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2020 Lexus ES 350 Review

Ron Sessions | Jun 22, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Lexus deals!

2020 lexus es350 front exterior shot

Photo: Ron Sessions

Nearly three decades after it was first introduced, the Lexus ES remains the brand’s top-selling sedan and third best overall after the RX and NX crossover sport-utilities. Now in its seventh generation, the Lexus ES received significant updates for the 2019 model year, including a new front-drive chassis, stiffer body and a move to the new Global Architecture-K platform. The Lexus ES shares much of its basic architecture with the Toyota Avalon while upgrading with significant premium comfort, convenience and technology features.

For the 2020 model year, Lexus adds a new F Sport version of the ES that’s aimed at broadening the sedan’s appeal to those buyers drawn to sportier, more performance-oriented competitors.

In 2019, the Lexus ES was the best-selling entry in the J.D. Power compact premium car segment. Major competitors include the Acura TLX, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Audi A4/A5, BMW 3-Series, BMW 4-Series, Genesis G70, Infiniti Q50, Kia Stinger, Lincoln MKZ, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Volvo S60 as well as the sportier rear-drive Lexus IS.

The test car for this review was a 2020 Lexus ES 350 F Sport model in Silver Lining Metallic and optioned with adaptive variable suspension, a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert, intuitive parking assist, a wireless charger, a head-up display, triple-beam LED headlamps, a power rear sunshade, navigation/Mark Levinson audio package, hands-free power trunk, illuminated sills, a trunk mat and cargo net. Including those options and the $1,025 destination charge, the 2020 Lexus ES 350 F Sport totaled at $53,590. 

What Owners Say - Find the best Lexus deals!

Before discussing the results of our evaluation of the Lexus ES, it’s useful to comprehend who buys this compact premium sedan, and what they like the most and least about it based on owner responses in the 2019 J.D. Power U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) study.

In the APEAL study, responding Lexus ES owners were older (average 67 years old vs 57 for the segment), more likely male (67 % vs 65 % for all compact premium owners), and had higher annual household income ($165,278 vs $150,146 for the segment) than premium compact sedan buyers in general. Interestingly, 42% of responding Lexus ES buyers were 70 years or older while just 22% of compact premium sedan buyers identified as in that age category. When asked to describe themselves, 32% of Lexus ES owners checked “practical buyer” while 44% of compact premium car respondents said “performance buyer.”

Revealing a decidedly practical side in purchase considerations, 87% of Lexus ES owners agreed that they would avoid a car they thought would incur high maintenance costs. Additionally, ES owners indicated that their first buying considerations were quality of workmanship (98%) and reliability (99%). 

Practical considerations aside, only 54% of ES buyers agreed that fuel economy was an important element in their purchase decision (vs 45% for the segment) and 90% of ES buyers agreed that they liked a car with responsive handling and powerful acceleration (vs 95% for compact premium buyers as a whole). Both Lexus ES buyers (85%) and compact premium buyers (86%) agreed that they like a car that stands out from the crowd.

Owners say their favorite things about the Lexus ES include its fuel economy, rear seat roominess, smooth ride and quietness while their least favorite aspects of the ES are its front appearance, acceleration, quality of hands-free calls, handling on curvy roads and the infotainment system.

What Our Expert Says - Find the best Lexus deals!

In the sections that follow, our expert shares his own perceptions and opinions about how the Lexus ES stacks up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2019 J.D. Power APEAL study.

Exterior

2020 lexus es350 exterior view

Photo: Ron Sessions

The appearance of the 2020 Lexus ES is unchanged from the 2019 model, which was all-new that year. Compared to the previous-generation 2018 ES, the 2020 model is longer, lower, wider and sleeker. Muscular fender bulges suggest an elevated level of athleticism. Showing a family resemblance to the Lexus LS flagship sedan, the 2020 ES is more sculpted and swoopier looking than previous designs with a coupe-like roofline sloping aggressively at the rear. Up front, the ES has a version of the LS’s daring, outsized spindle-shaped grille that’s more proportionally pleasing and integrated into the overall design than on some other Lexus models such as the RX crossover.

Compared to the 2018 model, the current ES’s 2-inch longer wheelbase moves the wheels closer to the corners and a wider track gives the compact Lexus sedan more of a planted look on the road. More importantly, the design changes help the ES appeal to buyers also considering sportier European-brand compact premium sedans such as the popular BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

New for 2020, F Sport trim adds a blackout grille, larger front fascia side scoops, a rear spoiler, unique rear valance and 19-inch dark graphite wheels. 

