Lexus ES review
The Lexus ES is a stunning alternative to the traditional German mainstream but its roomy cabin is let down by a confusing infotainment system.
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The Lexus ES is a posh executive saloon that provides an eye-catching and unusual alternative to the likes of the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class. It replaces the old GS, but looks much more dramatic thanks to a whopping great grille, plenty of interesting creases and headlights sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel.
This means you won’t mistake the Lexus ES for a German saloon in the golf club car park. It looks meaner and more aggressive from every angle – especially in F Sport guise with its bigger alloy wheels and extra air intakes slashed into the front and rear bumpers.
Step inside, and the ES’ double-decker dashboard and brushed-metal trims look great and feel just as solid as anything you’ll find in a BMW, Audi or Mercedes. Sure, there are a few harder plastics buried down in the door bins and right up by the infotainment display which you won’t find in the Germans. But, this isn’t a deal-breaker.
Sadly, the Lexus ES’ infotainment system could be. The screen is nice and sharp, but the haphazard menus and irritating trackpad control are much harder to use than the touchscreens and scroll wheels. Good job it comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.
There’s also the option to swap the ES’s door mirrors for cameras, which display their image on small screens inside. The cameras look great on the outside, but the screens look a bit aftermarket and the picture isn’t great at night in heavy rain.
You can’t fault the Lexus ES’ superbly comfy front seats, though. You get eight-way electric adjustment as standard and top-spec cars even come with 10-way adjustment and heating and cooling features. There’s ample space for tall drivers to stretch out too, and you get a good view out through the ES’ large windscreen and tall side windows.
Push it hard and the engine will be whining almost as much as you trying to operate its infotainment system, but overall the ES is a credible alternative to the German elite
These large windows also help make the back seats feel impressively roomy. Passengers get much more leg room than in the 5 Series, A6 and E-Class and the seats themselves are soft and supportive in all the right places. Very tall adults will struggle slightly for headroom, but at least the Lexus ES’ wide cabin comes with enough shoulder room and foot space to carry three adults side-by-side with ease.
Things aren’t quite as good when it comes to packing the boot, though. The ES’ boot is noticeably smaller than you get in a BMW, Audi or Mercedes, but at least it comes with a ski hatch for carrying long, thin items.
There’s less engine choice than you get in the A6, 5 Series and E-Class. In fact, there’s only one – a 2.5-litre petrol paired with a hybrid system. This means the Lexus ES can cruise around town using just electric power so it’s dead quiet. It’s also pretty economical because the electric motors help the petrol deliver diesel-like economy on motorways.
Sadly, as soon as you give the accelerator a sharp prod, the car makes a loud whining noise. It feels relatively spritely for a large saloon, but it’s frustrating to have every surge forward accompanied by such an irritating drone.
Still, the Lexus ES is fairly quiet when cruising on motorways and wafts over all but the most heavily pockmarked roads. The steering is relatively light which is great when parking and the ES barely leans tight corners – especially F Sport models with their adjustable suspension. Despite this, you’d never call it sporty.
It is safe, though. The ES comes with loads of kit as standard that costs extra in German alternatives. And, you get automatic emergency braking that can even stop the car automatically in reverse
In fact, spec up a German alternative to the same level as the Lexus ES and you’d end up spending considerably more. As a result, it makes a very credible choice – providing you can get to grips with its peculiar infotainment system. Check out the latest Lexus ES deals from carwow to see how much you can save.
The Lexus ES has acres of leg room in every seat but tall adults will struggle for headroom in the back and alternatives have more practical boots.
The Lexus ES aims to bring limo-like space to the executive saloon market and very nearly succeeds. Rear leg-room is great, but tall adults will wish there was a smidge more headroom
The Lexus ES’ cabin is very spacious. There’s plenty of room in the front for very tall adults to get comfortable and the seats come with 8-way electric adjustment as standard. The steering wheel adjusts for reach and height too, so you’ll have no trouble getting a good view out and an unobstructed view of the 7.0-inch digital driver’s display.
Unlike in some premium saloons, the electric seat adjustment works very quickly so you’ll have no trouble returning the seat to your preferred position if you lend your car to someone else. It’s even easier in high-spec Takumi models which come with a memory function for the driver’s seat as standard.
Entry-level Lexus ES models and sportier F Sport versions come with two-way adjustable lumbar support for both front seats to help prevent lower-back pain on long drives. You can, however, pay extra to have four-way adjustable lumbar support fitted to the standard ES or go all out and pick a Takumi version which comes with this feature for both front seats as standard. Unfortunately, you can’t have this fitted to the upgraded sports seats in F Sport versions, but they’re still supportive enough to let you comfortably while away a long motorway jaunt.
Space in the Lexus ES’ back seats isn’t quite as generous as in the front, but there’s still enough room for a six-foot-tall passenger to sit behind an equally lanky driver. There’s absolutely loads of knee- and legroom, and there’s plenty of space to slide your feet under the front seat.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal of headroom available – very tall passengers will find their heads uncomfortably canted to one side. Even the reclining seats you get as standard in Takumi models don’t grant your passengers a great deal more space, but they do come with heating features as standard.
There’s enough room in the central seat to carry another adult passenger, but the seat base is raised slightly above the outer two and it’s not quite as soft and supportive. There’s a relatively tall lump in the rear floor too, but at least it’s quite thin so there’s plenty of space for everybody’s feet.
