After six generations, the Lexus ESsedan is still going strong for 2014, taking a backseat only to the RX crossoverSUV in overall Lexus sales. BMW may make a sportier handling sedan and Audi may have a more opulent interior, but the ES's reputation for bulletproof reliability and resale speaks volumes about what matters most to luxury car buyers. A modest but capable V6 (in the ES 350), respectable handling and a long list of luxury features are the ES strengths, while the hybrid ES 300h offers all this plus 40 mpg. Aggressive yet handsome, the ES doesn't stray too far from the formula most buyers find appealing, and its user-friendly interfaces are a welcome relief from overly complex touch screens and button-littered dashboards. That's why we named it one of the 10 Best Luxury Cars Under $40,000 for 2014.
You'll Like This Car If...
If you're looking for luxury that is as reliable as it is impressive, the 2014 Lexus ES should hold a special place on your shopping list. The ES 300h hybrid model sacrifices nothing in return for its 40-mpg fuel economy.
You May Not Like This Car If...
If you're idea of a luxury sedan is one that can deliver a thrill ride while winding through twisting mountain roads, the ES is not the sedan for you. A rear-drive sport sedan, such as the Cadillac CTS or BMW 5 Series, makes a better choice.
Fresh from a complete remake last year, the 2014 Lexus ES receives only a few notable changes. LED fog lights replace the old fashioned bulb lamps, and heated and cooling seats can now be ordered with Lexus' faux-leather NuLuxe perforated seat trim. Apple's Siri Eyes Free technology is added to the equipment roster.
Driving the ES
The 2014 Lexus ES 350 delivers one of the most comfortable and quiet rides in the segment. Both the ES 350 and ES 300h are extremely quiet at highway speeds,...
... so much so that it's sometimes hard to hear the engine working. But punch the accelerator and the ES 350's 268-horsepower V6 emits a subtle growl no amount of insulation can shut out. Capable of sprinting to 60 mph in just 7.1 seconds, the ES is no slouch and delivers ample power for passing or merging. A selectable drive mode features a "sport" setting that changes the transmission's shift patterns to deliver better acceleration. Oddly, this setting seems to work better in the hybrid model, perhaps due to the added torque provided by the electric assist motor. The transitions between the hybrid's electric motor and gasoline engine are very smooth, except when in "eco" mode, in which the throttle response feels muted and the powertrain nervous.
HYBRID POWERTRAIN The 2014 Lexus ES 300h hybrid is rated at 40 mpg combined, and from our experience that number is realistic.
CREATURE COMFORTS The Lexus ES has a host of options that can make it an oasis on wheels. Some of our favorites include the heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, and Mark Levinson audiophile sound system that pumps out 835 watts through 15 speakers.
2014 Lexus ES Details
No Lexus is Spartan when it comes to interior amenities, and for 2014, the ES has upped the ante. The cabin's design is sophisticate yet still logical and easy to figure out. The more contemporary design boasts clean lines and soft surfaces. All models employ a dial above the shift knob that can set the car to "normal," "sport" or "eco" modes, and hybrid models have a button that allows the car to drive a short distance on battery power alone, similar to the Toyota Prius. The seats are comfortable for four adults thanks to a roomy back seat.
One look at the front of the 2014 Lexus ES is all it takes to know this is not the Lexus of old. Up front the ES shows of a dynamic spindle grille that is defining new Lexus models. On the sides, flared fenders and a high beltline give a slightly aggressive impression. Around back, the snubbed trunk flows smoothly from the C-pillars. The ES 350 has twin tailpipes peeking from beneath the bumper, while the ES 300h hybrid has just one that is hidden below a spoiler running under the bumper. The Lexus ES rides on low-resistance tires and 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, with larger wheels optional.
Even a base model of the 2014 Lexus ES comes well equipped with push-button start/stop, dual-zone automatic climate control with air filter and smog sensor, a moonroof, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, HomeLink garage door opener, and an 8-speaker AM/FM/6-CD/satellite radio audio system with USB and iPod inputs. Seats are now trimmed in Lexus' NuLuxe material, with leather optional. On the safety front, the 2014 ES has 10 airbags, a backup monitor, and a service that offers emergency assistance at the touch of a button, and Lexus' Automatic Collision Notification in the event of an accident.
The Lexus ES can go from good to grand via a handful of packages or by checking off the boxes on individual options. Among the amenities you can add are a navigation system, heated and ventilated seats, a panorama glass roof, a power rear sunshade, and a Mark Levinson premium sound system. Drive-centric options include lane-departure warning system, radar-based cruise control, parking assist, and blind-spot monitoring.
Under the Hood
Lexus ES 350 models use a 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes an ample 268 horsepower and is connected to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Though this is the same engine and transmission as the last-generation ES, fuel economy has improved through the use of low-friction materials. ES 300h models use a hybrid powertrain consisting of a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and battery-powered electric motor that creates a total of 200 horsepower. The hybrid model uses an automatic, continuously variable transmission (CVT). Both models can run on regular 87-octane gasoline.
Lexus ES 300h 2.5-liter inline-4 + hybrid electric motor and nickel metal hydride battery module 156 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm (gasoline engine alone) Total system horsepower: 200 156 lb-ft of torque @ 4,500 rpm (gasoline engine) EPA fuel city/highway fuel economy: 40/39 mpg
The base manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) for a 2014 Lexus ES 350 starts just under $37,500, including destination charge. The MSRP on a 2014 Lexus 300h hybrid is just a shade over the 40,000 mark. At these prices, the Lexus ES is comparable to the Acura TL and Cadillac CTS, higher than the Buick LaCrosse, and below the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and Infiniti Q60. Be sure to check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what buyers are actually paying for the 2014 Lexus ES in your area. Down the road, resale value of the Lexus ES is expected to remain strong.
"We have a 2013 ES350 Ultra Luxury. The driving dynamics are poor. The ride is poor because of the low profile tires. The interior materials are not as nice as they should be. The car gives great gas mileage and service costs are very low. It's a Toyota, which means it is reliable. Frankly I am disappointed with this car. It's okay but it is not great. The Mark Levinson sound system is great, but expensive."