Lexus raises the bar on redesigned ES 350 ‘Ultra Luxury’
The seventh-generation Lexus ES sits on a new platform, longer and wider, bringing more comfort for passengers and more space for your stuff. Cool enough, but what’s with the designation “Ultra Luxury” applied to the top-line version?
What high-tech gizmos and extraordinary niceties can warrant such a moniker? Does it have hovercraft technology? Will it drive itself? Is there a wet bar in the rear seat?
Alas, no, but the redesigned top-shelf ES does come with an admirable suite of luxuries. The Ultra has semi-aniline leather seats (softer and more durable), with 14-way power with 4-way lumbar for the driver and 10-way for the passenger. There is a power rear sunshade and manual rear-door sunshades to block glare and heat, a convenient hands-free/power trunk lid, and even an upgraded suspension for comfort.
It gets even better if you add options like a high-tech safety package ($1,900) and navigation/Mark Levinson audio package with 1,800 watts and 17 speakers ($3,000). Another grand buys a panoramic glass roof and heated wood and leather steering wheel. The Lexus ES has a base price of $43,150, but options bumped our test car to $53,742.
The five-seat midsize sedan has good shoulder, head- and leg room in both rows. The center of the rear row, however, has a pretty big hump.
Cargo space is generous, too, with a trunk that grows this year to 16.7 cubic feet, among the largest in the midsize-luxury segment.
Lexus redesigned the dash to accommodate an optional 12.3-inch infotainment screen on the center stack. It has crisp graphics but still is bothersome to use with the touchpad, which forces the driver to take his eyes off the road. At least there are redundant buttons and knobs for climate and audio.
Two displays keep the driver well informed at a glance: an 8-inch reconfigurable screen in the gauge cluster and a large head-up display offering directionals, speed limits and fuel supply.
There are two oddly placed knobs jutting out atop the instrument panel. One is for drive modes (Eco, Normal and Sport), but the other is to shut off traction control. Really? That’s a prominent spot for a low-priority knob in a luxury car.
On the road, the cabin is ultra-quiet (oops, there’s that ultra word again), thanks to acoustic glass and improved sound-deadening materials. Seriously, there is virtually no road or wind noise.
Power comes from the same 3.5-liter naturally aspirated engine as last year, but it gets a boost in horsepower and torque thanks to the addition of direct and port injection. It now produces 302 hp, up from 268, and 267 pound-feet of torque.
The front-wheel-drive ES has more giddy-up, too, with the new 8-speed transmission replacing last year’s outdated 6-speed. Zero-to-60 mph can now be done, quietly, in 6.6 seconds — a half-second better than last year, Lexus says. Top speed is reported at 131 mph.
Perhaps more important in a Lexus, the ride quality is all luxury — smooth as that hovercraft and maybe too floaty. Throttle is lazy in Eco mode but picks up in Sport. EPA estimates 26 mpg combined city-highway.
Safety features are bundled into the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0, which includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision system (detects vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists in low-light conditions), lane departure alert and lane-keep assist. Parking sensors with automatic braking and 360-degree camera are available — the latter a helpful option in detecting small animals and objects.
The ES currently is the best selling midsize-luxury sedan in the nation and sales this year are already 20% better than last, dealers say. Call it Ultra Luxury or don’t, but it unquestionably is Ultra Popular.