2014 Lexus ES 350 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Introduction
Looking at my weathered face in a mirror, I wonder where the time has gone. I’m 46 years old now, and my reflection contains an aging, out-of-shape, bleary-eyed and balding father of four who has loved cars all of his life but now, having spent a week and hundreds of miles behind the wheel of the 2014 Lexus ES 350, actually likes it. Ouch. It almost hurts to hear myself think that out loud.
I’ve got a couple of decades on the Lexus ES, which debuted at the same time Lexus did, back in 1989. Briefly, from 1992 to 2001, the ES was a style leader in the entry luxury segment, sleek and upscale even though it was based on the Toyota Camry. Thereafter, bland design turned the ES into an anonymous luxury car, yet it remained an empty nester’s favorite upgrade from a Camry once the college tuition bills stopped flowing into the mailbox.
Last year, Lexus redesigned the ES, moving it to the Toyota Avalon platform while simultaneously giving it more expressive styling. Now, before you start feeling drowsy, or you decide to stop reading, you should know that the Lexus ES is a pretty terrific luxury car, even if it’s not very exciting to drive. Give me a chance to explain why. But first, a few housekeeping details…
2014 Lexus ES 350 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
There are two versions of the 2014 Lexus ES on sale. The ES 350 is the most popular model, equipped with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine. The ES 300h is a gas-electric hybrid version that employs the same drivetrain as the Toyota Camry Hybrid, proven components that aren’t particularly sophisticated but which have no trouble delivering 40 mpg in combined driving.
This review pertains to the ES 350, which shares entry-level duty in the Lexus lineup with the Lexus IS. Whereas the IS is a compact, rear-drive sport sedan, the ES is a cushy, full-size, front-drive cruiser. It comes in a single level of specification with a choice of option packages and individual upgrades.
My test vehicle was fully loaded, equipped with an Ultra Luxury option package and a $49,892 price tag. Whoa! Almost 50 grand for a Lexus ES? Yep, but if you keep in mind that a Mercedes-Benz E350 without any options starts almost $3,000 higher than that, then the ES 350 looks like a bargain.
Highlights from my test vehicle’s equipment list included premium semi-aniline leather, heated and ventilated front seats, a power thigh extender for the driver, a heated wood-and-leather steering wheel with power tilt/telescopic operation, a wood gearshift knob, manual rear side window sunshades, a power rear window sunshade, and a power-operated trunk lid. Additional upgrades such as a premium audio system, a navigation system, Lexus Enform App Suite, and enhanced Bluetooth with text-to-speech technology were along for the ride.
Safety equipment installed as a part of the Ultra Luxury package includes parking assist sensors, a Lexus Pre-Collision System, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, rain-sensing wipers, and automatic high-beam headlights. A panoramic glass roof, ambient cabin lighting, and a set of spiffy 18-inch aluminum wheels rounded out the upgrades found on my test car, which was painted Fire Agate Pearl.
2014 Lexus ES 350 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Design
- Standard HID headlights
- Standard LED fog lights
- Bamboo trim now offered for ES 350 in addition to ES 300h
When Lexus redesigned the ES for 2013, it retained the car’s generally conservative appearance in order to keep the faithful, faithful. But, when you look at the details, there is unexpected flair to the styling.
From its pinched spindle-style grille, a new Lexus design signature, to the artfully rendered side mirrors, the flared rocker panels, the strong character line running from the headlights and wrapping around the trunk, and the tasteful trapezoidal themes at the back, this latest Lexus ES exhibits genuine style. My test car’s optional 18-inch multi-spoke wheels add a sporty and upscale look, and if you ask me, I’d say they’re a requirement.
But is the ES good looking? From some angles, and in certain colors, yes. Better yet, especially for a luxury car, the Lexus ES now has presence, a trait it has heretofore lacked.
Swing open the driver’s door and you’ll find a similar design approach inside, where Lexus blends conservatism and tradition with stylish details. If you’re a big fan of touchscreen displays and touch-sensing control panels, the ES 350 is going to disappoint. Instead, it’s got logically-located, old-school buttons and knobs with large markings in English, and for this reason alone, I’m a fan of this car.
Three interior colors are available, all paired with a black upper dashboard and door panels to reduce glare. My test car’s Parchment interior included matching carpets and floor mats, which easily soil. I think black floor coverings would work better.
