CHATHAM, Mass. – Toyota launched the Lexus brand in 1989 starring the ground-breaking LS400 sedan which shook up the German luxury marques. But the new Japanese brand from Toyota needed a second model for its dealers’ showrooms, so, starting with the Camry platform, it developed the ES 250 as the entry-level Lexus sedan.
Now, seven generations later, the Lexus ES 350 has evolved into a quiet, efficient, technology-filled sedan setting a standard in a category filled with competitors from the likes of Acura, Infiniti, Audi, Genesis and Volvo.
In 2020 Lexus added the ES 350 F Sport version, honing the car’s driving characteristics and sharpening its appearance, while broadening its appeal to a younger, more sporting driver.
Lexus Puts Best Seller into Sporty Package
In place of the standard model’s front grill’s vertical bars, the F SPORT has a mesh pattern composed of interlocking “L”s with a jet-black finish and dark trim. Cut outs at each corner of the front fascia also sport the black finish mesh but have even wider openings than the standard model to further emphasize the firmly anchored stance.
F Sport Suspension Tuning
The engineers began with the seventh-generation ES’s standard suspension (MacPherson-type struts in front, trailing arms in the rear, stabilizer bars at both ends) which was revised to improve road manners compared to previous versions. To this base, they added performance shock absorbers and tuned the suspension further in the direction of car control over a soft ride.
In addition, they developed the optional Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) which replaces the standard shocks with adjustable dampers capable of 650 levels of adjustment to deliver optimal ride quality and precise control. Adjustments are based on information from sensors that measure both linear and vertical g loads, vehicle speed, steering angle, yaw rate and master cylinder pressure in addition to information from the engine control computer and skid control computer.
A lot of engineering-speak which we found while driving an ES350 F Sport with AVS, translates into a solid, road worthy car which handled superbly while still delivering a comfortable ride. The ride was firm, but not at all harsh; never unpleasant or upsetting.
The ES offers a Drive Mode Select system that allows the driver to tailor the car’s settings to varying road conditions. Eco, Normal, Sport S, Sport S+ and Custom.
In Eco mode, fuel consumption is prioritized by reducing the engine responses to the throttle and suppressing the use of the climate control system. AVS-equipped cars adjust the throttle and transmission settings when in Sport S mode; for more aggressive driving, Sport S+ mode adjusts the throttle, transmission and steering parameters along with the adaptive dampers. In Custom mode, drivers can choose three engine and transmission programs (Eco, Normal, Sport), two steering and suspension programs (Normal, Sport) and two climate programs (Eco, Normal).
That’s a lot of potentials but playing with the system does allow you to find the sweet spot. I settled on a custom program using sport for the engine/transmission setting and eco for the climate one.
Performance means power and efficiency
The ES 350 packs a 302-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine powering the front wheels through an eight-speed transmission. Power delivery is smooth, with instant reaction to input from the driver’s right foot.
This powertrain performed as expected, at least concerning the get up and go, but did better at squeezing miles out of each gallon of gasoline than I thought it would. Rated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency at 22 miles per gallon in the city, 31 on the highway and 25 in overall driving, my overall figure was 29.1 mpg!
Comprehensive advanced driver assistance systems
Standard on all ES versions is the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 suite of advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) which includes pre-collision system with pedestrian detection; all-speed dynamic radar cruise control; lane tracing assist; lane departure alert with steering assist; intelligent high-beams and road-sign assist.
Added to this group was the optional blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and intuitive parking assist with auto braking (automatic emergency braking – AEB).
Technology and luxury abound inside the ES
Befitting a modern luxury sedan, the ES 350 F Sport features luxury touches like dual-zone automatic climate control; heated and ventilated F Sport bolstered front seats with 10-way power adjustment (the driver’s side has three-person memory which also includes the position of the outside rearview mirrors which have power folding control and the power adjustable steering wheel), and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
Our ES also included the Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio Package which brings a 12.3-inch color multimedia display controlled by buttons, voice command or the touch pad (just like the one on your laptop computer) located to the right of the console-mounted transmission selector.
The infotainment system plays through the Mark Levinson 17-speaker, 1,800-Watt surround-sound system (AM/FM/SiriusXM satellite/Apple CarPlay/Android Auto/smartphone streaming/CD sourced material).
USB ports found in the front and – spacious – rear compartments, a 110-Volt outlet, plus (just inside the center console) a wireless-charging pad mean everyone’s mobile devices can always be juiced and ready to go.
The 2020 Lexus ES350 F Sport was filled with engineering, technology and features which made it a fun, comfortable car for tooling around Cape Cod. It was always ready to blast through a series of curves or settle into a quiet, comfortable trip down the highway.
This comprehensive package of luxury and performance carried a $53,820 price tag – competitive in its segment. The ES range starts at $39,900 and variants can be had with a hybrid powertrain as well as all-wheel drive.
The ES might have begun its existence as an almost shy sidekick for the flagship LS, but those days have passed. The Lexus ES 350 F Sport is a sedan which stands firmly on its own merits and abilities.