Its rare to be surprised by a car these days. Unless its a all-new model, brands don’t often stray too far from the path. And then there’s this; the all new 2019 Lexus ES350 F Sport. When you think back to the previous six generation of Lexus ES, you recall a sedan that has done well for itself by being quiet and luxurious. The words bright, charismatic, and sporty just don’t apply…quite the opposite, in fact. So when an Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0 ES showed up with a Circuit Red interior and some F Sport badges, we didn’t know what to think.
There’s two factors at play here. First, the rear-drive GS is not long for this world, so Lexus buyers are about to lose a true sport sedan. So if you really want a sporty rear-drive Lexus, go buy a GS F right now. Nobody will blame you. Second, Lexus has a brand new chassis to work with. The Global Architecture-K (GA-K) platform is the same one that underpins the fantastic all-new Toyota Camry and Avalon. With several Lexus-specific tweaks, this new ES is stiffer, longer, lower, and wider than ever before. To help with handling, the front and rear axles are closer to the corners and both tracks are wider. This provides a more stable layout to build upon. Engineers fitted revised front suspension geometry and a new power steering system to improve control and driving feel. In keeping with the Lexus philosophy, they added more sound deadening for a quieter ride and new dynamic control shocks to smooth the ride. The F Sport model swaps out these new shocks for adaptive variable suspension with adjustable dampers.
Buttoning up this new chassis, Lexus has redesigned the ES with all new sheet metal. It is, in my opinion, the best looking Lexus of the spindle grille era south of the LC500. New, thinner headlights feature designs that call out the sharp accents of the grille shape. In F Sport guise, the signature grille is flanked with slightly wider trim pieces. Dark graphite wheels match the trim of the grille surrounds, windows, mirrors, and trunk. The elegant roof line tapers down to the short rear deck without compromising headroom for rear occupants. The flanks of the new ES are not over-stylized, with a simple belt-line crease and a very effective design that runs along the lower edge of the door and then kicks upward to visually align with the rear bumper seam. That same crease carrier around to the rear, where it ties into the bottom of the signature L-shaped taillight. It’s an element that works perfectly here yet failed on the IS and RC. An additional crease makes the rear bumper appear narrower and helps square off the rear design. A simple rear lip spoiler adds a bit of a point to the ES’ rear end.
Inside, the same sophisticated restraint of the exterior carriers over. The materials are top rate and put together with the same level of attention to detail you’d expect in the LS500. The well-bolstered seats and great steering wheel are unique to the ES F Sport, and they’re the best in class. Sheer perfection. The use of red and black leather, contrast stitching, and aluminum trim bring a modern and sporty vibe to the interior. There’s no other interior color combination you should consider. We did find that the infotainment screen does become difficult to read when washed out in low angle sunlight. And while Lexus has made some progress, the Enform UI and interface are still utterly disappointing.
It wasn’t the exterior design or interior attention to detail that truly surprised us, however. It was the way this new Lexus ES F Sport drives! The revised 3.5L V6 gets direct and port injection, plus variable valve timing on the intake valves. With 302hp and 267lb-ft torque, there’s smooth linear power through the entire rev range. At just under 5,000rpm, the intake adjustment adds a lovely bit of extra punch. A new 8-speed automatic shifts well, but its the chassis and suspension work that pay the true dividends. The ride is comfy but connected in all but Sport S+ mode. On F Sport models, Sport S+ adjusts the throttle, transmission, steering, and adaptive dampers. The steering weights up satisfyingly and the adaptive variable suspension seriously stiffens things up. It gets properly hard, for a Lexus. Left on its own in Normal mode, the ES eats up miles quietly and confidently, yet it remains two twists away from bringing a smile to your face on the next off-ramp.
Quite, comfortable, and relaxing are all things we’ve come to expect from the Lexus ES350. So too, have we been spoiled by its interior appointments and build quality. As long as we can remember, the Lexus has been setting and meeting those expectations. But poised, sporting, and balanced are not what you’d expect. The new chassis has given the team at Lexus exactly what they needed to build a first-ever F Sport model. It is, perhaps, the most deserving model in the Lexus’ lineup for the F Sport badge. And we truly found ourselves surprised to discover it behind the wheel of the all new 2019 Lexus ES350 F Sport.
|2019 Lexus ES350 F Sport
|Adaptive Variable Suspension||$750|
|Blind Spot Monitor w/ Rear Cross Traffic Alert||$1,065|
|Triple Beam LED Headlights||$1,515|
|Navigation w/ Mark Levinson Audio Package||$3,000|
|Illuminated Door Sills||$379|
|Trunk Mat/Cargo Net/Wheel Locks||$344|
|As Tested MSRP||$52,783|