2014 Lexus ES 350 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- NuLuxe upholstery offered with heating and ventilation thanks to available perforations in material
Comfort is not a problem inside of the 2014 Lexus ES 350. In fact, comfort is where this Lexus absolutely excels, especially when equipped with the top-of-the-line Ultra Luxury Package, which includes supple premium semi-aniline leather and a power driver’s seat thigh adjuster. Couple these features with heated and ventilated front seats, a heated wood-and-leather steering wheel, and plush-padded armrests, and you’ve got a recipe for fantastic long-distance comfort. The only thing that could make driving a Lexus ES better would be a massage function.
If you’re not driving, you’re unlikely to complain about riding in the back seat. Last year, Lexus moved the redesigned ES from the Toyota Camry platform to the longer one underpinning the bigger Toyota Avalon. As a result, the ES’s rear seat is absolutely enormous. There’s plenty of legroom and space for feet, and the rear seat sits high enough off of the floor to deliver great thigh support. Plus, the Ultra Luxury Package includes manual rear window sunshades and a power rear window sunshade. All that’s blatantly missing are rear seat heaters, something that you can get in a Hyundai Elantra.
During my week with the Lexus ES, I made a couple of airport runs to shuttle visiting family members, and the ES 350’s 15.2 cu.-ft. trunk easily managed their gear. Had we elected to go skiing, a pass-through would have allowed the ES 350 to carry sticks and poles at the same time that it holds four people. Enclosed hinges ensure that luggage won’t be crushed, and Lexus thoughtfully includes a first-aid kit in the trunk. My test car’s trunk lid also featured power opening and closing, overkill in my opinion but certain to elicit oooohs and aaaahs from potential buyers when demonstrated on the showroom floor.
2014 Lexus ES 350 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- No changes for 2014
If you’re a fan of knobs and buttons rather than iPad-style touchscreens and touch-sensitive panels, you’ll love the fact that the Lexus ES takes a traditional approach with its instrumentation and controls. There’s nothing confusing about operating this car, and I’ve even grown to appreciate the remote touch interface for the navigation and infotainment screen.
Better yet, the driver doesn’t really need to use the screen while driving, except to reference the map. That’s because the ES model’s most commonly used functions and adjustments are made using the primary controls, which are located right where you expect to find them, are sized for use by adults, and are clearly labeled and marked with regard to their function. To access the car’s myriad system settings, it is necessary to use the screen, but once you’ve got the car set up they way you want it, you don’t need to fiddle with it much.
What’s missing, though, aside from triple-zone climate control, are USB charging ports for rear seat passengers. Because I had my two, phone-charge-percentage-obsessed teenaged daughters in the car all week, this feature would have saved some bickering over who would be plugging their phone into the port inside the center console.
2014 Lexus ES 350 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- No changes for 2014
Every 2014 Lexus ES 350 is equipped with Smart Stop Technology, which is designed to prevent the car from accelerating if the driver is pressing on the brake pedal and gas pedal at the same time, as well as a trunk-mounted first-aid kit. Safety Connect telematics is also standard, featuring Automatic Collision Notification and an Emergency Assistance SOS button.
Safety-related options for the Lexus ES include rain-sensing wipers with a de-icer grid, parking assist sensors, and automatic high-beam headlights. A Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert is available for the ES 350, as well as Lane Departure Alert and a Dynamic Radar Cruise Control system with a Pre-Collision System that can identify obstacles ahead and automatically brake the car in or to reduce speed prior to impact.
2014 Lexus ES 350 Crash-Test Ratings:
In the event that the ES 350’s high-tech safety systems fail to prevent a collision, chances are excellent that you’ll survive a wreck. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the ES earns an overall crash-test rating of 5 stars, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the ES its top rating of “Good” in all tests in which the car has been evaluated. Note, though, that as this review is written this popular Lexus has not been evaluated in the small overlap frontal-impact test.
2014 Lexus ES 350 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- No changes for 2014
Choose the Lexus ES 300h and you’ll get a hybrid powertrain good for 40 mpg in combined driving. I tested the ES 350 with a 3.5-liter V-6 making 268 horsepower.
If that sounds familiar, you’re not mistaken. This is the same V-6 that gets put into a range of Toyota and Lexus models, one that revs eagerly and feels lots more powerful than the horsepower rating might suggest. I’m a huge fan of this engine, and thanks to it there is no shortage of power or performance in the ES 350.
There is, however, a shortage of fuel efficiency. Granted, I kept this car’s Drive Mode Select control switch in Normal mode rather than Eco or Sport, but the EPA says a Lexus ES 350 should get 31 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg in combined driving. Most of the hundreds of miles that I traveled were covered on the highway, and I averaged 24.7 mpg.
