2023 Lexus ES350 F Sport – Review by David Colman
With so many perfect attributes, it scores a perfect 10
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
Ultrasonic Blue Mica sounds like the name of the closing act you saw at the Outer Lands Festival. In fact, Lexus uses that felicitous phrase to describe the iris-popping shade of cobalt that adds $595 to the base price ($47,800) of our test ES 350 F SPORT ($53,775). That outlay of $595 is perhaps the best way to distinguish this Lexus from Toyota's $35,000 Camry, since both sedans share similar platforms. Of course, once you climb aboard the ES, you'll instantly realize this is no mass market Toyota. Lexus has always done a superlative job of creating a driving environment superior to the competition, and the latest ES continues that tradition of gracious living.
Both front seats are close to perfect in terms of comfort, support, looks, and accouterments. If you spend long hours in the saddle, you will arrive at distant destinations refreshed and limber thanks to these "10-way F SPORT NuLuxe Bolstered Heated and Ventilated Power Seats." Lexus recently updated the ES's standard Multi-Media display with an 8-inch touchscreen. However, our test model was fitted with an optional ($1,030) "Lexus Interface with 12.3-inch touchscreen display." But just because it's bigger doesn't make it any smarter. Previous editions of the ES utilized a small touchpad between the seats to activate your commands. I never had any trouble operating that system. However, the illogic sequence of the revised unit left me yearning for the comparative simplicity of the bygone interface.
Let's take, for example, the "Driver Easy Entry" feature that Lexus provides for exceptionally tall or rotund operators who need extra space when slipping behind the wheel. This system was active when I received the Lexus. I sought to deactivate it since - at 5'8" - I could barely reach the pedals when I climbed aboard. Although I could bring up the "Boarding and Exit" screen on the tablet, the choice to delete "Driver Easy Entry: was not offered. So I begrudgingly resorted to consulting the owner's manual. But it simply reiterated what I had already discovered. Thus was I consigned to a week of going for an unwonted seat ride every time I climbed in or climbed out.
But once ensconced in the proper relation to pedals and steering wheel, the driving experience of the F SPORT proved to be perfect for dealing with back roads as well as long freeway trips. Unlike the four-cylinder base models of the ES ($42,590) or the top level ES 350 Ultra Luxury ($51,380), the F SPORT version we enjoyed was specifically tailored to the needs of the sporting driver. Most manufacturers are content to provide a fancy dead pedal like the aluminum one in our ES, or more bolstering for the front seats, perhaps a fatter rimmed steering wheel. They also offer a "Sport" drive mode to give you the impression you're driving a Le Mans contender rather than a grocery getter.
This simplistic formula is not the path taken by Lexus to remake the ES into a convincing performance sedan. With hard-earned experience fielding factory-run F SPORT team cars at endurance and sprint races worldwide, Lexus has transformed the F SPORT you can buy. They offer the hard goods needed to emulate the brand's race-bred success. Lesser versions of the ES, like the 4-cylinder ES250, make do with 7.5 x 17-inch rims shod with 215/55R17 rubber. Even the upgraded ES350 Luxury uses 8.0 x 18-inch wheels bearing 235/45R18 radials. But if you opt for the F SPORT, Lexus bolts on a set of 8.0 x 19 inch "Split-five-spoke Alloy Wheels" finished in black lacquer, and shod with even lower profile 235/40R19 Michelin Primacy MXM4 (TW500) radials that quicken steering feedback right at the tire patch.
To maximize the grip of this rubber choice, Lexus completely revamps suspension tuning with a set of adaptive high-performance dampers front and rear that instantly comply with your choice of drive mode. On offer, you'll find Eco/Normal/Sport/Sport+, all of which are accessible with a twist of the knurled dial appended to the right-hand side of the instrument binnacle. This location is the best position for such a transformative selector dial - far better than the ones the competition uses that are buried and indecipherable on the center console.
So if you dismiss the ES350 F SPORT as nothing but a tarted up Camry, you're definitely missing the point here. At $53,775, the 2023 ES we tested is a terrific bargain for the sporting driver.
2023 LEXUS ES350 F SPORT
ENGINE: 2GR-FKS 3.5 liter V6
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 22MPG City/31MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $53,775
HYPES: Serene Interior, Punchy V6, Sweet 8-speed Gearbox
GRIPES: Baffling Screen Commands, Navigation Subscription Only
STAR RATING: 10 Stars out of 10
©2023 David E Colman