2016 Lexus ES 350 review with video
Base price: $41,400 + taxes
As tested: $46,100 + taxes
Highway fuel economy: 7.6 L/100 kms (V6)
City fuel economy: 11.4 L/100 kms (V6)
Competition: Acura RLX, Buick Lacrosse, Cadillac XTS
For a long time, Lexus vehicles were seen by many as old person cars – refined, luxurious, statesmanly. But fun? Sporty? Much less so. Lexus has been working hard to change that perception with some truly zippy and cool cars. Take the aggressive lines on the company’s NX or RX SUVs. Then there’s the athletic IS sports sedan. All of a sudden, Lexus is appealing to a much younger demographic. But one division of the company hasn’t quite locked step is the larger luxury sedans in the Lexus line. When I knew that I’d be testing an ES for you, I started to watch for who is behind the wheel of them. My very rudimentary poll suggests an overwhelmingly… elderly population. But that’s where the “refreshed” ES comes in. Bolder lines are making it pop a lot more and when I got behind the wheel, the marriage of refinement and fun was a pleasant surprise. But for family living, how does it stack up? That’s what I’ve spent the last week figuring out. Read on…
ES stands for Elegant Sedan. And it certainly is that. The ES 350 and its hybrid brother, the ES 300h, are smooth and sleek and make you feel like you’ve just stepped into something special. It’s based on the same platform as Toyota’s largest sedan, the Avalon, but comes classed-up with standard features like automatic climate control, a sunroof and a 7 inch infotainment system screen. Faux leather is on the base model while higher end genuine leathers are draped through the interior on both the touring and executive packages. To get the complete raft of safety features, such as automatic collision mitigation braking, lane departure alerts and adaptive cruise control, you’ll have to climb into the $52,400 executive package. But it’s these tech features that have helped elevate the ES to a Top Safety Pick + rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
For families, I have a hard time with sedans. Why not opt for an equally sporty station wagon like the Mercedes E-Class, the BMW 3-series or the Volvo V60? There are cheaper options too from the likes of Volkswagon or Audi. The cargo capacity is so much better for family trips, the dog doesn’t have to scratch up those fancy leather seats, visibility out the rear window is better and they still look cool. Lexus does have a station wagon in its line-up but as our test of the CT 200h proved last month, it’s really tight for family life. However, if you’re a sedan person, the trunk capacity on this car is very respectable and it took all the gear in our standardized trunk test quite capably. If you’re considering the hybrid option, know that your trunk capacity will suffer. The floor of the trunk is raised to make room for some of the equipment required for the hybrid system.
From a driving and passenger perspective, the ES is a very nice place to be. The fit and finish feels solid and well-made. Additional sound-dampening for 2016 keeps it riding quietly even at highway speed with winter tires mounted. The backseat is very roomy for a midsize sedan thanks to a longer than normal wheel base for a car of this size. But there are a couple of beefs about the interior, the first is the infotainment system and the strangely clunky computer-mouse-esque interface. It makes navigating through menus way more complicated and awkward than it needs to be and I would far prefer a touch screen. And then there’s the cool-looking but much maligned (by me) perforated seats. Regardless of the type of seating material you choose, ES seats are covered in hundreds of tiny holes in the fabric to give it a sportier look. The problem is, these perforations clog with spills and dirt and can be a real challenge to keep clean for families.
For a car of this size, I was pleasantly surprised by its performance and its fuel economy. This car accelerates smoothly and quickly off the line. It corners far more athletically than I’d expected. In fact, one thing I was wishing for by the end of my time in the ES was a set of paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Strangely, these come standard on the Toyota Avalon but aren’t even an option on the ES and could’ve made this car even funner to zip around in. On top of all that, with over 400 kilometres of city and highway driving, I averaged around 9 litres/100 kilometres in this car. For a large V6, that was another great surprise.
So a lot of surprises with the new ES – looks, performance, efficiency and safety. And if you compared this car to its European equivalents, it’s also a great value for your money. This felt like it was punching way above its $45,000 price tag. But at the end of the day, I maintain that wagons make better family cars without impacting performance, economy or looks. And Lexus admits, young families are not the demographic its fishing for with the ES. Couples in their sixties and men in their fifties is the target for this one. Regardless of age, get behind the wheel and I think the ES will surprise you.
Family Wheels pros: much-improved looks, great value, good room in the back seat, good fuel economy, quiet ride
Family Wheels cons: infotainment system navigation is clunky, front seats are flat bottomed, sedan lacks capacity of a wagon or SUV for families, perforated leather seats hard to clean
Family Wheels target: two child families who don’t mind sacrificing the cargo capacity of an SUV or wagon for a sedan look
Family Wheels driver comfort score: 4/5
Family Wheels rear passenger score: 4.5/5
Family Wheels trunk test score: 3.5/5
Family Wheels driveability score: 4/5
Family Wheels fuel economy score: 4/5
Family Wheels value score: 4/5
Family Wheels overall score: 24/30