As one of the original models that helped launch the Lexus brand, the ES dates to 1989. It's currently in its seventh generation which debuted for the 2019 model year. It rolls into 2022 with a mid-cycle refresh that includes updates to the multimedia, styling, safety, and a new dynamic handling package. It remains a mid-size sedan that seats five passengers. There are three primary versions known as the ES 250, ES 350, or ES 300h. ES 250 models are equipped with a 2.5L inline 4-cylinder engine that gets 203 horsepower and is available exclusively as an AWD model. ES 350 models are equipped with a 302-horsepower V6 with front wheel drive and the ES 300h utilizes the 2.5L 4-cylinder paired with a 29.1kW battery to deliver 215 combined horsepower with front wheel drive.
ES 250 & 350 models are available in four trims including a base model, F Sport, Luxury, and Ultra Luxury ranging in price from $41,875 up to $51,055. ES 300h models offer the same trims ranging from $42,975 up to $52,155. Competition in this segment includes the Acura TLX, Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, Cadillac CT5, Genesis G80, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class among others. I spent a week in an ES 250 AWD F Sport and here's what stood out...
Styling has evolved over seven generations with some hits and misses. The 2022 model is refreshed to give it a more athletic and sportier look, especially in F Sport trim. Lexus gave all trims a new grille finished in a new graphite paint. Flanking the grille are new standard bi-LED headlights with signature LED running lights. Available triple-beam LEDs offer an adaptive front lighting system that uses steering and speed sensors to direct the angle of light. The side profile remains the same with a sleek roofline and smooth panels that complement the edgier front fascia design. Around back the LED taillights wrap into the decklid drawing your eyes to the center of the car. Overall proportions are good, allowing it to seamlessly look sporty or luxurious depending on your trim and color choice.
Wheel Designs (+)
Updated wheel designs are available across the lineup with sizes ranging from 17 to 19-inches. Thicker spoke 17-inch wheels are finished in a dark metallic and machined finish. Larger wheels are available on higher trims and range in finishes including a two-tone dark machined finish, high-gloss, or gloss black that all work well with the design and specific trim grades. The various designs appropriately match the trim level to define the overall vibe. The black 19-inch split five-spokes on my test car appropriately matched the styling and gave it a bolder, sporty look.
F Sport (+)
The F Sport branding dates to 2007 when Lexus first launched performance parts at SEMA. It has since signified sporty, performance-oriented versions of Lexus vehicles. New for 2022, F Sport is available on all trim levels including the hybrid. It features a variety of visual and performance modifications that set it apart from other models. Outside design cues include a unique front and rear bumpers, grille surround, rear lip spoiler, rocker molding and special badging. It's fitted with unique 19-inch black wheels, special steering wheel, front seats, pedals, shift lever and gauges with removable display ring.
I spent time with the base model's 4-cylinder engine that turns out 203 horsepower and 184 lb.ft. of torque. It's the least powerful model, but the only one that offers AWD. This one is less athletic and more leisurely when you hit the gas. Estimated 0-60 times are around 8 seconds. It offers steering wheel mounted paddle shifters on all models if you want to manually control the 8-speed transmission. Once cruising the ES delivers a comfortable and refined ride. It glides over road imperfections smoothly providing the driver with a sense of stability.
The best handling version of the ES will be the ES 350 F Sport package which offers an all-new Dynamic Handling Package that includes as Sport+ and custom drive modes. It adds an adaptive variable suspension that is capable of 650 levels of adjustment to deliver more precise steering and control.
While the ES is not nearly as dynamic as competitors such as the BMW 5-Series or Audi A6, it does offer a different experience that appeals to many shoppers. Even without the F Sport package, it delivers a composed handling that complements the overall comfortable ride. There isn't much body lean around turns and the steering is responsive.
All-Wheel Drive (+)
AWD was offered for the first time in 2021 and it carries over into 2022. It's offered exclusively on 250 models equipped with the 4-cylinder engine. The dynamic torque control system further keeps the car grounded in inclement weather conditions. When traction is low, the system automatically sends torque to all four wheels to allow better acceleration and less tire slip. When AWD isn't needed the car will automatically engage like a FWD sedan to prioritize fuel economy. The system is designed to re-engage in an instant, when needed, and its operation is transparent to the driver. I drove the ES AWD on snowy roads in Chicago and it maintained its composure kicking in when needed with smooth transitions.