Interior

2020 lexus es350 front seat and dashboard

Photo: Ron Sessions

Inside, the ES’s cabin continues the expressive theme with striking diagonal sweeps on the dash, doors and console, highlighted by several high-contrast color combinations such as the zoomy Circuit Red and black hues shown here in the F Sport test car. The instrument panel gauge layout mirrors that found in the LC coupe and LS flagship and includes a bright LCD display, analog tachometer and digital speedometer.

Standard ES fare includes a power moonroof, manual tilt/telescopic steering column, pushbutton start and keyless access. A sharp-looking, short-travel automatic shifter adorns the center console as do foam-backed pads on the console sides, a thoughtful touch for knee comfort during brisk cornering. The ergonomic-shaped ES steering wheel is borrowed from the LS sedan. An optional wireless charger for Qi-enabled phones lives under the center console armrest lid. Adding a classic touch is a quartz analog clock to the left of the infotainment screen.

F Sport trim adds a thicker-rimmed perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather-wrapped shifter, Hadori aluminum trim, aluminum pedals, rain-sensing wipers, a larger 8-inch instrument color display with movable elements and a power tilt/telescopic steering column.

Luxury trim upgrades to a wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel, a power rear window sunshade, wood trim, ambient lighting, while Super Luxury trim brings perforated semi-aniline leather trim, manual rear door window shades and a windshield-wiper de-icer.

Seats

2020 lexus es350 front seats

Photo: Ron Sessions

Power-adjustable front bucket seats with all-day riding comfort are standard in the ES. For the base ES and F Sport, these are covered with perforated NuLuxe faux-leather. To get real leather, you must opt for Luxury trim which also adds memory settings and a driver’s-side extendable lower cushion. Moving up to Super Luxury trim upgrades to super-soft semi-aniline leather hides.

The F Sport’s front buckets have hard bottom cushion bolsters for lateral support, unlike the much flatter seat bottoms for easy ingress/egress in decades of previous Lexus ES models. Lateral torso bolsters on the F Sport’s front seatbacks also help snug you into the seat but aren’t intrusive.

The front seats are available with both heating and ventilation. Their controls are simple buttons within easy reach on the lower part of the dash and don’t require scrolling through center display menus as in some competing sedans.

Climate Control System

2020 lexus es350 hvac system

Photo: Ron Sessions

All Lexus ES models come with standard, set-and-forget automatic climate control. The dual-zone system has individual temperature controls for the driver and front passenger. There are fairly large hard buttons with readable type for fan speed and mode control within easy reach on the center of the dash.

Infotainment System

2020 lexus es350 infotainment screen

Photo: Ron Sessions

As with most premium compact sedans, the Lexus ES comes with a high-resolution color display for infotainment functions. For 2020 the ES adds Android Auto to previously available Apple CarPlay compatibility to enable users to bring their familiar cellphone top screen and major apps into the car.

The base infotainment screen standard in all but ES Super Luxury trim is perched atop the dash center and measures 8 inches diagonally. A larger 12.3-inch one, also landscape-format, is used with Super Luxury trim and ES sedans equipped with navigation or the immersive 17-speaker, 1800-watt Mark Levinson surround-sound premium audio system.

Principle access to the multimedia system is via a console-mounted touchpad operated by one’s finger. The pad is larger than past designs and now has haptic feedback, but still requires the driver to glance at the pad for input and the screen for the result of that input, all while keeping at least one eye on the road. Voice control functions and steering-wheel controls offer other methods of accessing the system. APEAL respondents rated the audio system’s usability as one of the ES’s weaknesses. One clever space saver and something that can be used without taking one’s eyes off the road is the analog volume knob on the dash which also has a concentric tuner ring.

The 2020 Lexus ES is also Amazon Alexa compatible for both home-to-car and car-to-home commands. Speaking of connectivity, an in-car AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot is standard in all trims and comes with 4GB of free data for the first 3 months of ownership.

Storage and Space

2020 lexus es350 storage and cargo space trunk view

Photo: Ron Sessions

The car is larger now than the previous generation model, but some trunk space got lost in the move to make the rear end swoopy looking. At 13.9 cubic feet, the trunk remains amply sized and is a useful shape, but with 1.3 cu ft less luggage space than in the more squared-off 2018 model. The roofline is also lower at the rear meaning rear passengers have to duck getting in and out but once inside, a lower-set bottom cushion and carved-out headliner salvage traditionally generous ES rear seat headroom. ES rear seat legroom is among the roomiest in the compact premium sedan class. Buyers can opt for a hands-free power trunk opener operated with a leg kick under the rear bumper. 

