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2021 Lexus ES packs AWD grip and more attitude, but base prices hold steady

Lexus' underappreciated sedan is now available with all-wheel drive and in a limited-edition Black Line Special Edition.

2021 Lexus ES
New for 2021, the Black Line Special Edition adds more visual attitude, but no extra power.

The seventh-gen Lexus ES has quietly become one of the industry's best, most comfortable all-around sedans. To be fair, "quietly" doesn't exactly describe the midsize four-door's controversial gaping-maw styling these days, but it remains an apt descriptor for the ES' well-insulated, well-appointed cabin. For 2021, the ES returns with newly available all-wheel drive and a sportier model trim, as well as enhanced standard safety tech and reworked pricing, the automaker confirmed Thursday.

Lexus ES 250 AWD

The 2021 Lexus ES gains a new all-wheel-drive offering, the Lexus ES 250 AWD, which is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder offering 203 horsepower and an undisclosed amount of torque. Lexus is promising 28 miles per gallon combined for this powertrain, with the model available in both standard and more athletic F Sport guises.

An I4 engine was only available on the Lexus ES 300h, the hybrid model. For 2021, that powertrain combination continues to deliver 215 hp and 44 mpg combined. Also as before, the Lexus ES 350's 3.5-liter V6 returns as the range's most athletic offering, rated at 302 hp and 267 pound-feet of torque.

The move to offer all-wheel drive in the third model year of this ES generation aligns with a growing industry trend. Automakers have been looking to the foul-weather tech to help hold consumer interest in sedans as more customers abandon traditional passenger cars in favor of crossovers and SUVs. Parent company Toyota recently made the powered-at-all-corners tech available on its Camry, Avalon and Prius model lines for 2020.

In the case of the ES 250 AWD, the sedan's Dynamic Torque Control Drive prioritizes front-wheel-drive running, but up to 50% of available torque can be routed to the rear wheels when slippage is detected. The hardware automatically disengages via electromagnetic coupling for added efficiency when AWD traction isn't needed.

ES 350 Black Line Special Edition

Additionally, a new ES 350 Black Line Special Edition package is also available for 2021. Built on the ES' existing F Sport trim, this model features blacked-out mirror caps and a subtle rear lip spoiler, along with dark-finish F Sport wheels, but it doesn't appear to have any actual performance upgrades.

Interestingly, ES Black Line Special Edition customers will be mailed special matching black aluminum suitcases by Zero Halliburton. The luggage company will provide a two-piece set (22-inch carryon and a 26-inch travel case) with special Lexus branding. Lexus has previously worked with Zero Halliburton to outfit models like its LC sports car.

Just 1,500 ES 350 Black Line models are planned in one of three paint color options: Obsidian, Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0(!) and Ultra White.

For 2021, both the Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h receive standard blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert tech on Luxury and Ultra Luxury grades, as well as F Sport and AWD trims.

Now available with all-wheel drive, the Lexus ES could be the world's most unlikely rallycross car.


Lexus ES pricing

Pricing for the base, FWD Lexus ES 350 hasn't budged year over year, starting at a reasonable $40,925 (including $1,025 for destination). Interestingly, the less-powerful ES 250 AWD starts at the same price. With its higher content levels based off the F Sport, the new Black Line SE model checks in at $47,575 delivered ($46,550 plus freight) for a front-wheel-drive example.

While the gas-powered ES family's base price remains unchanged, Lexus has actually cut MSRPs on higher trims year-over-year, in some cases substantially. For example, the range-topping Ultra Luxury trim of the non-hybrid 2021 ES starts at $49,925 delivered, a whopping $5,150 cheaper than the same model for 2020.

The 2021 Lexus ES 300h hybrid's base price is similarly unchanged, at $42,835 delivered. However, pricing for its uplevel trims have conversely increased substantially. For instance, the Ultra Luxury spec runs $51,835 versus the same model's $46,685 cost last year (destination fees included).

The 2021 Lexus ES family is expected in dealers early this fall.