A new engine, new hybrid powertrains and a first for the ES -- a 350 F Sport model -- highlight the changes Lexus is making to the redesigned midsize sedan for 2019.
1. On the outside
The new ES is 1.8 inches wider, 2.6 inches longer and 0.2 inch lower compared with the outgoing version. A wheelbase stretch of 2 inches has pushed the wheels closer to the car's four corners, giving it a more planted appearance with less generous overhangs.
When it comes to design, the silhouette of the new ES features a more pronounced downward slant, highlighted by the low hood and a "fast" roofline not dominated by a large flat surface, in contrast to generations past. Lexus will offer two grille designs for the new ES: The ES 350 and 300h will feature a grille with vertical bars that expand out from the center, while the ES 350 F Sport will wear a grille with a blacked-out pattern of L-shaped clusters, creating a mesh of sorts.
“The ES has always been an elegant luxury sedan," said project chief designer Yasuo Kajino. "For this generation, we have added daring design elements that challenge the traditional expectations of buyers."
2. On the inside
The redesigned cabin places the instrument panel and the infotainment display screen closer together, for a more driver-centric feel (as well as to keep the driver's attention on the road), while the passenger space is designed to promote relaxation during long trips.
"Rear seat passenger comfort has long been a hallmark of the ES, and the seventh-generation model still prioritizes rear package capability despite the sleeker exterior roofline," Lexus says. "A lower hip point and a carefully configured headliner preserve headroom while the longer wheelbase delivers generous legroom."
3. The power
All versions of the ES 350 are powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that a produces 302 hp and 267 pound-feet of torque, an increase of 34 hp and 19 pound-feet over the previous-generation V-6 unit. A new eight-speed automatic transmission with Direct Shift uses an ultrathin torque converter, in addition to a multiplate lockup clutch for better-timed and quicker shifts, sending the power to the front wheels. The new eight-speed has a wider spread of ratios and is better able to use the high torque gears for quicker launches, as well as taller gears for greater fuel efficiency on the highway.
Lexus sought to turn the ES from a sedan serving up solely comfort and a quiet cabin designed to keep the outside world out (as well as slightly numb steering) to something more modern with feel and power to match. The new chassis focuses on responsiveness and delivering steering precision, as well as predictability.
"The starting point was the newly developed GA-K chassis. It’s an exceptionally rigid front-wheel-drive chassis, rivaling the GA-L rear-wheel-drive platform used for the LC coupe and LS sedan in terms of torsional stiffness," Lexus says. "Various grades of high-tensile steel reduce weight versus previous platforms, while additional enhancements like an all-new multilink rear suspension design, rack-mounted electric power steering and a V-brace mounted behind the rear seat gave the engineers the flexibility to tune the ES with a newfound level of precision."
5. ES 300h Hybrid
An all-new Atkinson-cycle 2.5-liter four-cylinder paired with a new electric motor and self-charging hybrid system serves up 215 hp and a combined preliminary fuel economy rating of 44 mpg. This new 2.5-liter is more efficient, and the new electric motor is smaller and more power-dense. Taken together, the engine and the motor have been designed to better emulate the power and feel of a traditional gasoline engine.
"An all-new engine, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder incorporates fast-burn combustion technology that makes it one of the most thermally efficient engines ever offered in a Lexus," the automaker says. "The result is more power without increasing emissions or fuel consumption. Various methods were used to achieve such impressive results, including straight intake ports, increased valve angles and laser-clad valve seats. A variable capacity oil pump, multihole injectors, VVTi-E on the intake valves and a variable cooling system also contribute to the engine’s impressive heat and combustion management."
6. The ES 350 F Sport
The F Sport version of the ES 350 adds Adaptive Variable Suspension, which features adjustable dampers, as well as a sport-plus mode for the Drive Mode Select system that activates the most aggressive suspension, transmission and engine settings. That different grille design sets the F Sport model apart, in addition to a dark-colored lower valance, rear spoiler and standard 19-inch wheels (the other versions wear 17- and 18-inch wheels) with a design similar to those offered on the LC coupe. The F Sport model will also offer an exclusive exterior color, in addition to the standard palette choices: Ultra Sonic Blue Mica 2.0.
"To create an entirely different appearance for the inside of the new F Sport model, an all-new kind of metallic cabin trim was developed that is unlike anything else Lexus has done before," Lexus says. "Inspired by the making of a traditional Japanese sword, Hadori aluminum trim features fluctuating wave patterns that give it a three-dimensional appearance that varies depending on the viewing angle. The effect is subtle yet indicative of the level of detail and craftsmanship that Kajino’s team put into giving the F Sport a unique place in the lineup. The standard ES 350 and ES 300h will continue to offer traditional materials like matte bamboo, linear dark mocha and linear espresso wood, which give the ES a handcrafted appearance that luxury buyers expect in this category."
7. When and how much
The new ES lineup will go on sale in late August or early September in the U.S. Pricing will be announced closer to the start of sales, though it's worth pointing out that the outgoing ES 350 started around $38,000. Don't expect the new model to depart from this price range much, but it remains to be seen how much of a premium the F Sport model will command.