As with most Toyota products, the Lexus ES 350 is not a vehicle that jumps out at you with attention-seeking points of interest. It’s not particularly fast or nimble, there’s no elaborate styling, and the interior is posh without being eccentric. Yet everything is there in an understated format that simply gets the job done and somehow looks elegant for it.
Other than the over-chromed grille edges on our review ES 350, from the outside the car is contemporary and unremarkable. The exterior styling is as coupe-like as any rival you can name and retains a European flair about the rear pillar and wheel well bulges.
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On the inside, the 2016 ES 350 has a plush, well-heeled look about it that, again, isn’t too ostentatious or over-the-top with finery. Simple tones, quality materials, and comfort are the clear aim. In a busy parking lot of luxury sedans, the Lexus ES 350 sets itself apart with its top-shelf interior. Few in the entry-level price class can boast the kind of refinement that this Lexus offers. It’s an illustration of what makes the Lexus name.
Yet with this excellence, a few points of potential improvement can still be made. The rear seats have no fold-down option for added trunk storage when needed. There is a ski pass-through, but no split-fold option. The trunk space is otherwise good at 15.2 cubic feet (430 liters). The other issue is with the Lexus’ infotainment.
Technology options in the luxury market are sometimes a mixed bag. Some, like Jaguar, are quickly mastering the infotainment interface and others, like Lexus, seem to be treading water. The base interface for Lexus is the Display Audio System with a 7-inch touchscreen and basic connectivity options. The touchscreen or a central command knob on the dashboard are the only ways to interact and they are both uncomfortable to reach. Basic options are good, though, and include potential back-savers like Siri Eyes Free for Apple users.
The upgrade option is the Remote Touch interface, which enlarges the screen by a diagonal inch and adds a quirky mouse-like control knob and wrist rest just below and to the right of the shift lever. This is much easier to access for the driver, but includes one of the worst control systems in the business with a clunky highlighted movement indicator on the screen that jumps between selections rather than smoothly moving along as one would expect a mouse pointer to do. The Remote Touch system can be mastered, but it’s clumsy and the learning curve is relatively steep.
On the other hand, the suite of options and the new Enform system offer some excellent tech. The remote options for setting climate presets and other items from a smartphone are a very premium idea. The setup with Enform and its app can be time-consuming, but is well worth it once it’s done.
The Lexus ES 350 offers well-balanced performance and fuel economy returns. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 2016 Lexus ES 350 at 24 mpg (10 L/100 km) combined, with 21 mpg (11 L/100 km) in the city and 31 mpg (8 L/100 km) on the highway. Compared to other V6-powered sedans in the luxury segment, those are good returns. They come primarily because the ES 350 is one of the few entry-level luxury sedans that isn’t pining after performance metrics.
As a luxury sports sedan, rather than a performance sedan, the ES 350 is respectable enough, but most of its appeal in this regard comes from its road feel and driving dynamic rather than speed and power. A 3.5-liter V6 powers the ES 350, outputting 268 horsepower (200 kW) and 248 lb-ft (336 Nm) of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is the only option, but shifts smoothly and has no fear of downshifting to boost RPM for power output when required. The Lexus ES 350 is front-wheel drive and has no other powertrain options, though there is a hybrid variant called the ES 300h.Out on the road, the 2016 Lexus ES 350 is a solid drive with a well-mannered, appealing feel that offers some spirit without getting ahead of itself. It’s sedate, quiet, and very comfortable. There is enough road input to keep the drive interesting without intruding on a quiet symphony playing from the radio. This is an enjoyable car for those who prefer luxury and finesse to power and performance. It’s a balanced, dignified machine with a classy appeal.