2021 Lexus ES 350 review: Sporty looks, but a cruiser at heart
Now chugging along in its seventh generation, the ES sedan is a stalwart of the Lexus lineup. For 2021, there's a new ES 250 all-wheel-drive model, as well as the ES 350 F Sport Black Line you see here. But don't let those aggro looks fool you. Despite its sporty appearance, the ES 350 is a comfy-cozy cruiser above all.
Lexus will only sell 1,500 Black Line special editions, a package that adds $850 to an ES 350's bottom line. The unique Ultrasonic Blue Mica paint looks awesome, contrasting nicely with the black mirror caps and lip spoiler. Lexus' corporate grille looks nice here, with its black finish and mesh insert. I also love the zig-zag cue of the LED headlights and the crisp, sharp taillights, which bring character to the rear. All told, this ES 350 is seriously handsome.
The ES 350 is powered by a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6, and its 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque are ample for this sedan. A smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission is standard, putting power down via front-wheel drive.
Different drive modes are accessed on a little stalk on the right side of the gauge cluster. Sport S mode sharpens the throttle mapping and transmission shift logic, while Sport S Plus takes things a little further, tightening the steering and stiffening the adaptive dampers. Still, the ES 350 is hardly a sport sedan, exhibiting lots of body roll while cornering. The transmission is far too eager to upshift and doesn't downshift under braking, meaning that even with its revamped shift pattern, it's still laggy to kick down and deliver power.
On the other hand, driven easily and smoothly, the ES 350 is great. This Lexus sedan filters out engine and road noise, but if you give it the beans the V6 makes a surprisingly hearty noise. The steering is nicely weighted and confident, with a quick ratio for sharp turn-in. Overall, though, the ES 350 is just so damn comfortable. I could drive this thing for hours and hours on end.
The ES 350's fuel economy is pretty average for the class, the EPA rating the sedan at 22 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined. Six-cylinder examples of the Audi A6 and Genesis G80 aren't as efficient, but the BMW 540i and Mercedes-Benz E450 do better.
Lexus' Safety System 2.0 suite of driver-assistance technologies is standard on all trims. This package includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure alert and road sign recognition. My F Sport tester adds blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. During my testing, the forward-collision warning sounds its alarm for no reason on occasion, and the lane-tracing tech has a few disengagements. However, the adaptive cruise control works as expected, bringing the car to a full stop and keeping a safe distance while following at high speeds.
The tech that needs work is inside the cabin; Lexus' Enform system continues to be a chore. An 8-inch multimedia display is standard but I've got the optional 12.3-inch screen with embedded navigation. This system doesn't have a touchscreen like the updated Lexus LS. Instead, you're forced to use that horrible trackpad that I've complained about for years, which is downright unpleasant to use -- especially while driving. On top of that, Enform is poorly organized with lots of menus and submenus to navigate.
Oh, and the ES' backup camera is small, distorted and blurry. Come on, guys. It's 2021.
This ES 350 tester is fully loaded with heated and cooled seats, and the whole interior is beautifully appointed with high levels of fit and finish. The center console is kind of small, as are the door pockets, but the trunk can hold 13.9 cubic feet of cargo, which is about the same as a BMW 5 Series . However, you can't fold the rear seats down, so don't try to haul longer items.
The 2021 Lexus ES 350 starts at $41,025 including $1,025 for destination, and the F Sport costs $5,800 more. With the Black Line pack, embedded navigation, triple-beam LED headlights, the adaptive suspension and more, the test car you see here comes out to $54,070. Me? I'd skip a bunch of the options and still get a super nice example for around $47,000.
Despite its name, the ES 350 F Sport is not a sport sedan. But with its great looks, comfortable ride and lots of standard driver-assistance tech, if you aren't looking for a thrill ride, it's definitely worth a look.