The Lexus image has long been one of quiet and dignified comfort, and the ES model has long been the archetype of this aesthetic with its gentle curves, lush interiors, and highly respectable performance. The luxury division of Toyota sticks with this formula for 2018 and adds an impressive set of standard features to both its V-6 and hybrid options, and shuns the more aggressive styling of its siblings in the Lexus family. If it's consistency you're looking for, then look no further: for a considerably lower price than many of its competitors the ES offers a tried and true driving experience.
How quiet is the cabin?
If you're thinking of a Lexus right now, the chances are that you imagine the cavernous interior with its deafeningly silent ride. You've got the ES to thank for that iconic image, as it has been the standard bearer of the Lexus aesthetic for more than 20 years, and the newest models take that to heart as much as any previous generation. Lexus buyers are not looking for a diamond-crusted speed demon to go peeling down the Autobahn with, and that's absolutely fine. Lexus knows that, and they keep to their formula while continuing to make improvements in the design and execution. The front seats are roomy and will accommodate even larger drivers with ease, and the back seats can easily seat three adults. Noise insulation is downright miraculous, and the cabin is as close to perfectly silent as you're likely to find in a car speeding down the highway. The interior design adds to this pod-like atmosphere, with a wide horizontal dash that curves languidly and makes the cabin feel even more spacious. Thanks to its large wheelbase (the same as the Toyota Avalon) the ES feels even roomier than many of its competitors, and a 10-way power seat comes standard for drivers. Upgrade to the Ultra Luxury Package, and you'll have semi-aniline leather upholstery throughout, which muffles sound even more. Engine noise on both the V-6 and hybrid models is slight, and you might hear a muffled growl from the engine as you drive but it's neither intrusive nor particularly irritating. Besides, you do need something to remind you that you're actually in a car.
How does the hybrid engine perform?
Lexus stands by the notion of providing a smooth ride over a thrilling power display, and both the V-6 fuel injection and the hybrid powertrains reflect that ethos. The hybrid is a 4 cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine with a dual motor transmission, and its main motor produces some instant torque which gives the car a slight boost on liftoff. The hybrid is good in stop and start traffic as it can be switched to EV mode, which cuts off the gas and saves fuel for times when you'll actually be moving on the road instead of creeping through rush hour. With both Eco and Sport mode to choose from, the ES hybrid manages 40/39/40 mpg and its about 65% more fuel efficient than the V-6 while driving just as smooth: you'd be hard-pressed to find a better-performing hybrid in this class. If there is one weak point it would be the brakes: there's discord between the friction and the regenerative braking systems with a transition from spongy to stuttering, and it's not pleasant. All in all, however, the hybrid ES delivers a lot to car buyers with a powertrain that will save them time and money in the long run.
How does the ES compare to other luxury models?
The Lexus ES has built its brand on being a luxury vehicle at a more economical price range, and that holds true for the latest models. Fully loaded, it's still almost half the price of an intro Mercedes E class, and its well below a BMW 5-series or the Audi A6 or A7 models. For what you get from the Lexus, you'll certainly feel the value of your purchase, though the powertrain will never be confused with a German or Swedish model. However, the Lexus punches above its weight on interior cabin space, features, and particularly safety packages, which make it a perennial sleeper hit among this higher class of blockbusters. On the lower end, it certainly outperforms the Toyota Avalon (even though they share a powertrain) with its ride comfort and features, and it even hushes the Buick LaCrosse in cabin comfort. The ES hybrid has excellent performance and fuel economy numbers in the near-luxury class, and it gets high marks with enough power to get you where you need to go in style. If slow and steady wins the race, the Lexus ES glides along the luxury frontier with the guile and class that has made it a go-to brand for almost three decades.
What kind of safety features are available?
This is where the ES really shines, and where Lexus (and Toyota more generally) outperform their rivals and will hopefully set an industry standard for safety packages that come built into new models. Last year, Lexus made its Safety System + package a standard feature in new models, and they've continued that practice into 2018. Every ES has adaptive cruise control, forward collision warnings, active lane control and automatic emergency braking. The ES was awarded a Top Safety Pick last year, and the forecast calls for more of the same in 2018. Buyers can opt to add on the Lexus Safety Connect system which offers emergency and roadside assistance and comes with a 10-year subscription at no extra cost. Safety Connect will also track your car if it's stolen and send automatic notifications if you're in an accident, bringing a new level of intelligence to the game that shows how intelligent cars have become, and how much they can do for drivers.
Are the tech features impressive?
In the tech department, Lexus again opts to pack the ES with a ton of standard features that make it feel like a turnkey property that's been perfectly prepared for you to drive it off the lot in minutes. Climate control, sunroof and the Home Link garage door opener give a nod to the user-friendliness of the ES and the thoughtful design of even the most minor details. The infotainment screen comes in at 7 inches and features a 4-inch color display, Siri Eyes Free, Bluetooth connectivity, and integration with smartphones for navigation. Strangely, there is no Apple Car Play or Android Auto-included in the standard package, but you do get your money's worth if you opt for the standard package with an 8 speaker audio system that includes satellite radio. If you go for the Premier, trim you'll get heating and ventilation on the seats and a driver memory function that keeps your seat warm and steering position intact. Step up to the Ultra Luxury Package, and you'll have a Mark Levinson audio system, ambient lighting, and some supple leather interior to complement more exotic choices like Bamboo accents.