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2018 Lexus ES Review

2018 Lexus ES Review
If you’re after a smooth, quiet, roomy, comforting luxury sedan that’s still good value, the 2018 Lexus ES may be one of the better choices.

The 2018 Lexus ES mid-size sedan is old-school luxury. It's spacious for four adults, with a glassy ride and easy-to-understand controls. 

We give the ES a score of 7.2 out of 10 points, awarding it extra credits for its calm, refined demeanor, a luxurious interior, and a very good track record in safety. Last year’s ES added several active-safety systems; for 2018, changes are minimal.

Traditionally, the ES has been among the most conservative Lexus designs, though it has been updated with the more assertive front-end styling found in newer models. Otherwise, the latest generation introduced in 2014 is quietly attractive without earlier generations’ slab-sided appearance. Inside, the horizontal lines of a wide cabin balances space with elegance, adding luxury with rich materials and a choice of different woods as accents.

The Lexus ES has just two powertrains: more common will be a 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 paired with a 6-speed automatic. The option is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that works with parent Toyota’s two-motor hybrid system that allows the usual short periods of all-electric driving. The V-6 offers smooth and solid acceleration, while the hybrid delivers acceptable performance and remarkably high fuel economy for a large and luxurious sedan. On the road, steering is nicely weighted and the suspension is more athletic than you might expect from a car with such a cushioned ride.

The Lexus ES has a generous cabin that’s larger than its mid-size segment inside. The front seats accommodate even larger drivers, and you can legitimately fit three adults in the rear if needed, while two will find the rear seat downright spacious. The hybrid ES loses trunk space and the pass-through for things like skis. The space is silent too, with remarkably effective noise insulation delivering close to utter silence inside the car.

Safety scores are high, reflecting an IIHS designation of Top Safety Pick and a raft of electronic active-safety systems as standard equipment.

Every version of the Lexus ES comes well equipped for the price, with the newly-named Premier middle grade likely to be the most popular version. The top-end cars carry a remarkable set of features even for a premium brand, and the only drawbacks we found were on the audio and entertainment front. Toyota continues to fit the Lexus Remote Touch mouse-like interface that moves a pointer on the center display screen. We’ve never been fans of this system, and its drawbacks come into sharper focus with the lack of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, an increasing rarity for 2018.

The 2018 Lexus ES offers a superb interior wrapped in a quiet exterior with an aggressive front end that doesn’t quite gel.

The 2018 Lexus ES is now in its fifth year, following the addition of a new and more aggressive front end a couple of years ago. The basic silhouette remains sedate, but the front fascia with its “spindle” grille and brash chrome surround feels like an add-on from a different vehicle. The grille itself is shaped like an hourglass, wide at the top and bottom and pinched at the middle. At least the spindle grille gets the car noticed; without that, it would be so quiet it might as well be made invisible. The sole design change this year is the elimination of dark metallic paint inside the headlight surrounds on cars fitted with bi-xenon lamps.

Still, the interior is superb, and it earns the car 6 out of 10 points for its design.

The contours and curves of the wide, horizontal dash make the ES feel spacious, and the high-mounted and hooded navigation system and the instrument cluster behind the steering wheel come off as elegant and practical. We might dial down the piano-black and matte metallic trim a bit, but that’s a minor quibble. The selection of species of wood trim on high-end models is impressive, and it’s better done and more authentic feeling than many competitors in the class.

The 2018 Lexus ES is hardly a sport sedan, but its smooth and comfortable ride in both standard and hybrid guises hides a more athletic side.

The 2018 Lexus ES follows an old playbook: prioritize a smooth ride over sporty roadholding. It’s the antidote to hard-riding luxury sedans, and it earns the ES extra points for ride comfort as well as its choice of two powertrains—quiet and strong, or quiet and fuel-efficient while still perky—and give it a Performance score of 7 out of 10.

The two powertrains in the ES offer a choice of distinct characteristics. Most buyers will opt for the traditional V-6, a 3.5-liter unit rated at 268 hp and paired to a 6-speed automatic driving the front wheels. It’s used in many Toyota vehicles, but extra sound insulation keeps any fuss far away from occupants. It’s smooth, fast, and if you feel the need for extra urge, there’s a knob for dialing in a sportier mode. We never felt the need to use it; the standard mode suits the car well.

Even the hybrid ES 300h—powered by a specially tuned Atkinson-cycle inline-4 with the company’s two-motor hybrid transmission—offers some pep, courtesy of the instant torque produced by its main electric motor. Drivers can opt for an EV mode that keeps the engine off, though only at low speeds under light acceleration. It’s good for stop-and-go urban traffic, or creeping into the garage after midnight. There’s also an Eco mode, which boosts fuel efficiency at the cost of less responsive performance, and a Sport mode, which does the opposite.
If we could change one thing in the ES powertrain, it would be the brakes. The ES 350 brake pedal feels spongy, and should be firmer. The hybrid ES 300h, on the other hand, uses a mix of regenerative electric-motor braking to recapture energy, blended with the conventional friction braking where needed. This is now an older version of the Toyota hybrid system, and it’s not quite as good at making those transitions seamless as a luxury sedan requires—especially one that’s as smooth, quiet, and comfortable as the ES.

