Full 2014 Lexus ES 350 Review
What's New for 2014
The 2014 Lexus ES 350 now comes standard with HID headlights, while the standard foglights now use LED bulbs. In addition, sedans with the NuLuxe leatherette upholstery can now be equipped with ventilated seats as an option, and bamboo wood interior trim is a new alternative to the customary maple trim. Finally, the Display Audio package picks up Siri Eyes Free compatibility for newer iPhone owners.
The ES 350 is something of a classic in the Lexus lineup. This nameplate dates back a quarter-century to the launch of the Lexus brand in the United States. And just like the original ES, the 2014 Lexus ES 350 is a spacious entry-level luxury sedan aimed at consumers who value comfort, serenity and premium amenities above all else.
The current-generation ES is especially roomy for rear passengers, since it shares its platform architecture and overall footprint with the Toyota Avalon full-size sedan. As such, it's an excellent option for buyers who plan to make regular use of the backseat. The elegant interior appointments that have always characterized the ES haven't gone anywhere, either: The quality of the materials and craftsmanship remains a strong point in the 2014 ES 350 and certainly a solid justification for spending more for the Lexus than a workaday Toyota.
Naturally, you can equip your ES 350 with all the usual luxury and tech features, too. This year's ES comes standard with xenon headlights, and going with some of the optional packages will get you top-end items such as ventilated front seats and adaptive cruise control. On the downside, though, just about every ES 350 is going to be equipped with the available infotainment system, and its computer mouse-inspired Remote Touch interface isn't especially slick in operation.
That's one of the few downsides on the 2014 Lexus ES 350, which should meet consumers' expectations in most other respects. It has never been one of the sportier models in the entry-level luxury sedan class, but between its smooth, refined V6 engine and quiet, composed ride, it's a pleasant car to drive nonetheless. Still, buyers looking for a more engaging driving experience should check out Lexus' own IS 350, though it's smaller and more expensive.
Meanwhile, the Acura TL, Buick LaCrosse, Chrysler 300 and Hyundai Genesis all pretty much match the ES 350's interior room and amenities. In addition, the 300 and Genesis typically cost less when comparably equipped. Although the 2014 Lexus ES 350 doesn't have any significant advantages over these rivals, it remains a fine choice for a comfort-oriented premium sedan.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 Lexus ES 350 is a midsize luxury sedan that seats five people.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels, xenon headlights, LED running lights, 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, leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Safety Connect emergency communications, Bluetooth phone connectivity and an eight-speaker sound system with CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
An Audio package adds a large central screen, the Remote Touch electronics interface, a rearview camera, Bluetooth audio connectivity, Siri Eyes Free (enhanced hands-free iPhone functionality and integration) and HD radio with iTunes tagging. The Navigation package includes all of the above items plus a navigation system, voice controls, traffic and weather updates, the Enform suite of smartphone-connected apps and concierge services. A 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system can be added to the Navigation package.
The Premium package builds on the Navigation package and adds a power-adjustable steering wheel, driver memory functions, leather upholstery, real wood trim and a wood-trimmed steering wheel. The Luxury package includes all of the Premium items plus parking sensors (front and rear), extended leather trim, heated and ventilated front seats, and a power rear sunshade. The Ultra Luxury package tops off the range by including almost all of the previously mentioned trim along with a panoramic sunroof, a power-closing trunk, automatic wipers, a 10-way power driver seat, passenger seat memory functions, manual rear door sunshades, a heated steering wheel and ambient lighting. This package requires the choice of either special 17- or 18-inch wheels.
Stand-alone options include adaptive cruise control (includes the pre-collision system), a blind-spot warning system, a lane-departure warning system, a power-closing trunk, parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats (with the standard vinyl upholstery), a heated steering wheel and a power rear sunshade.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2014 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 Edmunds 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 mpg city/31 mpg highway).
Every 2014 Lexus ES 350 comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags and front knee airbags. Also included is Lexus Safety Connect with 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 Edmunds brake testing, the ES came to a stop from 60 mph in 124 feet, which is 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 2014 Lexus ES 350's cabin is modern and stylish. There's still wood trim on hand, but it's more subtly applied and looks more like the genuine article. 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 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. When you opt for the Display Audio or Navigation package, you get the Lexus Remote Touch system, which 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 2014 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, though the ES 350's Sport mode provides a welcome increase in steering effort as otherwise the steering feels a little too light in "Normal" mode.