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Auto review: Whatever its name means, the 2019 Lexus ES is surprisingly provocative and athletic

Redesigned for 2019, Lexus' popular offering is more than just an Elderly Shuttle; it's an Excellent Sedan.

The 2019 version of the Lexus ES luxury

The 2019 version of the Lexus ES luxury sedan goes on sale in September. Photo Credit: Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Inc. / David Dewhurst Photography

From its debut in 1989, the ES has been Lexus’ top-selling sedan, one that prioritizes refinement and solitude over driving thrills. While endearing to older drivers who prefer a comfortably sedate sedan, it did little to attract younger buyers who understandably thought ES was an acronym for Elderly Shuttle rather than Executive Sedan, its true nom de guerre.

Selling in more than 90 countries, Lexus is about to release the redesigned 2019 Lexus ES, which employs an all-new platform that it shares with the 2019 Toyota Avalon. In fact, the 2019 ES shares the 2019 Avalon’s 113-inch wheelbase and 195.9-inch overall length. This means the ES has grown 2.6 inches longer, 0.2 inches lower and 1.8 inches wider than before. The wheelbase has also grown by 2 inches, allowing for an exceptionally roomy cabin, particularly in the rear seat. In fact, according to Lexus, the ES has more rear seat legroom than the flagship Lexus LS sedan. Overall size is larger than a BMW 3-Series, but smaller than the 5-Series.

All that length is put to good use. Looking like a miniaturized LS, the ES gracefully embraces Lexus’ kinetic new styling, a look highlighted by the brand’s distinctive spindle grille and L-shaped LED taillamps. Lexus’ design chief Koichi Suga describes it as “provocative elegance.”

The ES 350 is powered by a double-overhead cam 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque, an increase of 34 horsepower and 19 pound-feet of torque from the previous V-6. Fuel efficiency is up as well. While final EPA numbers aren’t available, Lexus estimates average fuel economy of 26 mpg. A new eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode is standard; a manual transmission isn’t available. The ES 300h Hybrid comes with an all-new 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle gas engine mated to an electric motor and continuously variable automatic transmission rated at 215 horsepower. Fuel efficiency is estimated by Lexus at 44 mpg, although test drives of the new ES 300h saw fuel economy reach 45.9 mpg. Finally, there’s a new F-Sport model that employs the V-6 engine with the eight-speed transmission but adds front and rear adjustable performance dampers, 19-inch wheels with 235/40 all-season tires and a rear spoiler. Other models have 17-inch wheels, although 18-inchers are optional.

This results in three very different personalities. The ES 350 is responsive and powerful, although the transmission chooses a high gear and then hesitates before downshifting when more power is needed. Nevertheless, it runs 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds. In contrast, the ES 300h makes the same run in 8.1 seconds. Although it’s noticeably slower, most buyers will be happy with this model.

While piloting the ES, you’ll find the instrument panel centers around an 8-inch infotainment interface that uses a touchpad on the center console. While it’s an improvement from the joystick previously used by Lexus, it’s still not as easy to use as other systems that employ a touchscreen or knob. An 8-inch screen with a 10-speaker Pioneer audio system is standard; a 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system and 12.3-inch screen are options. The new ES is Amazon Alexa-enabled; Apple CarPlay, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and wireless charging come standard.

The 2019 Lexus ES350 goes on sale in September.

“We are confident that we have created a new expectation of what a luxury car should be,” Suga said during the car’s introduction in Nashville last week, and it’s no idle boast.

Base price: $39,000 (estimated)

Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC V6

Horsepower: 302

Torque: 267 pound-feet

EPA fuel economy: Not available

Wheelbase: 113 inches

Length: 195.9 inches

Cargo capacity: 16.7 cubic feet

Curb weight: 3,649 pounds

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