It’s not a sport sedan, but the ES can show an athletic side if hustled around. The driving feel is relaxed and cushy, but both the base 17-inch wheels and the larger 18-inch versions with lower-profile tires offer excellent ride quality, and the larger wheels firm up the ride without affecting smoothness. As some luxury cars become firmer, tauter, and sportier than their buyers may want, the Lexus ES remains politely athletic when needed. Noise suppression is excellent, with little intrusion by wind, road surface, or engine (except for a growl in the hybrid when accelerating hard).

Comfort & Quality
The 2018 Lexus ES has a superb interior that’s quiet, spacious, comfortable and offers a refuge for adults on the road.

The 2018 Lexus ES offers a remarkably comfortable interior, especially considering its price. It receives extra credit for comfortable seats both front and rear, high-quality interior finishings and upholstery, and even its premium audio features. Wrapped together, they give it 9 out of 10 possible points. 

While its exterior appears to be a mid-size sedan, but the ES has the wheelbase of a larger vehicle, which provides remarkable space and comfort in the rear compartment. It’s sufficiently wide to accommodate three people, if needed, and there’s generous legroom for five adults. A 10-way power seat is standard in every ES for the driver, with a 12-way version available that includes lower seat cushions that expand for longer-legged occupants. The Ultra Luxury Package, while hardly cheap, comes with semi-aniline leather upholstery that we found particular luxurious and elegant.

Engine noise is extremely well suppressed in the standard ES 350, slightly less so in the ES 300h hybrid. Under hard acceleration, the inline-4 engine can produce something between a growl and a rasp—and there’s some discernible whine from the power electronics too, made all the more obvious due to the otherwise silent cabin.

The hybrid ES also sacrifices some trunk volume and the rear-seat pass-through to the trunk, though the rear seat space is unaffected. Our only other complaint in the ES is with the in-car tech. It’s simple to understand, with useful menus, but the mouse-like Lexus controller on the console that moves an arrow on the large central-dashboard display screen has never felt intuitive. It can be irritating at the best of times; while in motion, it verges on the downright distracting to drivers. At least it now has several other ways to navigate: buttons around it and a “back” button as well.

The 2018 Lexus ES has good crash-safety scores, the latest active-safety systems, and now even the subscription to its Safety Connect suite of services is free for 10 years.

We rate the 2018 Lexus ES at 8 points out of a possible 10 for its excellent safety ratings and its inclusion of standard electronic active-safety systems on every model. 
Last year, Lexus made its Safety System+ package a standard feature, meaning every ES now has adaptive cruise control, active lane control, forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, even intelligent high-beam headlights. Blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert and parking assist are optional extras.

The NHTSA gives the Lexus ES five stars overall, though its front crash protection gets only four stars. Nonetheless, the IIHS rates the ES a Top Safety Pick in its challenging test routines.

As well as 10 airbags and the usual suite of traction control and stability control systems, the optional Lexus Safety Connect system offers emergency and roadside assistance, automatic notification after crashes, and a locator service if the car is stolen. While those services previously required a subscription after a first trial year, they are now included at no extra cost for 10 years.

The 2018 Lexus ES includes generous features even at base level and has a superb dealer experience, but we wish the infotainment system were better.

The 2018 Lexus ES continues with base, mid-level, and high-end trims for both the ES 350 standard engine and the ES 300h hybrid version. Both are well-equipped at a price that starts around $40,000. They score high on standard equipment, the ability to customize as desired, and the excellent dealership experience—for both sales and service—offered as one of the brand’s hallmarks: Lexus dealers can sometimes put even those from pricier brands to shame.

However, this year we docked the ES a point for its finicky infotainment system, meaning the ES rates 7 out of 10 points for its features. 

Every ES comes standard with dual-zone climate control, synthetic leather seating and upholstery, a 7.0-inch display for the infotainment system, and a power moonroof.

For 2018, the only major change is that a single mid-range trim level, called the Premier Package, replaces the pair of trims previously known as the Premium and Luxury Packages. It adds heating and ventilation to the seats, memory for the driver-seat and steering position, power adjustment and leather covering for the steering wheel, wood trim for the doors, and new 17-inch 10-spoke dark grey alloy wheels. A new Noble Brown interior with Dark Mocha wood trim can be specified, and park assist and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert are required.

The Ultra Luxury Package layers on a much larger panoramic moonroof, semi-aniline leather, and ambient lighting. The panoramic moonroof is an option on lower trims as well, along with a navigation system, LED headlights, and a Mark Levinson audio system. This year, Lexus has given up on its one-year trial for the Safety Connect and Service Connect systems, and simply made them free for 10 years.

Note that Lexus packages various features into specific option combinations, and those vary by region (to accommodate  local weather, for instance). This reduces the complexity of buying an ES, but if you want to buy one exactly to your specifications, it’ll have to be a factory order, and it’ll take longer.

Fuel Economy
The standard version of the 2018 Lexus ES is about average on fuel efficiency, but the 300h hybrid offers some of the highest numbers of any luxury car sans plug.

We rate a car with different powertrains in the lineup based on its most popular model, which in this case is the 2018 Lexus ES 350 with a V-6 gasoline engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. It gets a 6 out of 10 in our scoring system. 

The gasoline-only model is fast, smooth, and comfortable, and gets decent EPA numbers of 21 mpg city, 30 highway, 24 combined. If it’s fuel economy you’re after, the ES 300h hybrid is almost as quick, almost as smooth, and 65 percent more fuel-efficient. The EPA rates it at 40/39/40 mpg. Drivers who are highly motivated to do better yet can find assistance from the operating-information displays between the two instruments.

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