2021 Lexus ES Review

Is this the best front-wheel drive mid-size luxury sedan on the market today?

3 months ago
Michael Harley
EVP Product, Editor-in-Chief
PROS
  • Library-quiet interior
  • Excellent ride
  • Comprehensive safety equipment
  • Luxurious interior appointments
  • Lexus ownership experience
CONS
  • Frustrating infotainment controls
  • Rear seat doesn't fold to increase trunk utility
  • F Sport lacks sport

The 2021 Lexus ES is a mid-size luxury sedan with seating for up to five passengers. First introduced for the 1990 model year, today’s ES is a seventh-generation design that was last redesigned for the 2019 model year (the ES 250 model, which introduces all-wheel-drive to the lineup, is a new model for 2021). The stylish four-door sedan is offered with 4-cylinder, 6-cylinder, and hybrid powerplants and front- and all-wheel-drive powertrains. The 2021 Lexus ES 250 starts at $40,000.

ES Exterior

In a world full of tall crossovers and SUVs, the ES differentiates itself as a traditional 4-door sedan with a spacious trunk. Notwithstanding the expansive glass, which affords passengers excellent views outwards, the exterior of the ES is sleek and stylish. Exhaustive work in the wind tunnel (the ES 300h boasts a sleek 0.26 Cd) helps keep wind noise to a minimum while simultaneously improving fuel economy.

The nose of the ES features the delicately complex Lexus “spindle grille” that is neatly centered between the focused projector-beam LED headlamps. The angular exterior mirrors carry the design theme along the side, while the LED taillamp design complements the headlights. F Sport models boast a bit more flair in the form of unique grille designs, small rear decklid spoilers, and other visual enhancements to add sporty styling.

Lexus fits 17-, 18-, and 19-inch wheels to its ES models. Standard models wear 215/55-17 all-season tires, while premium trims are fitted with slightly wider, low-profile, 235/40-19 all-season tires.

(The Lexus ES 350 F Sport Black Line Special Edition, in vibrant Ultrasonic Blue Mica paint, is featured in this review’s images.)

ES Interior

The cabin of the ES is as stylish as the exterior. The driver and front passenger face an ultramodern dashboard with sweeping angled surfaces. A large infotainment screen (either 8.0-inches or 12.3-inches in diagonal) sits prominently at the top of the dashboard. Information on the screen is controlled via a laptop-like touchpad to the right of the shifter – it’s not easy to use, despite its active feedback. The driver sits behind a 3-spoke multi-function steering wheel facing a configurable digital instrument cluster with simulated analog gauges. Additional driving and vehicle information may be projected onto the windshield with the optional 10.2-inch full color head-up display (HUD).

Materials, trims, and upholsteries are first-rate, providing passengers with a relaxing and luxurious cabin. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, and the view outward is excellent. The rear seats are equally as comfortable – a rarity in the automotive world – and occupants are afforded excellent vision outward thanks to large windows. The rear seats do not recline or fold forward to provide access to the trunk’s cargo space, which is common these days to greatly increase trunk utility, but there is a small pass-through behind the rear armrest. 

2021 Lexus ES 350 F Sport

ES Powertrain

Lexus offers the ES with three different powerplants.

New for 2021, all ES 250 models are fitted with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 (203 hp/184 lb-ft of torque) mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard. The ES 250 accelerates from a standstill to 60 mph in just over 8.5 seconds and delivers an average of about 28 mpg overall (EPA rating is 25 city/34 highway). 

The ES 350 features a 3.5-liter V6 (302 hp/267 lb-ft of torque) and an 8-speed automatic transmission with front-wheel drive. The ES 350 can accelerate from 0 to the 60-mph benchmark in about 6.6 seconds. It is rated to deliver 26 mpg overall (EPA rating is 22 city/32 highway). 

The hybrid ES 300h boasts a 2.5-liter inline-4 (176 hp/163 lb-ft) and a 39-hp electric motor, for a total system output of 215 hp. The hybrid powerplant is mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) driving the front wheels only. Lexus estimates that the ES 300h will accelerate to 60 mph in just over 8 seconds and deliver an estimated 44 mpg overall. 

2021 Lexus ES 350 F Sport

ES Driving Experience

All ES models deliver an extremely polished and refined driving experience, which is exactly what the Lexus brand promises. The ride is superb. It falls on the soft side of the scale – think luxury, not spongy – yet the sedan is remarkably stable and library-quiet at speed. Driving is stress-free and relaxing. Covering hundreds of miles in one sitting would be not be a problem.   

Acceleration in the ES 250 isn’t neck-snapping, but it’s sufficiently powerful enough for worry-free driving around town and merging into traffic. The V6-powered ES 350 is silky-smooth and notably more powerful, but at the expense of fuel efficiency. The ES 300h hybrid models are mission-focused to deliver efficiency. They accomplish this with seamless CVT gearboxes and a smooth delivery of power, which complements their hybrid mission.  

The steering is accurate, but Lexus deliberately isolates the feedback so it comes across as synthetic – only driving enthusiasts will notice. The brakes are strong, and the pedal feel is very good. Of special note: The optional triple-beam LED headlights are a worthy upgrade – they light up a night road as if bathed in sunlight. 

The F Sport models are fitted with performance suspension, rear spoilers, special alloy wheels, and more. Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), with enhanced electronically controlled drive modes, is optional. While these upgrades improve the visual projection of sportiness and help stabilize the vehicle’s chassis in twisty corners, the luxurious F Sport models – equipped with all-season tires – still fall short of meeting an enthusiast’s expectation of a true sport sedan. 

