never gave it much thought.
The ES 350 features the Lexus Enform infotainment system that is accessed via a vibrant 8” screen. The screen is beautifully integrated into the leather wrapped dash mounted as high as it can be without sitting atop the dash. The screen is within the driver’s sight line of the road ahead so as to make operation of the system as safe as possible.
Adding to the level of safety, Lexus forgoes a touchscreen for their delightful remote touch controller. The controller is console mounted and quickly and easily allows the driver to manipulate the system while their hand rests in a natural position—think of it as a really ergonomically sound computer mouse to control all of the car’s systems.
Redundant audio and HVAC controls are mounted just below a lovely analog clock and vents that butt against the screen. The analog controls are ones we have seen before in other Lexus vehicles, and are a feature we always look forward to. Their sophisticated simplicity and understated refinement don’t scream luxury as much as they politely let you discover it for yourself.
We also regularly look forward to the cabin layout of each Lexus vehicle. Unlike every other one of the marque’s vehicles we have driven which seem to be preternaturally formed with our comfort in mind, the ES 350’s cabin left us wanting. Fit and finish was superb as always, as were the materials; however, the layout of the console area felt a bit off.
The center console and the armrest atop its storage bin seemed too large for the space. It was wide enough to make anything but using it as an armrest awkward. One of two cupholders mounted in the console required either contortionist’s skill or a second elbow to reach. The other was awkwardly set in a slanted area at the front of the console that was a reach for the driver. The width of the console put the infotainment remote just far enough away so it was not a natural resting position.
Driving the ES 350 is the exact driving experience we have come to expect any time we drive a Lexus. There was plenty of power when it was needed, but it wasn’t in-your-face sporty. Steering, braking, and acceleration were smooth with just the right amount of feedback with the Mode Select set in Normal mode.
Sport mode was just as advertised. Steering was tightened while throttle response and the transmission were sharpened. We typically enjoy the feeling of quickness the Sport mode produces; and, while it was enjoyable, that sharpness felt a bit alien in the ES 350. The ES is a vehicle made for cruising to your destination and arriving there in style. Attempts at sportiness should be left to the IS.
Important Numbers for Families
- 21/31 – The EPA estimated fuel economy is right in line with what we experienced for city driving but on the highway we hovered around 27-28 mpg. Honestly, we expected more from the ES when it comes to city driving and frequently found it unable to get over 19 mpg while we were running errands.
- 2016 – Lexus has redesigned the ES 350 for 2016 making it more aggressive and matching its styling to the rest of the Lexus model line. If fascia doesn’t make a big difference to you, look for prices to begin dropping on the 2015 model toward the end of autumn.
Family 5 Test
- Car Seats – While the ES 350 is a sedan, it’s not exactly child-friendly. Sure there are two seats that work for car seats but the ES purposefully skews to a more mature audience.
- Coffee Cups – Meh. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Nothing exciting here. They’re functional but nothing to write home about.
- Luggage – Given how small the trunk lid is, you’ll probably be surprised what you can fit into the ES 350’s rear cargo space. We found enough for a week-long trip for two with plenty of room for the case(s) of wine we brought back as souvenir(s).
- Golf Clubs – Use your best geometry practices and see if you can fit your golf sticks in the back before you purchase the vehicle if golfing is high on your priority list. For some longer armed folks, it may be a tight squeeze.
- Groceries – The Lexus cargo net once again showed its worth when it came to grocery shopping with the ES 350. While the trunk space is abundant in some respects, it is deep which can send your cans of tomatoes into a position more easily reached by lowering the second row seating.
The Bottom Line
The ES 350 is a good no muss no fuss option for someone who wants a solid performer with a level of luxury. It’s only good though with just enough quibbles to keep it from being great. The consensus among testers was to buy a similarly equipped Toyota Avalon, visit Nagoya with the ten grand you saved, and explain to the designers why you went with the Toyota.