Auto123 reviews the 2021 Lexus ES 250 AWD.
Let’s be honest, no one wants to be seen as stodgy. Even those who are. So there are probably those out there who’ll dismiss outright a vehicle that’s perceived as an “uncle’s car”.
And that has long been the general perception of the Lexus ES. It was a car favoured by uncles, if not dads or even grandads. And frankly, if you need to spot one fast, you’ll have better luck heading for the nearest retirement home parking lot than the nearest college campus.
But sometimes reputations last even when they’re no longer justified. The ES model has evolved over the generations, and we can longer speak of the same boring car the company offered 15 years ago. I confirmed this recently when I drove a 250 four-wheel-drive version.
Is it still a car meant more for uncles, though?
By the way, what exactly makes a stodgy car? Opinions may vary, of course, but broadly speaking, we're talking about a car with bland lines, a classic yet simple interior design and seats that remind you of the recliner you watch TV on at home.
And, of course, it’s a car that elicits no emotion when you’re driving it. This is an iron rule. In fact, driving this type of model is as exciting as watching a grey, cloudy sky for several hours. On the other hand, the level of comfort is generally irreproachable.
The Lexus ES of 15 years ago met these criteria. Hands down.
But that was then. First of all, the ES sedan of today is a beautiful car. You may or may not like the company's signature design, but the model looks good no matter what angle you look at it from. And it's even better inside. As I've written many times, presentation within the Toyota/Lexus product lineup is spot on. With one downside, that being the touchpad for accessing the multimedia system screen. To be blunt, that thing is a pain in the butt to use.
What has changed the most with the 2021 ES is the rigidity of the chassis and the settings of the suspension elements. The latest architecture that Lexus models are built on makes you feel… actual emotion behind the wheel. In fact, you feel like you're controlling things and you’re not a just a passenger who happens to be sitting behind the wheel. To be clear, there’s not the same level of connection you might feel with the new Acura TLX or a German model, for example, but we're miles removed by the soul-sapping, bland competence of the past.
The seats, meanwhile, are far, far better than before. Don't get me wrong, you're not getting the bucket seats of an RC F here, and comfort is still the main priority. But you feel good in the saddle.
As for overall quality, it was already excellent, but it has been taken to another level. And that’s all the more impressive considering the relatively reasonable asking price of the model.
And how does all this translate behind the wheel? Well, you do have a great time behind the wheel, but you have to have set your expectations to the right level. If you're hoping for thrills, you're in the wrong place. If, on the other hand, peace and quiet are your top priorities, you'll be hard pressed to find anything better. What’s new is that this peace of mind no longer comes at the cost of a boring driving experience. The ES behaves sanely on the road, delivering communicative steering and a stability that allows you to push it a bit, if needed.
Again, that’s all relative of course. The truth is, this car will still mostly appeal to those in their 40s or beyond. That’s just the way it is; just like you’re unlikely to find a Toyota 86 in the parking lot of that retirement home.
If you’re interested in an ES sedan, Lexus makes it simple for you. There are three variants with distinct personalities to choose from. We tested the ES 250 AWD ($47,860), which does offer four-wheel drive, but comes with a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine that delivers a pretty modest 203 hp.
That's the minimum price you pay for all-wheel drive from the ES.
Next, the ES 350 ($52,060) comes with a 3.5L V6 good for 302 hp. The mission here is simple: delivering a modicum of performance.
Finally, at the top of the ladder is the ES 300h ($54,060), the hybrid variant in which the focus is, of course, on fuel economy.
Where we urge you to be careful is with the option packages. There are two with the 250, four with the 350 and two with the 300h. Assess your needs carefully, because they are not cheap.
Still stodgy, or no longer?
So, is the Lexus ES still an “uncle's car”? In the pejorative sense, no. Clearly not. The advances made to this model over the years have made it very interesting in many ways. We're not talking about the same car anymore.
And yet, because of its intrinsic qualities, it's more likely to appeal to people who are old enough to be uncles. But there's a nuance there, and it's important. The Lexus ES is for those who want luxury, smoothness and flexibility. And it hits the nail on the head in that regard.
Would the uncle in me have a Lexus ES? Yes, absolutely, for my long highway rides. But since cars are such a big part of my life, I would have several cars for other needs.
The Lexus ES isn't for everyone, but those who see themselves in it will love it.
Exemplary smoothness of ride
Quality of finish
We like less
The touchpad of the multimedia system
The price of certain option packages
All-wheel drive can be paired only with the non-hybrid 4-cylinder
BMW 5 Series