2021 Lexus ES Trim Levels and Pricing

Lexus offers the ES in a dozen different models:

ES 250 models come with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive:

  • ES 250 AWD (starts about $40,000) – This is the entry-level model with 17-inch wheels and 10-way power seats
  • ES 250 F Sport AWD (starts about $46,000) – Standard 17-inch wheels and F Sport enhancements
  • ES 250 Luxury AWD (starts about $45,000) – Standard 18-inch wheels and 14-way power seats
  • ES 250 Ultra Luxury AWD (starts about $49,000) – Standard 18-inch wheels, 14-way power seats, and perforated semi-aniline leather upholstery

ES 350 models come with a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) V6 engine with front-wheel drive:

  • ES 350 (starts about $40,000) – This is the entry-level V6 model with 17-inch wheels and 10-way power seats
  • ES 350 F Sport (starts about $46,000) – Standard 19-inch wheels, 10-way power seats, and F Sport enhancements
  • ES 350 Luxury (starts about $45,000) – Standard 18-inch wheels, 14-way seats, and perforated leather upholstery
  • ES 350 Ultra Luxury (starts about $49,000) – Standard 18-inch wheels and perforated semi-aniline leather upholstery
  • ES 350 Black Line Special Edition (starts about $47,000) – Standard 19-inch wheels, dark cosmetic enhancements, white NuLuxe interior, and a fitted 2-piece luggage set

ES 300h models get a hybrid gasoline/electric powertrain with front-wheel drive:

  • ES 300h (starts about $42,000) – Standard 17-inch wheels, 10-way power seats
  • ES 300h Luxury (starts about $47,000) – Standard 18-inch wheels, 14-way power seats, leather interior and wood trim
  • ES 300h Ultra Luxury (starts about $51,000) – Semi-Aniline leather upholstery, power trunk, and lateral performance dampers

If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price an ES on the Lexus official web site. 

2021 Lexus ES 350 F Sport

ES Best Features

Our favorite feature of the ES is its library-quiet passenger cabin. Occupants are well-isolated from all outside wind and tire noise when the sedan is driving down the road, which makes the experience of riding inside the ES very comfortable and pleasant. The best part is that all ES models – from the hybrid 300h to the sporty 350 F Sport – share this characteristic so the entire lineup enjoys the peace and tranquility, not just one model. 

What is Our Favorite Version of the ES? 

There is no poor choice in the Lexus ES lineup. That said, our favorite model is the ES 300h Luxury (about $47,000). The fuel-efficient model doesn’t require any effort to deliver 40+ mpg overall and passengers enjoy a whisper-quiet interior with comfortable leather-upholstered seats and wood trim. The powertrain is smooth and refined, and the 18-inch wheels ride well. If fuel efficiency wasn’t at the top of our must-have list, an honorable mention goes to the standard ES 350 Luxury model. Its V6 engine is silky smooth from idle to redline and plenty powerful for passing, yet is sensibly efficient on the highway. 

ES Notable Safety Features

Every model of the ES is equipped with Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 as standard equipment. This is a comprehensive package that includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian warning, lane tracing assist, lane departure assist with steering assist, road sign assist, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control, and intelligent high beams. 

The 2021 Lexus ES earns a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS and an overall 5-Star Safety Rating from the NHTSA.

2021 Lexus ES 350 F Sport

Who Should Buy a 2021 Lexus ES?

The Lexus ES is for a traditional sedan buyer who seeks luxury and technology in a mid-size 4-door package. As ES shoppers are likely rejecting the crossover and SUV trend, they appreciate the low step-in height and ease of access to the comfortable rear seats in the sedan. They don’t need a high level of utility, towing capability, or a roof rack. The ES’s 13.9-cubic-foot trunk is more than sufficient for their needs.

Lexus ES owners are affluent and mature, and most buyers will be middle-aged or older. The majority will have families and they understand and appreciate the Lexus brand – many have been loyal to Lexus for years – the ES is not an impulse buy.

F Sport models target those who are slightly younger who want something more exciting to drive, without the compromises (firm ride and tire noise) of a typical sport sedan. Hybrid buyers may have outgrown their previous economy-oriented hybrid and will be seeking a more refined and polished offering with equally impressive fuel efficiency. 

2021 Lexus ES 350 F Sport

CarExpert’s Take on the 2021 Lexus ES

The 2021 Lexus ES is arguably the best front-wheel drive mid-size luxury sedan on the market today (acknowledging that this year’s ES is offered with all-wheel drive, too). Nearly 30 years of continuous production have allowed Lexus to polish the popular ES to near-perfection – it is luxurious, technically advanced, spacious, safe, and reliable. The icing on the cake, which keeps brand loyalty at the top of the industry, is the premium customer service associated with the Lexus brand. 

The 2021 Lexus ES earns a spot on the CarExpert Recommended list.

2021 Lexus ES 350 F Sport

ES Competitors to Consider

  • Acura TLX
  • Audi A6
  • BMW 5 Series
  • Genesis G80
  • Infiniti Q50
  • Jaguar XF
  • Lincoln MKZ
  • Toyota Avalon
  • Volvo S60

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OVERALL RATING8.4
Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 8
Ride Comfort 9.1
Safety 8.9
Fit for Purpose 8.5
Handling Dynamics 7.6
Interior Practicality and Space 8.7
Fuel Efficiency 8.8
Value for Money 8
Performance 7.8
Technology Infotainment 8.2