Full Expert Review: 2015 Lexus ES 350
What’s New for 2015
The 2015 Lexus ES 350 gets upgraded upholstery and a standard touchscreen “Display Audio” tech interface. The optional Mark Levinson sound system now features technology that enhances the sound quality of digital music files. Furthermore, Lexus Enform Remote (which allows owners to remotely view and control certain features via an app) is now available and the optional Lexus Enform App Suite adds Slacker and upgrades to iHeartRadio 4.0. Finally, a limited-edition ES 350 called the Crafted Line has also been added to the lineup.
The entry-level luxury segment is filled with cars that have their respective marketing departments hyping up racetrack prowess or tire-scorching performance credentials. Yet a great many shoppers in that very segment are simply searching for the opulence and high-end gadgetry of a traditional luxury vehicle. Ideally, it would come at a somewhat reasonable price. Offering exactly that, and without the sporting pretenses, the 2015 Lexus ES 350 is a compelling example of how choices in this gateway segment aren’t all the same.
This talented Lexus is a master at cosseting everyone within its doors. Its V6 engine is the epitome of refinement, delivering smooth acceleration unmarred by coarseness. Ride quality is similarly well-mannered and passengers are nestled in a bubble of comfort. This comfort is tempered with reasonably keen handling. Although it isn’t one of those sport sedans, its reflexes are actually sharp enough to facilitate a certain measure of driver engagement, which can’t be said of Lexus ES models of the past. There’s ample interior room, especially for those in the rear, which isn’t surprising given that this Lexus shares a platform with a full-size sedan, the Toyota Avalon. Topping things off is a cabin that hits all the right notes when it comes to deluxe elegance, with high-quality materials and exceptional craftsmanship.
Though gifted, the ES 350 isn’t the only entry-level luxury sedan that puts a priority on comfort over sport. The redesigned Hyundai Genesis delivers credible luxury that can go head to head with premium German models, while the Acura TLX is a tech-filled, value-rich sedan that matches the reputation for superior reliability that’s also associated with Lexus. The Buick LaCrosse and Chrysler 300 are also excellent picks, and come with lower starting prices than the ES. In many ways, though, the ES 350 has served as a yardstick for them all over the years, and for those seeking more lux and less sport, this would be a pretty good place to start.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2015 Lexus ES 350 is a midsize luxury sedan that seats five people. It comes in two trim levels: base and Crafted Line.
Standard equipment for the base ES 350 includes 17-inch alloy wheels, three-mode adjustable drive settings, xenon headlights, LED running lights, LED foglights, a sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, heated mirrors, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats (with two-way adjustable lumbar), a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, perforated “NuLuxe” (premium vinyl) upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera and Safety Connect emergency communications. Also standard is the Display Audio interface (includes a touchscreen and multipurpose control knob), Bluetooth phone and audio, Siri Eyes Free (iPhone voice control integration), and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack, and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The Crafted Line is a limited-edition trim level that comes with all the base equipment plus 18-inch wheels, specialized paint, automatic wipers, a two-tone black and red interior, a two-piece set of Tumi luggage, heated and ventilated front seats, a blind-spot and cross-traffic warning system and front and rear parking sensors.
Otherwise, there are many options and packages available for the base trim, but availability can vary depending on where you live.
The Navigation package includes a larger 8-inch display screen, the Remote Touch mouselike electronics interface, a navigation system, voice controls, enhanced Bluetooth connectivity, text-to-speech functionality and the Enform suite of smartphone-connected apps and concierge services (including Lexus Enform Remote). A 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system can be added to the Navigation package.
The Premium package adds driver memory settings, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and wood trim. The Luxury package adds that equipment plus parking sensors, heated and ventilated front seats, leather upholstery and a power rear window sunshade. The Ultra Luxury package adds gets the Premium and Luxury package equipment plus automatic wipers, a power-operated trunk lid, a panoramic sunroof, manual rear door sunshades, ambient interior lighting, a heated steering wheel, a power driver-seat cushion extender and passenger seat memory functions.
Stand-alone options include 18-inch wheels, adaptive cruise control (includes the pre-collision system), parking sensors, a blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning system, a lane-departure warning system and many of the Ultra Luxury package’s extra items.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2015 Lexus ES 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission are standard. In performance testing, the ES 350 went from zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, which is on par with its competitors. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 24 mpg combined (21 city/31 highway).
During testing, a Lexus ES 350 went from zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, which is an average time for the class.
Every 2015 Lexus ES 350 comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front and rear side and side curtain airbags and front knee airbags. Also included is a rearview camera and Lexus Safety Connect (automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location and an emergency assist button).
Optional equipment includes front and rear parking sensors, a lane-departure warning system and a blind-spot monitoring system that includes rear cross-traffic alert. The optional adaptive cruise control includes the pre-collision system, which primes the seatbelts and brakes when it senses an impending collision.
In brake testing, the ES came to a stop from 60 mph in 124 feet, which is around average.
In government crash testing, the ES 350 earned a perfect five-star rating for its overall performance, with five stars for total frontal-crash protection and side-crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the ES the highest possible rating of “Good” in its moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests. Its seat/head restraint design also rates “Good” for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2015 Lexus ES 350’s cabin is modern and stylish. The analog clock in the center of the dash is a classy touch that breaks up the otherwise high-tech environment. Of course, the richness of the materials varies depending on whether you opt for leather or stick with the standard perforated NuLuxe vinyl, but either way, build quality is excellent in typical Lexus fashion.
The climate controls are simple to use, but the audio system is a little more complicated due to the sheer number of available media types. This is true whether you get the standard Display Audio touchscreen/multipurpose knob controller, or the upgrade Lexus Remote Touch system included with the Navigation package. The latter is essentially a mouselike device that controls a cursor on a large centrally located screen. Although interacting with this interface is very similar to using a computer mouse, the ultra-sensitive nature of the controller can make it clumsy and distracting to use while driving. If tech features are important to you, we recommend playing around with Remote Touch before taking an ES 350 home.
Space is ample all around, and 6-footers will be quite content in the comfy front seats. Rear-seat legroom, in particular, is very impressive, though taller occupants will find their heads touching the roof in ES 350s equipped with the optional panoramic sunroof. The trunk offers 15.2 cubic feet of space, which is average for this class. The rear seats do not fold down, however, and only a pass-through is offered.
The 2015 Lexus ES 350 delivers a refined driving experience that’s bolstered by a V6 engine that’s smooth and responsive. At highway speeds, the cabin remains remarkably silent, mostly devoid of wind, road or engine noise. Bumps and ruts in the road are also nicely absorbed. However, don’t expect complete isolation from road imperfections, as the current ES 350 is tuned to deliver more of a balance between out-and-out comfort and handling precision. Through turns, the steering is commendably accurate for a big sedan’s. Still, the ES 350’s Sport mode provides a welcome increase in steering effort, since the steering feels a little too light in “Normal” mode.