A 6-speed automatic transmission powers the ES 350’s front wheels, and it offers a manual shift gate with an intuitive pattern. I didn’t use it, though. This is, after all, a Lexus ES.
2014 Lexus ES 350 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
Forget that wisecrack on the previous page. Some drivers might be inspired to shift their own gears because the 2014 Lexus ES 350 is a more engaging car than you might expect.
The muscular V-6 engine produces swift acceleration, with Lexus quoting a 7.1-second sprint to 60 mph, and while the transmission responds appropriately no matter the demands on its software, I can see why some drivers might want manual control over gear changes. Leave the car in Drive, and it is very easy to merge onto fast-flowing freeways, overtake and pass slower traffic, and ascend mountain grades. No ES 350 owner should feel like they require more power.
If this prediction proves false, that person can use Drive Mode Select to switch the car into a Sport driving mode, though I didn’t notice much of a change in the ES 350’s demeanor. Similarly, the ES 350’s Eco driving mode appeared to make no difference in driving dynamics, so I kept the car in its Normal setting for the majority of the miles that I covered.
In terms of ride and handling, the ES is better connected to the road than expected, the suspension and tires providing genuine feel for surface texture, firm response to minor cracks and bumps without deterioration in what is usually a supple ride, and surprisingly flat cornering characteristics when rounding curves and corners in an urban environment. Additionally, the steering is perfectly weighted and reasonably responsive, helping to make the ES feel solid and secure the majority of the time.
If there’s room for dynamic improvement, Lexus could incrementally refine brake pedal feel and modulation. Additional sound deadening is in order, too, as wind noise is more intrusive than expected. Then again, that could be a function of my test car’s optional panoramic glass sunroof.
While the Lexus ES 350 is great to drive in a city, around the suburbs, and on freeways, it is not a twisty road kind of a car. When hustling this Lexus across the kinky two-lane roads in the Santa Monica Mountains, it often felt as though the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) software tying together the powertrain, the steering, the brakes, and the stability control system was doing the driving rather than the driver.
An additional damper on fun, the stability control system is quick to engage if its algorithms determine things are not as they should be, even when the ES 350’s Sport mode is engaged. Plus, my test car’s 18-inch Bridgestone Turanza all-season tires weren’t all that interested in gripping the road, or keeping my shenanigans a secret as they howled in discontent around every corner.
So then, the Lexus ES still isn’t the right choice for the driving enthusiast. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not pleasing to drive on the streets and freeways where 90% of people spend 90% of their time behind the wheel. And that newfound enjoyment during commutes and road trips is one of the main reasons I like it so much.
Either that, or I’m just getting old.
2014 Lexus ES 350 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
At the end of 2013, my wife’s junior-high buddies and their families got together for their annual holiday gathering. Upon arriving at her friend’s parents’ home, I noticed a new 2014 Lexus IS 250 sitting in the driveway. Naturally, I spoke to them about their purchase, which was so recent that it didn’t yet wear official California plates.
They’d had the car for three weeks, and they didn’t like it. After more than a decade driving a Mazda Millenia, they had finally treated themselves and upgraded to a luxury car. Trouble was, they wanted a smaller Lexus and had decided that the ES 350 was too big for their needs. So they got the IS 250 instead, complete with 18-inch wheels and summer performance tires. Predictably, these retirees complained that the ride was too harsh, the steering was too darty, and the car sat too low to the ground for easy entry and exit.
“We should have talked to you, first,” said Mr. Watanabe.
Indeed, they would have been happier in the 2014 Lexus ES 350, which embodies exactly what most people want in a luxury car most of the time. The ES 350 combines style, sophistication, and supple comfort in a package that simultaneously makes life simpler. That the ES offers these traits in a vehicle that is also enjoyable to drive and which represents real value in the luxury sedan class makes it all the better.
Personally, though, I’d rather have the Lexus IS or Lexus GS. I might be looking – and feeling – my age these days, but I still love to get behind the wheel and tackle a twisty road with gusto.
2014 Lexus ES 350 Luxury Sedan Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Roomy interior
- Refined materials
- Simplistic controls
- Impressive reliability record
- Impressive safety ratings
- Quick acceleration
- Capable driving dynamics
- Represents genuine value
- Unimpressive fuel economy
- Not a mountain road athlete
Lexus supplied the 2014 ES 350 for this review
2014 Lexus ES 350 photos by Christian Wardlaw