2021 Lexus ES

By January 6, 2021

The 2021 Lexus ES isn’t the most expensive vehicle in its family, but it may be the most talented. It’s a luxury car; it’s a family sedan; it’s a high-economy hybrid. It’s also sleek-looking, spacious, and on the cutting edge of safety.

The 2021 model enhances its appeal with a new ES 250, the name denoting a 2.5-liter, 203-horsepower 4-cylinder model that gets an 8-speed automatic and standard all-wheel drive. All but the new model now get standard blind-spot monitors as well.

Lexus continues to offer two other powertrains with the ES, one conventional and one hybrid. The latter option uses the same 2.5-liter 4-cylinder found in the ES 250 but pairs it with an electric motor and small battery. Output is up slightly to 215 horsepower.

The most popular option is the ES 350, which employs a 3.5-liter V-6 that puts out 302 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. Like the ES 250, it uses an 8-speed transmission and comes standard with front-wheel drive.

Of these choices, the hybrid leads in fuel efficiency by a wide margin with its EPA-rated 43 mpg city, 44 highway, 44 combined. The ES 250 is behind it at 25/34/28 mpg; the ES 350 ranks last with its EPA-rated 22/32/26 mpg.

Standard active-safety features include automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and adaptive cruise control.

Regarding crashworthiness, the NHTSA gave the ES five stars overall and four stars for frontal collision and rollover. The IIHS named the ES a Top Safety Pick+, but the designation only applies to models equipped with the costliest LED headlights; otherwise, the IIHS gives the ES top marks in crash testing but doesn’t award it the prestigious accolade.

Model Lineup

The ES remains an unbeatable value among proper mid-size luxury sedans. The base ES begins at $40,925 for either a 250 or 350 model or $42,835 for a hybrid. Both models come standard with dual-zone climate control, 10-way power front seats, synthetic leather upholstery, 10-speaker audio, a sunroof, and 17-inch wheels.

Above the base model is the Luxury, which starts at $46,125 for either gas powertrain and $48,035 for the hybrid. Additional standard features include perforated leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, wood trim, and ambient lighting.

The $46,725 F Sport mixes in a dose of sportiness with its adaptive suspension, extra bolstering for the front seats, additional drive modes, and exclusive interior and exterior trim. This model isn’t available on the hybrid.

At the top of the heap is the $49,925 Ultra Luxury, which boasts accoutrements such as a 12.3-inch touchscreen with navigation, 18-inch wheels, semi-aniline leather upholstery, a hands-free trunk lid, and the adaptive suspension from the F Sport.

Exterior

Bashful styling doesn’t exist in the Lexus lineup. The ES is no exception. To our eyes, this is the most attractive interpretation of the current Lexus design language. The signature hourglass grille flows artfully into the hood. The bumper area below the thin headlights are clean and tasteful, with only the slimmest of air dams to break up the space.

The body sides are devoid of busy swoops and curves, instead keeping things interesting with mildly tapered door skins and fenders. This treatment visibly slims the car, making it appear lean and athletic.

Interior

Sporting a classy, ergonomic interior, the ES doesn’t betray its Toyota Avalon roots. There is no indication of its close relationship with the big Toyota sedan; nor is there any suggestion that the ES is the most affordable sedan in the lineup. First-class materials and build quality maintain an appropriate air of luxury.

Every ES uses an 8.0-inch or 12.3-inch touchscreen for infotainment purposes. Both systems work well enough now that Lexus incorporated the touchscreen to augment the console-mounted touchpad. Both screens include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as a number of USB ports.

Few cars in this price range are more comfortable than the ES. Quality upholstery and excellent bolstering are the standard here. Power adjustments make it easy to find a comfortable seating position; simply set it and forget it. And opting for the available heated and cooled functionality will make these seats even cozier than they already are.

The back seat spoils passengers with 39 inches of leg room and similarly ample knee, head, and shoulder room. Three adults won’t want to ride across the country back there, but an hour or two of sitting three across is easily manageable.

The trunk is the only aspect of the interior that isn’t completely praiseworthy. The 13.9 cubic feet of trunk space is shy of some other options in this segment. The standard split-folding rear seat helps mitigate this inconvenience.

Driving Impressions

The latest ES is the sharpest one yet when it comes to dynamics, but that’s a relative claim; the ES is still the quiet, coddling cruiser it has always been. It wafts with unperturbed ease, a leather-lined cruiser at heart. Potholes, expansion joints, even well-groomed dirt roads—the ES tackles it all without complaint.

That used to be the extent of the ES’s prowess, but handling has come a long way in recent years. This one can tackle corners with a competence that belies its front-drive roots. Enhancing the experience is the well-weighted steering and an 8-speed automatic that can snap off shifts without hesitation.

The F Sport dials all this up with adaptive dampers and more aggressive overall tuning. Expect the transmission to hold gears longer and the steering to come off as a smidge heavier. None of it sacrifices the inherent plushness that makes the ES such a pleasant commuter.

Of the powertrains, the 3.5-liter V-6 pairs best with the F Sport chassis. Its 302 horsepower gives the ES punchy acceleration off the line and plenty of high-speed passing power. This should be the choice for any speed junkie.

The 215-hp hybrid model is the way to go for those concerned about fuel economy. The EPA-rated 44 mpg combined outdoes most mid-size luxury sedans by a mile, and it pulls it off without sacrificing driveability. Speed hasn’t been culled from the hybrid either, as it still manages to get to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds despite its extra weight.

The new 203-hp 4-cylinder is the least refined option here, but that too is relative; it might look a bit underwhelming next to its brethren but is still very much an ES. Those on a budget shouldn’t consider this a consolation prize; it more than delivers on the ES’s main tenets of comfortable, cosseting luxury.

Final Word

Lexus has honed the ES into one of the most compelling luxury sedans this side of $50,000. For those who simply want a comfortable, competent sedan, the ES is an excellent choice. Our choice is a ES 350 F Sport, but the hybrid ES 300h might be a more appropriate choice for the average buyer.

 

—by Anthony Sophinos, with driving impressions from The Car Connection

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