Fuel Economy (+)
When it arrived with a full 15.9-gallon tank, it offered over 315 miles of range. Fuel economy is estimated at 25/34/28 MPG city/highway/combined. After a week of suburban driving I averaged 25 MPG. Regular grade fuel is sufficient, helping to make it among the more efficient models in the class. Opt for the ES 300h hybrid model for the most efficient variation offering an estimated 43 MPG.
Interior Overall (+)
Like most Lexus vehicles, the ES features an interior crafted from premium materials. Soft touch leather, wood accents and a rich color palette create a luxurious ambiance. The layout is driver centric stemming from styling that was first introduced in the LC coupe. Controls are within reach and the new multimedia system has been tweaked, moved forward, and is slightly angled in. Traditional buttons are included for climate controls, seat controls, and audio levels. Everything is well-assembled with good craftsmanship and durability creating a quiet, peaceful space.
With each updated model, the Lexus multimedia seems to improve. New updates include a standard 8-inch or an available 12.3-inch color multimedia display that are more accessible (4.3" closer to the driver) and feature touchscreen functionality. The system integrates with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa. An available dynamic voice command system enables the car to recognize millions more phrases for hands-free media controls. Besides the touch screen and voice commands, the multimedia screen utilizes a touchpad in the center console as an alternative way of navigating the screen like a mouse pad on a laptop. An available wireless charger is positioned in the center console, but you'll need a cord to activate Apple CarPlay. Also available is a 10.2-inch head-up display and a Mark Levinson Pure Play audio system that features re-configured speakers for a more balanced sound.
Interior Space (+/-)
Interior space was a mixed bag for me. While the ES provides more overall space than the smaller IS, the driver's seat felt extra tight in the shoulder area. It offers plenty of head and legroom, but the driver centric layout with the large center console ends up creating a more confined driver seat. Thankfully the seats are quite comfortable with plenty of padding and support. Both heated and ventilated front seats are available and worked well during cold Chicago weather. Back seats offer reasonable head and legroom for adults while including two complete LATCH connectors for installing car seats. One unique feature is an available power retractable sunshade across the rear window which would be especially beneficial to parents with rear-facing children.
Cargo Capacity (-)
The ES has 13.9 cubic feet of trunk space which is average for the class. The trunk feels spacious for smaller items but will be a challenge for larger items since the rear seatback does not fold down for backseat access. There is a small opening in the back seat which offers minimal value.
Lexus continues to offer a lengthy list of standard safety features including the addition of blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. All trim levels come standard with Lexus Safety System + 2.5 which includes the following driver assist features:
* Pre-collision system with pedestrian detection
* Frontal collision warning
* Automatic emergency braking
* Lane departure alert with steering assist
* Intelligent high beams
* Road sign assist
* All-speed dynamic radar cruise control with curve speed management
* Lane tracing assist
Additional features available include an intuitive parking assist with auto braking, rear pedestrian detection, and panoramic view monitor.
Final Statement (+)
Over the course of seven generations the ES has had some ups and downs with both bland, forgettable generations and bolder, memorable styled versions. The 2022 model is more positive than negative with compelling looks across the line up, including the 300h which now offers an F Sport model. F Sport has given the brand more athletic, sporty styling and is evolving into more performance enhancements. The ES is a reliable, comfortable sedan that delivers a smooth ride and long list of safety features. There are competitors that offer a more engaging driving experience, but the ES is a great all-around car that excels in most categories.
First Impression Summary:
Test Vehicle: 2022 Lexus ES 250 AWD F Sport
Exterior Color: Iridium
Interior Color: Black Leather
Notable Options: Intuitive parking assist ($565), head-up display 9$500), triple beam LED headlamps ($1,215), Navigation / Mark Levinson Audio Package ($2,900), heated steering wheel ($550)
Price as tested: $53,565 (with destination charge)