Aggressive, stylish, comfortable, and quiet are words that come to mind when looking at the new 2019 Lexus ES 350 F-Sport. I must admit, there aren’t too many vehicles that rival the look of a bold and powerful Lexus front grill; it is one of the most revered characteristics of modern luxury vehicles. The mesh detail on this F-sport makes it look even better than the non-F-sport version thanks to those vertical lines. The exterior is well designed, and with the F Sport badging, it certainly has a visually enhanced sporty appeal. There is no doubt that the F-Sport has been dressed up to make one think they’re in for the ride of a lifetime. The question is, does the performance it delivers match the outward appeal?
Proportionately, I find the ES 350 a little too long, which in my view conflicts with the sporty architecture. This 7th generation ES is 2 inches longer and has a marginally wider front and rear stance than its previous model years. It’s powered by a 3.5L V6 pushing 302 HP through the front wheels. Plenty of power to make your drive exhilarating when you need, but at the same time, extremely comfortable. It does, however, feel a little heavy on the road, and the drivetrain produces a slight bit of torque steer when you’re heavy on the throttle. When in sport mode, the car’s computer allows you to have fun — but tells you how to have it. A driver only has limited control, even in manual shifting mode. In short, though, the F Sport offers a good blend of handling, performance, and fun, without sacrificing the expected Lexus comfort.
It would seem that Lexus has taken to heart the accusations about the last generation being somewhat underwhelming. They’ve pulled characteristics from the LC500 and the LS and ensured that with the F-Sport badging, this ES 350 is anything but a let-down. The interior of the ES is packed with premium details, ones that clearly show a passion for excellence. The automated centre instrument cluster is a masterpiece. It provides all relevant information in a colourful display that changes to reflect your driving mood. The round aluminum bezel physically slides to the right at the push of a button to reveal an intricate menu display; it’s a brilliant design detail! The steering wheel sits nicely for handling, with all the required controls intuitively positioned left and right. The 9&3 grip and 10&2 notches provide you with comfortable and proper control of the car.
The aesthetics of a vehicle’s interior are as vital as the exterior, and if things just aren’t as you would like them to be, it ultimately affects the overall experience of your drive. The ES 350 has a centred instrument cluster nicely surrounded by a housing. For me, that’s where the likability ends. The drive mode and traction control switches protrude from the sides of this housing and mimic the look of a cartoon whale shark — head on. The heads-up display housing slightly creeps up past the top of the cluster surround, but at a slightly skewed angle — just enough to bother me every time I looked at it. These two things were a constant visual distraction. The 12.3” Infotainment/Navigation screen is well positioned, but then out of nowhere comes an analogue clock that merely looks out of place and offers little visual appeal. The dash has an otherwise nice layout with gracious lines that marry up to the door panels nicely; however, as you work your way back, it seems to all go wrong.
The touch pad on the centre console is a nice feature. However, I found it cumbersome and temperamental to use. Selecting the on-screen functions was both confusing and difficult. Elements like this need to have a high level of ergonomic design to make them effective and useful.
Enough with the bad. Although the ES 350 has a few minor flaws, it has plenty of design splendours to overcome any of the shortcomings. The seats are extremely well designed and comfortable, clad in premium leather and with enough settings to accommodate most every driver. The cup holder has a flip-down shelf to accommodate different size cups (brilliant); the centre console has a double hinge that allows it to open to both the left and right, making it easily accessible to both the driver and passenger (genius); the floor mats use turn tabs to lock them in place, not like the cumbersome snaps or Velcro tabs in most other vehicles. It seems the engineers at Lexus looked at the little things — things that so many manufacturers continue to do the same old way — and decided to get creative. They retained the heritage of the car with its class-leading performance and handling, added premium materials and design features, and even piped in enhanced engine sounds through the stereo to make the drive more invigorating when needed; some may object to that, but I say why not.
The car is packed with numerous sensors and cameras, as well as other useful features like Bi LED headlamps with LED cornering lamps, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, daytime bicycle detection, low light pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, Radar adaptive cruise, and intuitive park assist— every feature you need to make your commute safe and comfortable. Add the available 17-speaker Mark Levinson® Premium Surround Sound Audio System to the ultra quiet interior of the LS350, and you’ll not only be impressed, but you’ll also relish your commute the way the engineers at Lexus intended.