In recent years, the Lexus ES has seen a massive surge in popularity, surpassing the other models in Lexus’s range and seeing the strongest sales increase in Europe. The winning formula may be attributed to the affordability of the car, and the front-wheel-drive platform, which is cheaper to produce.
The ES is a departure from Lexus’s norm of building rear-wheel-drive sedans like the IS, the mid-sized GS, and the flagship LS luxury saloon.
The sixth-generation ES is built atop the front-wheel-drive Toyota K platform, shared with the Toyota Camry (and Avalon in the US market). In fact, there are many components and similarities under the skin of the ES and the Camry.
Visually, the ES appears to be a rear-wheel driven car like other Lexus sedans. The rear fenders are much more pronounced than the front, and the front overhang of the car is rather short for a car of its class. Lexus’s signature spindle grille dominates the front bumper and almost merges into the flat hood. This facelifted 6th generation model features sharper daytime running lights than the pre-facelift model, and more chrome on its grille and fog lamp surrounds.
Now admittedly, this 6th generation version isn’t as curvaceous and stylish as the 7th generation ES that is on sale now. This 6th Generation is based on the Toyota K platform, but the new car is based on the updated TNGA-K platform, like the current Toyota Camry and the Toyota Avalon that is on sale in America.
Under the hood of the Lexus ES is a 2.5L four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine that is good for 181 horsepower and 245Nm of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via a 6-speed torque converter automatic transmission, the same transmission and engine that you’d find in a Toyota Camry.
The dashboard features a wide array of physical buttons, a feature that modern cars often lack. The HVAC and climate controls are clustered under the radio and volume controls, and the Lexus infotainment system controls are located beside the gear lever. Despite what some reviews have said about the infotainment system, I actually found it relatively intuitive. A little lacking in some areas like the Navigation, but nowhere near as appalling as what people have said. And the 15-speaker Mark Levison audio system sounds amazing, with deep bassy tones that reverberate through the entire cabin.
The front seats are soft and supple, with electronic adjustment and three different memory settings for you to choose from. The passenger seat gets an additional set of buttons on the side of the backrest, so the driver or rear passenger can move the seat out of the way. The split sunroof is tined just enough for sunlight to enter, but not enough for it to cause the passengers any discomfort. Should you choose to open it, a front wind deflector pops up to divert the wind away from the sunroof opening.
In the back of the Lexus ES, rear passengers would definitely enjoy the comfort and refinement offered in this car. The leather and headliner feel plush and expensive, the seats are incredibly comfortable, and you get loads of legroom in the back.
Lower the central armrest and you’ll find buttons for the climate controls, and the radio and volume controls. You can comfortably fit three adults in the rear, but it is best suited for two passengers so they can get the best the car has to offer. Boot space is surprisingly good too, coming in at 490 litres. The boot aperture is also wide enough to fit a pair of golf bags with ease.
Get behind the wheel, and you may be struck by how traditional the Lexus ES feels. From the chunky gear lever, the wood and leather trimmed steering wheel and the foot-operated parking brake. Even the analog clock on the dash adds to the sense of nostalgia. Some Singaporeans may even say the ES feels “very uncle”, but I digress. This is a very comfortable car to cruise along in. And although the cabin may fall short of other German luxury sedans of its time, there’s no denying the quality and usability of the various controls.
Power delivery is incredibly linear, with almost no delay when you put your foot down. Sure, the engine isn’t very powerful, but it isn’t hampered by turbo lag like in some forced induction engines. Gear changes are almost imperceptible as the transmission climbs up the gears before the engine even gets past half the rev range. Lexus claims that the ES has a rated fuel economy of 12.5km/L, but we averaged 9.7km/L on a mix of city and highway driving. That might be nowhere near hybrid levels of frugality, but in a 2.5-litre engine, it’s rather impressive if I do say so myself.
The Lexus ES is a car that could easily be driven for cross-country journeys, all while ensuring its occupants aren’t disturbed by the outside world. A veritable cocoon of luxury and refinement. Every storage compartment of the ES is very well damped and quiet, devoid of any clicking or noises. Even the brake pedal feels damped, allowing the car to set off on a gentle rolling start. The turning circle is wider than expected, and this is very apparent when you’re making a U-turn along smaller roads. But navigating narrower car parks posed no issue for the ES.
There is a drive mode dial on the centre console, but let’s get this out of the way: The Lexus ES is not a sports car. It is not tuned for sporty driving or handling dynamics. Don’t be fooled by the drive mode selector. Sport mode in this car doesn’t give you more dynamic driving qualities, save for the sharper throttle feedback and heavier steering. The car is nowhere as agile and sharp as some other rear-wheel driven saloons in this price range.
The car can be driven hard, but under heavy load, you get this nagging feeling that the onboard computer is just itching to settle back into comfort mode. It doesn’t encourage you to go much faster than highway speed limits.
In summary, the Lexus ES is a luxury sedan that is very comfortable on Singapore’s roads. Rather lacking when it comes to driving fun, but supremely capable as an everyday cruiser. What Lexus has done is strip a Toyota Camry to its bare bones, dressed it in leather and sound deadening material, and re-engineered the suspension to give this car a completely different persona than its sibling. Calling this a posh Camry is doing it a serious injustice. This car offers way more than that.
Photos: Lawrence Loy