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2020 Lexus ES Test Drive Review
The 2020 Lexus ES makes some new tech standard, but it carries on its persona as a comfortable and reliable luxury sedan.
SUVs might dominate the luxury car market, but many luxury brands were built on sedans, like the 2020 Lexus ES. While crossovers and SUVs combine added cargo space with all-weather driving capability, sedans are all about driving in comfort. Lower ride height allows sedans to be far more refined in on-road driving dynamics, offer better fuel economy, and still have enough room for a weekend’s worth of bags. SUVs might have the attributes that you might need in certain scenarios, but sedans like the 2020 Lexus ES excel in ways that are relevant in everyday driving.
The 2020 Lexus ES is one year off a complete redesign, though it maintains the same comfort-first formula. It is available in a racy 350 F Sport trim level, but don’t expect any major leaps in performance. The ES delivers on a serene ride and a quiet, well-appointed cabin. For 2020, the ES gains some in-cabin tech features, joining a long list of standard technology.
Look and Feel
In the early 2010s, the ES was labeled as “boring” by critics. As the decade progressed, Lexus responded by making the ES look more aggressive in successive updates. The large spindle grille arrived in 2016, and it has grown even larger with this 2020 model. The massive grille felt shoehorned onto the previous-generation ES, but it meshes well with the new car thanks to the 2020 ES’s larger overall proportions. It’s still kind of a lot to take in.
Things are more sedate out back, with a pair of thin taillamps that echo the rakishness of the headlights. A pronounced kink at the back of the side windows helps to visually break up this low, long sedan.
The cabin of the ES elegantly blends modern technology into an organic aesthetic that is replete with soft-touch materials. The center of the dash is dominated by a large infotainment screen that is slowly absorbed into the dash as the equatorial character line rises to meet the instrument panel hood. Among luxury-sedan makers, only Mercedes-Benz executes a better interior.
Trims for the 2020 Lexus ES are 350 FWD (base), Luxury, Ultra Luxury, and F Sport. Standard features on the ES 350 include a power moonroof, synthetic leather upholstery, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity entry, and a push-button start. It also comes standard with an 8-inch infotainment screen with newly standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The ES 350 is available with several options packages. The Premium Package costs $1,375 and includes heated- and ventilated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, memory seat settings, and a power tilt-telescoping steering wheel. A Navigation Package ($1,820) upgrades the 8-inch infotainment screen to the 12.3-inch screen. It also adds navigation and a voice command system. The Navigation/Mark Levinson Premium Audio Package costs $2,000 on the base and Luxury models and $1,800 on Ultra Luxury models. This package includes the larger infotainment screen, navigation, voice command, and its eponymous sound system with 17 speakers.
The ES 350 Luxury trim includes perforated leather seats, woodgrain trim, ambient cabin lighting, and all the content from the Premium Package. The Ultra Luxury trim adds a hands-free power trunk, semi-aniline leather upholstery, a power rear-window sunshade, and manual side-rear window shades.
We drove the range-topping 350 F Sport, which takes the ES in a different direction. It features a unique black mesh grille and lower front valence, dark window accents, and unique 19-inch alloy wheels. The ES 350 F Sport is available in Sonic Blue and Pearl White exterior colors. Inside, the F Sport receives aluminum trim accents, unique heated and ventilated front bucket seats, aluminum pedals, and an instrument panel that is unique to the F Sport. Our test car came in the available Circuit Red color option, which is exclusive to the F Sport trim level.
The ES comes equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 engine. It sends 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Lexus claims this combination is good for a 0-60 mph time of 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 131 mph. As we said, the ES is not a blistering performance machine, but it does provide confident acceleration. Unless you are coming out of a car with a hotted up powertrain, you’ll never feel wanting for more power. It gets you up to highway speeds swiftly and allows the driver to easily make passing maneuvers.
The ES’s ride is as comfortable and refined as it has always been. The focus here is on making the commute or road trip as uneventful as possible. The suspension absorbs bumps in the road, though the car does not ever feel wallow-y. The steering wheel feels light, but turn-ins are precise.
