LOS ANGELES — The Lexus ES has always played second fiddle to the LS sedan. When they were introduced nearly 30 years ago, one was hailed as a bold new flagship to take on the Germans. The other was a dressed-up Toyota Camry.
Since then, the bland ES has dutifully fulfilled its role as the volume entry for the Lexus brand, challenging rivals on value and reliability while remaining in the shadow of its stablemates, including the more sporting GS and IS.
Now, with car sales falling across all segments in the U.S. and luxury sedans scrambling to differentiate themselves from competitors, Lexus' "executive sedan" is finally getting its star turn.
A ground-up redesign for 2019, featured at the Beijing auto show in April, prompted showgoers to dub it a "baby LS," noting the styling similarities to the sibling that was redesigned last year and has tripled in sales since going on sale in February.
The ES now looks like a proper rear-wheel-drive sport sedan with a V-8, even though it isn't. It still drives just the front wheels with a V-6 on a platform shared with the redesigned Toyota Avalon hitting showrooms this month. But that may be enough for the ES to stay on top of the midsize luxury segment above the pricier Mercedes-Benz E class and BMW 5 series, and the similarly priced Acura TLX. The introduction of an ES F Sport, which adds more aggressive styling cues and some handling enhancements, is a direct nod at those rivals.
"Luxury is a foregone conclusion. You have to have that just to even get started," said Karl Brauer, executive publisher at Cox Automotive. "The one that has luxury and some kind of a sport look, pedigree, specs they can quote, is the one that you should buy. They all want to have a performance bent."