2019 Lexus ES 300h driving

Lexus just unveiled the production version of its full-size, crowd-pleasing ES, and even though the styling doesn’t indicate a dramatic departure, the all-new chassis is proof of more substantial changes.

The 2019 Lexus ES is nearly 3 inches longer, slightly lower, and just under 2 inches wider than the outgoing ES. The changes in dimensions—and in handling—give the car a much different presence, one that looks and feels sportier.

As before, two versions will be available: the standard ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid. We recently rented a well-equipped ES 300h from Lexus to see how this redesigned luxury sedan fares.

What we drove: 2019 Lexus ES 300h
Drivetrain: 2.5-liter hybrid four-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission; front-wheel drive
MSRP: $48,000 (est.) 

How It Drives

Toyota and Lexus have redesigned several models lately, with an eye toward making them sportier. The new ES is no different. Based on our initial experience, Lexus definitely has made progress. Compared with the previous model, the 2019 version has sharper handling and more steering feel. Like the redesigned Toyota Camry, the new ES feels spry, with a better turning response than past models, and it also has reduced body lean. And like the current Camry, the ES seems more agile than the previous version. These improvements don’t turn the ES into a true sports sedan, but the added character will increase its appeal to some shoppers.

The hybrid model gets a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, delivering 215 horsepower combined between the gas engine and electric motor—a 15-hp boost from the previous ES. The hybrid system includes an all-new nickel-metal-hydride battery, which is smaller than the last one. It’s mounted under the backseat, designed so it doesn't encroach on trunk space, Lexus says.

Reviews & Road Tests

As with many hybrids, the electric assist boosts acceleration at lower speeds smartly. The Lexus hybrid felt like it had just enough power for merging on a highway. We saw about 42 mpg overall according to the car’s trip computer. (CR’s last tested ES hybrid got 36 mpg.)

The hybrid remained quiet, even on the highway. The comfortable ride felt steadier than the last model.

The most mainstream version will likely be the model with the V6 engine. That 3.5-liter engine offers 302 horsepower—up 34—and is matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The company estimates the powertrain combination will return an estimated 26 mpg overall. The new V6 ES forgoes the traditional Lexus mindset of near-silent running, with a more aggressive exhaust note, Lexus says.

A more performance-flavored version, the F Sport, also will be available, and it has an adaptive suspension that allows drivers to choose more aggressive engine, transmission, and suspension settings, Lexus says, but there are no real hardware differences.

2019 Lexus ES 300h interior

Inside

The seats in the ES we rented were very comfortable for long drives, aided by four-way lumbar support. Some of the controls in the elegantly equipped cabin were fairly easy to figure out, but as in other Lexus models, the touchpad controller was universally disliked by our testers as too sensitive and distracting. Setting radio presets, for example, was an exasperating affair best done when the car is in Park. The climate controls were traditional buttons.

The ES is offered with a choice of a standard 8-inch infotainment screen or an optional 12.3-inch screen that comes with a navigation system. The new ES will be the first Lexus model to offer Apple CarPlay connectivity along with Siri Eyes Free voice control. Android Auto is not available. Once we've had more time to spend with the system, we'll render a verdict.

Those in the rear seat benefit from decent legroom, but there's less headroom because of the sloping roofline. 

Safety and Driver-Assist Systems

Standard safety equipment includes the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0, featuring forward-collision warning and automatic braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, and active cruise control. 

Bottom Line

Lexus is taking cautious steps toward making the ES more exciting to drive, a move that may alienate some past customers, but appeal to some new ones.

Pricing has not been announced, but the company says that the new model will be positioned like the current one, pegging the base price around $39,000. The new ES goes on sale this September. 

2019 Lexus ES rear