Lexus debuted in 1989 with two sedans in its portfolio, the full-size LS 400 flagship and the midsize ES.
For its first decade, the ES was Lexus’s only front-wheel-drive sedan. Historically, it has been powered by V-6es or, more recently, hybrids.
Over the years, the ES ($39,990) built a reputation for reliability, affordability and luxury without ostentation. It rode that formula to the top of the Lexus lineup and, today, it’s Lexus’s best-selling sedan by a wide margin.
In 2019, Lexus dropped the seventh-generation ES. Based on a rigid new platform, the ES was longer, lower and wider than what came before. A longer wheelbase boosted cabin space, especially in the rear seats, and contributed to a more settled, more luxurious ride.
Lexus used the opportunity of the makeover to sharpen styling. The 2019 ES bore a crisper look, with strong character lines, well-defined headlight assemblies and abundant chrome accents.
Lexus cocoons ES occupants amongst first-rate materials and surrounds them with stitched-and-padded soft-touch surfaces. The large seats are comfortable and supportive and felt like they’d be good for the long haul.
Cars equipped with navigation get a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen. The system gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, plus subscription-based WiFi and Amazon Alexa.
Lexus’s touchpad infotainment controller has been evolving and the current generation is more user-friendly than were earlier versions.
Third engine for ‘21
In 2019, Lexus offered the new ES with two powertrain choices. The standard engine was a 302-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The alternative was a hybrid good for 215 horsepower and 44 mpg in combined driving.
Now, for 2021, Lexus drops a third model and a separate, limited-edition trim.
The new-for-’21 E 250 AWD boasts a four-cylinder powerplant and standard, torque-vectoring all-wheel drive. Both are firsts for the ES.
The ES lineup now comprises:
- ES 350, which is powered by a 302-horsepower V-6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission;
- ES 300h, the hybrid ES;
- ES 250 AWD, new this year; features a 203-hp four-cylinder powerplant and the first use of AWD on the ES.
There is no performance edition of the ES, though the E 350 can be had with the F Sport package. F Sport is largely about cosmetic upgrades but also adds adaptive shock dampers that respond in real-time to street-level changes in driving conditions.
Driver-selectable drive modes alter steering and transmission responses but do not affect power output.
The ES 250 runs the 0-60 sprint in a leisurely 8.6 seconds. The ES 350 needs just 6.1 seconds; the hybrid checks in at 8.1 seconds.
Abundant standard gear
The new trim, the ES 350 Black Line Special Edition, adds cosmetic flourishes inside and out and includes the adaptive shock dampers from the F Sport package. Lexus built just 1,500 copies.
Pricing for both the ES 250 AWD and the ES 350 starts at $39,990. The ES 300h checks in at $41,190.
ES standard gear includes LED headlights, simulated leather upholstery, keyless entry and ignition, three USB ports, dual-zone automatic climate control, power moonroof, an 8-inch infotainment display, a 10-speaker Pioneer audio system and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Lexus Safety System Plus 2.0 adds adaptive cruise control; forward-collision mitigation with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking; lane-keeping/lane-tracing assistance; road-sign recognition and automatic high beams.
Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and a 360-degree backup camera system is available on lower trims, standard on upper trims.
For 2021, Toyota replaces the nickel-metal hybrid battery with a smaller lithium-ion battery and designed a more compact cooling system. This allows engineers to relocate it from the trunk to beneath the back seat, freeing up trunk space and improving front-to-rear weight distribution for better handling.
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2021 Lexus EX 250 AWD
Vehicle base price: $39,990
Trim level base price: $39,900
As tested: $52,380 (includes destination and handling)
Options: blind-spot monitor, with rear cross-traffic alert and automatic braking; wireless cellphone charger; 18-inch twin-spoke wheels; 10.2-inch head-up display; triple-beam LED headlamps; Navigation/Mark Levinson audio package; hands-free power opening trunk lid; memory system for driver’s seat, mirrors, steering wheel; rain-sensing wipers; heated and ventilated front seats; rear spoiler; heated wood & leather steering wheel; windshield-wiper deicer; wood trim with ambient lighting; all-weather liners; trunk mat/cargo net/wheel locks
EPA rating: 28 combined/25 city/34 highway
Regular gasoline specified