This hushed ride is thanks in large part to the Dynamic Control Shocks. Th F Sport offers an optional replacement for these shocks with the Adaptive Variable Suspension, or AVS. It features adjustable dampers that can be controlled via the Drive Mode Select Dial. In non-AVS versions of the ES, the drive modes include Eco, Normal, and Sport. With AVS, the drive modes include an additional Sport+ mode. It stiffens the suspension, quickens steering response, and livens up the throttle and transmission mapping. Our test model also had steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
The ES isn’t a hot performer—it's based on the Toyota Camry and Avalon, after all—but the combination of upgraded suspension and paddle shifters did liven up the driving experience. It allowed us to take corners a bit more confidently and at higher speeds. If you want a midsize luxury sedan with a bit more performance, check out the Lexus GS 350 F Sport, now in its last model year. It has only 311 horsepower on tap, but its rear-wheel-drive (RWD) layout makes for a more engaging driving experience. You can also get the V8-powered GS F, also set for discontinuation after 2020. It has 467 horsepower but costs $85,000.
Form and Function
The Lexus ES features a spacious cabin, with plenty of head- and legroom in both rows. The driver and front passenger can slide their seats well back and still leave plenty of legroom for rear-seat passengers. It may look from the outside like the rear-seat headroom is tight, but Lexus actually expanded rear-seat headroom with the 2019 redesign. Only the tallest occupants will have to lower their heads when exiting one of the rear seats.
The front doors have deep pockets in them and can even hold a water bottle. The center console features multiple retractable panels, revealing cupholders and helpful storage trays for your phone, wallet, and keys. The center console bin is also reasonably sized.
The 2020 Lexus ES has 16.7 cubic feet of trunk space. This is about mid-pack for the midsize luxury segment. For reference, the BMW 5 Series has 18.7 cubic feet of trunk space, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class has 13.1 cubic feet, and the Audi A6 has 13.7 cubic feet. The one critical issue with the ES trunk space is that the rear seats do now fold down. If you need room for larger items, you’re sunk.
The heart of the ES’s technology is the Lexus Remote Touch system. A touch-sensitive square in the center console acts as a directional pad, controlling the standard 8-inch display or available 12.3-inch display. Unfortunately, this is not a touchscreen, but the Remote Touch pad is intuitive enough, once you have all your presets locked in. You can get lost at times trying to toggle through menus and submenus, but Lexus provides real hard buttons, including a Menu button and a Back button. Together, these can get you back out to the home screen quickly.
For 2020, this infotainment system gains standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Lexus was one of the last brands to adopt CarPlay and Android Auto, and when it finally did in 2019, Lexus made it an optional feature. We’re pleased to see it is now included as standard equipment, as it is with a majority of new cars in 2020. The CarPlay screen also takes up the entire infotainment screen, making for a dramatic display, and easy-to-read navigational screens.
Other Lexus models, such as the RX and redesigned IS have received an updated infotainment system. It keeps the Remote Touch pad, but adds an actual touchscreen. This “why not both” approach has been taken by BMW in recent years, which is ironic. The German automaker introduced iDrive in 1999, kicking off two decades of infotainment madness in the automotive industry.
The ES comes standard with a 10-speaker premium audio system. It is available with a 17-speaker Mark Levinson stereo system. The ES can also be had with a head-up display. It provides crisp graphics and a terrific level of customization.
Every 2020 Lexus ES comes standard with Lexus Safety System+ 2.0. This comprehensive suite of driver assistance technology includes forward collision avoidance, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, dynamic radar cruise control, and automatic high beams. It also features pedestrian and cyclist detection. The lane-keep assist provides a small amount of steering correction to keep you in your lane, while the new lane-tracing assist can follow the lane of traffic on the highway on its own. It can also follow the car in front of it in a limited semi-autonomous function.
Other safety features on the ES include a full array of front- and side-impact airbags, traction control, stability control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
As one might suspect, the most efficient version of the Lexus ES is the ES 300h and its hybrid powertrain. It returns EPA fuel economy estimates of 43 mpg city, 44 highway, 44 combined. The conventionally powered ES 350 returns 22/32 /26. The ES 350 F Sport returns 22/31/25. In our week of combined city and highway driving in the F Sport, we observed an average of 24.2 mpg.
Base MSRP for the 2020 Lexus ES 350 is $39,900. An ES 350 Luxury trim starts at $42,755, and the Ultra Luxury trim starts at $43,750. The ES 350 F Sport starts at $44,635.
Within the midsize luxury sedan segment, there are more high-strung performance options, but the ES leads the pack of true comfort-focused luxury sedans. Don’t let the F Sport fool you, performance is never a top priority for any trim of the ES, and that’s alright. Rivals like the Cadillac CT5, Lincoln MKZ, and Acura TLX have lower starting prices, but all of them merely chase after the standard set by the ES. Sure, luxury SUVs have grown in popularity, but if you seek a true luxury sedan, the Lexus ES still sets the bar.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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