The 2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport truly cements that “driving like a Lexus” now means something far different than it ever did before. It’s not dull, it’s not anonymous and old ladies probably won’t like it. It should not be painted pearlescent white. Instead, the new ES is genuinely engaging to drive, feeling every bit like it was spawned from the same gene pool as the lustworthy LC coupe and surprisingly sharp LS flagship sedan. I actually enjoyed driving it more than the BMW M550i, and I liked driving that car quite a bit. Seriously. No one is as surprised by that statement as the guy who typed it.
It really comes down to what you feel through that F Sport steering wheel, through your heels planted in the floor below, and the seat of your pants that’s now placed lower in a sportier driving position. The 2019 ES 350 is one of those cars that manages to shrink around you as you hustle it along, feeling much smaller than its full-size sedan dimensions would indicate. It may be based on the Avalon, but that car never felt as lithe and responsive as its Lexus cousin. The extra structural rigidity of the ES is part of the equation.
Now, to be fair, the ES in question is the F Sport model fitted with the optional Adaptive Variable Suspension derived from the divine LC, which no doubt helps the dynamics compared to lesser ES trims. But judging by the impressions of others, plus the rest of Lexus’ redone lineup, lower-trim ESs seem to drive well. Even the base cars come with novel swing-valve shock absorbers designed to ably soak up bumps while keeping things level around corners.
The electric power steering motor has also migrated from the column to the rack – a sure fire way to improve steering feel. And that it does, plus Lexus has a knack of tuning the various steering settings (Normal, Sport and Sport+) to be subtle in their increase of effort. There’s no overly stiff weighting to satisfy the notion that “sporty” steering equals “stiff” steering, as is often the case in cars with variable drive settings. Appropriately, I drove in Normal around town and in Sport+ on my mountain road evaluation route. The differences aren’t night and day — it still feels like you’re driving the same car — it’s just been tweaked slightly for ideal performance.
And breaking a deal for the ES 350 F Sport would be a real shame, because it’s truly one of the more enjoyable cars I’ve driven this year. I also think it looks pretty good when painted in the test car’s Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0, and who can argue with a full-size sedan back seat? Most importantly, though, it drives like a Lexus.