Visibility and Safety

Joining the trend to offering expanded safety and driver-assistive features, the 2020 Lexus ES comes standard with Lexus Safety System+ 2.0. Included is all-speed dynamic radar cruise control, a pre-collision system that can provide automatic braking to avoid a preceding vehicle, bicyclist or pedestrian, lane-departure warning that can provide some corrective steering assist, road-sign assist, and lane-tracing assist that can follow the car ahead when dynamic cruise control is activated even where lane markings are not visible. Optional on base trim and included with uplevel models is blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring as well as intuitive parking assist with automatic braking. The ES also has 10 airbags and a standard backup camera, upgrading to a panoramic-view monitor in the ES with Super Luxury trim.

An optional head-up display covers a wide area (10.2 inches) in the driver’s line of sight in the windshield and includes navigation and directional information, engine speed, road speed and signage for current speed limits.

Standard on all ES trims is 3 years of Lexus Enform Safety Connect as well. 

The 2020 Lexus ES is rated a full five stars in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing and is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2020 Top Safety Pick Plus.

Engine and Transmission

2020 lexus es350 3.5 liter V6 engine

Photo: Ron Sessions

As with most Lexus models, the ES is available with conventional and hybrid powertrains. Under the hood of the ES 350 is a 3.5-liter V6 producing a segment-appropriate 302 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to a crisp-shifting 8-speed automatic with a wide ratio spread for good acceleration from rest and relaxed cruising on the highway. Steering-wheel paddle shifters giving the driver manual shift control for mountain or performance driving are standard with all trims. Capable of accelerating to 60 mph from rest in the mid 6-second range, the V6 is smooth, quiet and an ample performer.

The ES 300h, not tested for this report, uses a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine blended with the output of an electric motor for a total of 215 system horsepower. A compact 29.1 kW nickel-metal hydride battery located under the rear seat provides power for electric propulsion and is recharged by the gasoline engine. It is not a plug-in hybrid. The ES 300h will go from zero to 60 mph in just over 8 seconds. 

Fuel Economy

2020 lexus es350 fuel economy

Photo: Ron Sessions

In a week behind the wheel of the ES 350 F Sport test car in mostly suburban and residential driving, I averaged 26 mpg according to the car’s trip computer display. That coincides closely with the ES 350 V6’s EPA fuel economy estimates of 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway/26 mpg combined. The F Sport model with its larger 235/40R19 rubber is slightly lower at 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway/25 mpg combined. The ES 300h hybrid nearly doubles the ES 350’s city and substantially increases its highway and combined ratings with a 43 mpg city/44 mpg highway/44 mpg combined listing.

Driving Dynamics

2020 lexus es350 driving dynamics

Photo: Ron Sessions

The ES has always been a pleasant car to ride in but not necessarily one’s first choice for something to drive the twisty bits with. With the 7th generation ES, Lexus set out to change the car’s bio into something more dynamic and appealing to younger drivers while still keeping sight of its big, established following with seniors.

All 2020 ES models benefit from a stiffer body structure introduced last year with extensive use of structural adhesives, laser screw welding and front suspension strut tower bracing. Added steering caster boosts self-centering and the feeling of stability on the highway, while dynamic-control shocks facilitate improved vertical body control over even minor road irregularities. A rack-mounted electric power steering system delivers better road feel and a higher level of feedback than the column-mounted system used prior to the 2019 models. At the rear, revised stabilizer bushing mounts help reduce body roll in corners. The result of these changes is a more engaging Lexus ES that won’t necessarily rattle the china.

While the changes the new F Sport trim adds are mostly cosmetic with beefy-looking 19-inch wheels wrapped in all-season rubber, the sportier ES also brings optional adaptive dampers. After assembling data from numerous sensors measuring vehicle speed, steering angle, yaw rate, brake pressure, g-loads as well as traction-control and engine computers, the dampers can adjust up to 650 different settings in real time, taking the edge off speed bumps, potholes and broken pavement while adding more precise control for jaunts down curvy back roads. 

Final Impressions - Find the best Lexus deals!

2020 lexus es350 rear view

Photo: Ron Sessions

In a segment brimming with sport sedans, the Lexus ES 350 remains a sensible—and luxurious—choice. The sleek styling, gorgeous interiors and enhanced dynamics that were ushered in with the current generation model introduced with the 2019 year get even more interesting for 2020 with the introduction of the F Sport. But the overriding attributes of a smooth ride, quiet and well-contented cabin, roomy back seat and the brand’s reputation for a trouble- and hassle-free ownership experience still ring true. So it’s not a big surprise that last year, the ES outsold all other Lexus passenger cars combined. The ES is still is your rational selection in the compact premium segment, but now with a brighter shade of lipstick on.

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