2018 Lexus ES 350 Test Drive

Terry Box | April 3, 2018
2018 Lexus ES 350 Test Drive

Wild, razor-edged vehicles with snow-shovel grilles and hungover headlamps no longer amuse me.

I think I fell from their demographic – hard.

For better or worse, kids, I rarely see a head-bobbing hipster in my mirror these days, ready for a hot date with Nirvana Snowflake. Darn.

In this screaming era of look-at-me lines and excessive everything, I kind of appreciate the smooth, somewhat timid Lexus ES350, a sedan that sets the standard for unprovocative.

Will a chair soon be the only thing that rocks in my life?

Maybe, but put the quietly virtuous ES next to the frantic Lexus RX350 crossover – a vehicle so blustery and exaggerated it could run for president -- and it looks like cool water on a hot day.

Granted, it’s been on the kitchen-counter for a while. My champagne-colored 2018 ES350 looked pretty much the way it did when it arrived as an all-new model in 2013.

It has aged pretty well, though.

While the ES – like virtually all Lexis – must wear one of those silly misshapen spindle grilles to stay in the club, its sleek headlamps dip gently into the front fenders without riling anyone.

Meanwhile, a long, substantial-looking hood with light character lines on its edges set the tone for the sedan’s clean, sober body.

No fake scoops, vents or video-game-inspired swirls and gee-gaws here.

One subtle character line above the ES’ door-handles cut across a body as basically flat as West Texas – without the dust.

Huge doors proudly confirm the car’s high-end grocery-getter status, while its top curved gracefully down to join a slightly raised trunk.

Likewise, the ES’ tires and wheels looked appropriately low-key: average-sized 225/45 rubber on turbine-style 18-inch alloy wheels.

Think of the ES350 as a finely knitted polo shirt in a world of psychedelic Hawaiian tank-tops.

Here’s the real deal, dudes and dude-ettes: At about $49,000, the ES is a highly reliable, reasonably priced entry into the near-luxury world – without the garish flash that might prompt your boss to wonder if you’re selling pot on the side.

Leave off some options and you can push that price down to $40,000 or less.

In fact, I think I finally cracked Lexi’s design-code: Tempt buyers under 50 with amped-up, over-the-top, cartoonish bodies, but placate the older core-customers with refined luxurious interiors.

The light-gray interior in my car, for example, was probably its strongest selling point.

A graceful two-tier dashboard in smooth, expensive-feeling plastic included a recessed area at mid-dash – a nifty little cave to shade the ES’ display screen.

Stuffed in there somewhere were pre-collision and pedestrian-detection systems, lane-departure alert, a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.

Below the screen and a strip of polished wood, a horizontal center-stack with buttons and knobs for the car’s various functions flowed into a broad console with a positive, non-electric shifter (hooray).

Put your fist in the air for low-tech.

Although the door panels wore more of the elegant black plastic, the real stars inside were the light-gray leather seats with perforated, pleated centers.

Of course, as a mid-size luxury sedan, the ES offered excellent leg- and head-room in back – a seat big enough to sleep on, matter of fact, just in case one of your shiftless in-laws goes broke again and needs a place to crash.

Like too many Lexis and Toyotas, the ES sports the same powertrain it had years ago – in this case, Toyota-Lexus’ venerable 3.5-liter V-6 with a six-speed automatic.

The smooth V-6 cranks out 268-horsepower, just as it did in 2013, and directs the power through an outdated six-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels.

As you probably know, the ES shares platform pieces and other hardware with the Toyota Camry – and is assembled at the same Kentucky plant that builds the Camry -- but feels more solid and sealed-up in motion.

Even under full-throttle acceleration, the modest V-6 and transmission doesn’t make much racket, though the transmission can be slow to downshift.

Nonetheless, they provided a reasonably strong surge from stops, hitting 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, according to Lexus.

The down-side: ho-hum fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon overall.

Likewise, the 3,600-pound sedan’s main virtue when in motion was its smooth, silent ride.

Although the ES offers a sport mode button to slightly retune the engine, steering and suspension, it didn’t stray far from the car’s soft roots, stepping over bumps with lots of compliance and wheel-travel.

Push the car into a corner at moderate speeds and it leaned some, squirming a bit as speeds increased.

Find outr, the steering – while light and quick – felt as numb as my date’s toes the last time I went dancing. Sorry.

Still, if I had to drive to L.A., the ES would be high on my transport list.

By the way, my sedan contained about $10,000 in options, including 18-inch wheels ($880); navigation and Mark Levinson stereo ($2,615); parking assist ($500); and ultra-luxury interior package ($3,500).

Subtract all of that and you’ve got a solid near-luxury sedan for less than $39,000.

That’s hard to ignore – even in a car that avoids attention.

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2018 Lexus ES 350

  • What I liked most: The ES’ overall quality and refinement.
  • What I would change: Give the ES the more powerful V-6 and 8-speed automatic that are in the Camry XSE.
  • MSRP: Base price, $38,900; as equipped, $49,255.
  • Fuel economy: Rated at 21 miles per gallon in the city, 30 on the highway and 24 mpg overall.
  • Official color: Atomic Silver.
  • Odometer reading when tested: 4,809 miles.
  • Weight: approximately 3,600 pounds.
  • Length-width-height: 192.7 inches long/71.7 inches wide/57.1 inches tall.
  • Fuel tank capacity: 17.2 gallons.
  • Towing capacity: 1,000 pounds.
  • Spare tire: Temporary compact.
  • 2018 Lexus ES350 in a few words: Though outdated in some respects, the subtle ES still offers good value.
  • Warranty: Four-year, 50,000-mile basic warranty and six-year, 70,000-mile powertrain protection
  • Final assembly location: Georgetown, Ky.
  • Manufacturer’s website:
  • E-mail me at [email protected]
Tags: 2018-lexus-es-350
Peter H.
Went to Park Place Lexus and revived a VIP treatment from GM Chris and his team Don Mitchell. Very informative and went above and beyond to get the car that my wife wanted. A perfect ES 350 with all the bells and whistles and color choice from exterior to interior. Wife is very happy and they gave us an excellent deal with the current rebate. CARPRO listener received VIP service and pricing. Thanks CarPro.

Loyal listener Peter
Carl C.
I used CarPro to check out the Es350 and a dealer. I went to Lexus of Clear Lake and introduced myself to Fred Forshey.

He was most helpful and professional in my dealings to purchase a new 2018 ES350 and recommend him highly to anyone shopping for a new Lexus.

We made a deal satisfactory to both him and me and I had a most pleasant buying experience dealing with Mr. Forshey !

The ES is a wonderful auto and Mr. Forshey is a great salesman.
Bruce R.
We have one of these, a dream of my wife's for many years. I quietly wondered about her sanity until the day she brought it home. I wonder no more. What a delightful vehicle to drive and ride in. I prefer trips in the 350 vs. our Big Engine F150 now.

Good review and spot on.
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