The Lexus ES comes with a large storage area under the central front armrest that’s big enough for a large bottle of water or a few drinks cans. There’s a USB port for charging your phone too, and the lid can be opened either towards the passenger or driver depending on which button you press.
You also get a pair of cupholders with adjustable bases to hold tall bottles securely and let you lift out smaller coffee cups without pulling on their plastic lids. One’s under a flip-up cover, though – next to which you’ll also find a pair of USB ports and a slot to store the key.
The glovebox isn’t particularly large – you’ll struggle to fit anything in there without removing the owner’s manual – and you don’t get anywhere convenient to store a smartphone within easy reach.
Your passengers in the back get a huge folding armrest to share with a couple of built-in cupholders, a phone-sized slot and a large storage tray under a large faux-leather-trimmed lid. The rear door bins aren’t particularly large, however, and their narrow openings make it rather tricky to slide in a wide bottle.
There’s space in the Lexus ES’ wide boot to carry a few large suitcases and a baby buggy, and the wider floor section closest to the rear bumper means there’s room to carry a set of golf clubs.
Its 454-litre capacity is almost 20% less than you can squeeze in the likes of the Audi A6, the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes E-Class. There’s also quite a sizeable lip under the boot opening that makes lifting in heavy items rather tricky. There isn’t space to store any bags under the main boot floor, but you do get a pair of smaller underfloor storage areas to either side.
Unfortunately, you can’t fold the Lexus ES’ back seats down to carry very large luggage like you can in the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class. You do get a ski hatch hidden behind the rear armrest though, so you can carry a few long, thin items between two back-seat passengers. You also get a few tether points to help you secure smaller luggage and a couple of hooks to stop your shopping bags rolling around.
The Lexus ES isn’t designed to be sporty – instead, it focusses on safety and long-distance comfort. Unfortunately, the ES’ droning gearbox means most alternatives are quieter on the move.
There isn’t exactly a wealth of choice when it comes to the Lexus ES – there’s just one engine and you can’t get it with four-wheel drive or a manual gearbox
You can only get the Lexus ES with one engine – a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that drives the front wheels with the help of two electric motors and a battery pack hidden under the back seats. This means the Lexus ES is a hybrid and can drive using either the petrol engine, the electric motors or both at any given time.
The petrol engine and electric motors produce a combined 215hp which is enough for the Lexus ES to accelerate from 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds. That’s almost exactly the same as an entry-level BMW 5 Series with a 2.0-litre diesel engine.
By using the electric motors around town and when you’re cruising on the motorway and restricting the petrol engines efforts to hard acceleration, Lexus claims the ES will return up to 59mpg. In normal driving conditions, however, you can expect to see a number in the mid-forties.
Like the Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series, the Lexus ES comes with an automatic gearbox as standard. Unlike these German models, the Lexus ES comes with what’s called a CVT unit – a system which (in theory) allows the engine to operate at its most efficient speed for a greater proportion of the time.
Unfortunately, this type of gearbox causes the engine to drone rather loudly when you accelerate hard. It’s also rather indecisive – constantly changing gear when you’re cruising on the motorway and pausing before changing down when you accelerate hard – even in the Lexus ES’ sportiest driving mode.
You get a pair of paddles on the steering wheel to allow you to choose when to change gear, but the ES’ gearbox is slow to respond most of the time and sometimes completely fails to co-operate. It’s nowhere near as smooth as the conventional automatic gearboxes you get in almost any other large executive saloon.
It’s a shame that the Lexus ES’ gearbox is so disappointing because plenty of other things about this plush executive saloon are very relaxing. The suspension does a good job ironing out most bumps around town and the steering is nice and light which helps make the occasional three-point turn fairly stress-free.
You don’t sit particularly high up in the Lexus ES, but you still get a decent view out and the windscreen pillars don’t produce any significant blind spots. The tall rear headrests (which you can’t fold down) can make parking rather tricky, though – an issue not helped by the low-resolution reversing camera with its nineties-era Nintendo-esque graphics.
You can pay extra to swap the ES’s door mirror for cameras, but we wouldn’t bother. They look cool on the outside, but the little screens inside look very aftermarket. The picture is also graining at night and not brilliant in very heavy rain. We’ve tried better systems in other cars, so it’s no worth the extra cost.
The Lexus ES’ turning circle isn’t particularly impressive either, and you can’t get it with some clever rear-wheel steering like the Audi A6 to help you navigate sharp turns. As a result, squeezing through narrow alleyways might result in a few chewed fingernails.
One a twisty country road the Lexus ES is perfectly easy to drive. There’s plenty of grip to help you smoothly carve from one corner to the next and its large body doesn’t lean a great deal in tight turns. It doesn’t feel anywhere near as sporty as the likes of the BMW 5 Series, however – even in F Sport models with their larger wheels and firmer suspension.
That being said, the Lexus ES has been designed to be a comfortable cross-country cruiser, not a sports car in a smart four-door suit. In this respect, it performs rather well. You’ll hear barely any wind and tyre noise at speed and it comes with plenty of driver assistance systems to help long drives feel like a trip to the shops.
You get adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, automatic headlights and automatic emergency braking as standard. The latter can even spot pedestrians and cyclists and will automatically perform an emergency stop in reverse to stop you bumping into a car behind when backing out of a parking space.
These features helped the Lexus ES earn a five-star Euro NCAP rating in 2018, making it one of the safest large saloon cars on sale.
The Lexus ES’ cabin looks and feels just as posh as anything you’ll find in a German alternative, but the infotainment system is unintuitive.
Lexus ES colours
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