New Lexus ES shows what sedans still can do

Gerry Miles/Staff photoThe Lexus ES mid-size luxury sedan is wholly restyled and re-engineered in 2019, keeping the model relevant and desirable at a time when some other auto brands are abandoning sedans.

The 2019 Lexus ES and the 2019 Lexus UX occupy opposite sides in a clash of automotive cultures. Both are brand new automobiles. Both are high-stepping luxury models filled with pampering gear and marvelous gadgetry. But for all their similarities, the two vehicles stand separated by an old-versus-new divide.

Together the two models show how an auto company can effectively embark in a new direction without abandoning established territory. With the 2019 ES and UX, Lexus does it simply by creating very contemporary models that drivers will find desirable.

That can be a example to some other auto brands that at the moment are doing so well with the new that they’re deserting the old.

With Lexus, the ES represents the old. It’s old at least in body type. The ES is a classic sedan. But the 2019 model is a thoroughly contemporary version that is wholly redesigned and re-engineered. The new ES arrived in September as the seventh generation of the middle-sized sedan that Lexus first began selling in 1989.

By contrast, the UX rides the moment’s hottest trend. It is a small crossover sport-utility vehicle that was just introduced by Lexus – the luxury-car brand of Toyota – in December. As a crossover, the UX is a passenger car made to do a little more: it cruises a little higher off the road, accommodates more cargo in back, and offers the option of all-wheel drive for greater assurance in rough weather.

Crossovers are cars, the same as sedans. But the U.S. government classifies them as trucks, grouping them with pickups. Therefore car companies do the same. The truck classification gives crossovers some regulatory advantages, like a break on government fuel-economy demands, the same as pickup trucks enjoy. That’s part of the reason why car companies push their crossovers and often emphasize them over traditional body designs like sedans.

But the main reason auto makers trumpet their crossovers is because people want them. Their added hauling capacity, the psychological boost they give from their higher seating, greater ground clearance and four-corner traction (when all-wheel drive is purchased as an option) appeals to a lot of drivers.

That makes crossovers the car of the moment. They’re today’s best selling vehicle type, and their popularity is growing.

Accordingly, Lexus introduced its UX at the tail end of last year as the fifth and smallest crossover sold by the luxury brand. Its boldly sculpted, standout body shape, petite size and small back seat make the new UX well suited for active young couples and singles with an expressive sense of style.

At a starting list price of $33,025, a UX 200 comes with front-wheel drive beneath a 169-horsepower four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission.

All-wheel drive adds $2,000, for a list of $35,025 for the UX 250h. It achieves four-corner traction by adding two electric motors. One helps the four-cylinder gas engine turn the front wheels, while the other electric motor powers the model’s rear wheels. Thus the all-wheel-drive UX 250h is a gasoline/electric hybrid drive car. In addition to surer traction, it conserves gasoline. Government fuel-economy ratings for the UX 250h are 41 miles per gallon in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway, or 39 mpg in combined driving.

Lexus also sells a hybrid version of its new ES sedan. The 2019 ES 300h remains front-wheel drive, while combining an electric propulsion motor and a gas engine to improve fuel economy by about 70 percent over a standard-drive ES with gas engine alone. The gasoline-use estimate for the ES hybrid is 44 mpg, compared to 26 mpg for the 2019 ES 350 with a 302-horsepower V6 engine.

The starting list price for the 2019 Lexus ES is $40,525. The hybrid version lists at $42,335. A first-ever F Sport version, at $45,060 to start, is optimized for more athletic driving.

This year’s re-made ES has an arrow-like aspect that only a low and elongated sedan can have. Its front is chiseled to a point by converging light sets, descending hood strakes and a pinched grille. Its flanks look lithe, supple and graceful, due in part to the long, low rake of its upper cabin and widely separated front and rear wheels.

Its longer, lower stance also gives the sedan an advantage in maneuverability and road holding that higher riding crossovers can’t match – the laws of physics make it impossible, due to crossovers raised centers of gravity. With the new ES, satisfying road-holding ability also comes from a purposefully stiffened, lighter weight chassis and sportingly configured suspension components that help the car respond quickly and accurately to driver commands.

In both hybrid-drive and standard-drive versions, the ES accelerates smoothly and moves with authority. New with the 2019 model is an F Sport version that delivers a higher level of performance due to such enhancements as But its cabin remains whisper quiet and well insulated from road harshness.

Befitting its luxury-class status, the sedan comes with advanced equipment that includes accident avoidance and automatic intervention devices that add bicycle detection and low-light pedestrian detection in the 2019 model. Its entertainment and communication gear operate through a large and prominent display screen high on the dashboard, controlled by a laptop-like touch pad on the center console.

Those features and characteristics, among others built into the Lexus ES, can entice some drivers to stick to the sedan when so many of their neighbors are opting for crossovers instead.

Lexus isn’t the only auto brand to effectively manage variety in consumer tastes. Other luxury car companies, especially BMW and Mercedes-Benz, also maintain robust model lineups that include both classic sedans and trendy crossover wagons. Many notable mainline, mass-market auto brands do too. Look at Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Toyota for prime examples.

But some large and well established auto companies are very publicly abandoning sedans in order to concentrate on trucks, including both pickups and crossover utility vehicles.

With its two newest models, the 2019 ES and UX, Lexus shows that a company doesn’t have to choose one or the other. It can produce sedans and crossovers with aplomb and allure.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2019 Lexus ES

Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive mid-size luxury sedan

List price: $40,525 to $45,060 (plus options)

Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles basic warranty; 6 years/70,000 miles powertrain warranty; 6 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 3 years/36,000 miles free schedule maintenance

Base engine: 3.5-liter V6

Power: 302 horsepower at 6,600 rpm; 267 lb-ft. torque at 4,700 rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 113 inches

Length: 196 inches

Width: 73 inches

Height: 57 inches

Weight: 3,649 pounds

Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons

Turning circle: 38.0 feet