I’ve always been a big fan of Toyota, so it’s logical for me to like Lexus too, as it’s the premium vehicle brand from Toyota. In fact, while I’ve never owned a Lexus, I have owned a number of Toyota vehicles, including a Tercel, a Sienna, a Prius, and a Highlander. My favorite was the Highlander and my least favorite was the Prius. But I digress. What’s always been appealing about the Lexus line is that the vehicles had all the build quality of Toyota, one of the most reliable car manufacturers in the world, but with more polish and more luxury. Early Lexus designs were a bit lacking, but the latest generation is as sleek and sexy as the best from Audi, BMW, even Mercedes.
When the Lexus team invited me to spend a week behind the wheel of the 2023 Lexus ES 350 F-Sport Handling Sedan, I was eager to get the keys and take it for a spin. Our snowy winter even eased a bit so I could zip around on safe, dry roads. In sport mode the 3.5L V6 engine – with 302hp! – offered plenty of zip, making it a really fun drive. Here’s a photo of the beautiful Ultrasonic Blue Mica exterior:
On Lexus SUVs, the front grill pattern can look a bit dorky, but with this more aerodynamic design, it works really well, even with the grill design extended to the side air scoops. The Lexus naming scheme takes a bit of study to understand, but the “ES” is the sedan lineup, and the 350 refers to the larger engine (the ES 250 is the entry level alternative). There are then five trim options for the ES 350, with the awkwardly named “Handling” the top-of-the-line. In other words, the vehicle I drove was the swankiest and highest performance sedan in the Lexus lineup.
The ES 350 offers two drive modes: Eco and Sport and given that it included the F-Sport optional features, the sport really was great fun. By contrast, Eco mode lacked a bit on the pickup from a stop, causing me to often switch into sport mode to get up to speed, then eco mode once I’d attained the target speed on the road or highway. In terms of fuel efficiency, well, the ES 350 EPA rating might be 22/31 but my experience after a couple of hundred miles of mostly highway driving was a paltry 23.8mpg, quite disappointing, even with fairly aggressive driving.
The design was an interesting mix of traditional vehicle elements – like the gear shift – and very modern features like the main gauge display and the climate control buttons. As is common with Lexus vehicles, the knob sticking out of the top right of the dash is the drive control:
The other trademark Lexus element is an analog clock, though this one is smaller and less obtrusive than most I’ve seen. Perhaps Lexus is starting to consider that it might not be required in all models? Maybe by 2028…
While there are a lot of controls, the overall design of the dash was simple, without me ever having to hunt to find a control, whether it was a car seat warmer or to adjust the headlight setting. In fact, the seat warmers (and coolers) had a dedicated row of buttons that made it ridiculously easy to ensure you were always comfortable:
You can also see that the climate controls are also distinctive, with the tiny pushbuttons below for infotainment media choices:
That infotainment screen is a pleasure too, a big, bright 12.3-inch touchscreen (the standard screen is 8 inches). One presumes that this measure does not include the analog clock display, which more and more seems out of place. I’ll stop harping on the clock now, however. The infotainment system features wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and delivered lovely sound and a very enjoyable listening experience. Since the vehicle itself is quiet – as a luxury car should be – it wasn’t necessary to crank the volume way up to enjoy the music either, even at highway speeds.
The main gauge display is clean, crisp, and easy to understand too, one of the best I’ve seen:
Notice that the actual dial is the tachometer, which arguably is useful since the ES 350 F-Sport includes paddle shifters for people who want a bit more of an edgy drive experience. For everyone else, they’ll ignore the dial and look at the speed indicator and the average fuel efficiency. Switch drive modes and the dial color changes briefly to confirm you’ve back in eco or sport mode too.
From that modern gauge design to the classic shifter, Lexus has a finger on the pulse of the older luxury driver:
This shifter reminds me of cars I drove many years ago and after all the weird dials, knobs, and pushbuttons, there’s something satisfying about a big, comfortable shift knob and stick, even if it is an automatic and therefore not something you’ll be changing too often. The cup holders are also big and very well positioned, another important aspect in a modern vehicle design. I mean, you’ve gotta put that venti Frappuccino somewhere, right?
Stepping outside of the vehicle, I found the trunk serviceable but a bit smaller than expected:
You can fold down the back seat and get more space, as needed, but only within the limited center portion: The rest is pretty well sealed up as is obvious in the photo. Enough for a trip to Costco? Yes, as long as you’re not doing your pre-apocalypse stock-up, in which case your banged up F-150 might be a better choice. Enough for an outdoor adventure with bikes, skis, or even mountain climbing gear and big backpacks? No, but that’s not really the intended use of the vehicle for most drivers anyway.
Given that the 2023 Lexus ES 350 F-Sport Handling is the largest of their sedans, it’s clear that Lexus still sees itself as manufacturing sedans for smaller families. Adults in the back seat? It’ll be tight:
If you have a big crew an SUV might be a better choice anyway, but sitting in the back felt a bit like being in the budget seats on a hopper flight, rarely something to anticipate with joy and the expectation of comfort.
Overall, however, while I felt that the fuel efficiency was lacking, the ES 350 is sleek and beautiful, comfortable, and a terrific drive with plenty of oomph in sport mode. I will also say that the design of the seat and the support post was smart, making getting in and out of the vehicle an easier and more comfortable experience than many sedans I’ve driven in the last few years. If you’re 23 and do yoga twice daily, it’s no big deal, but for us older drivers who might be a bit less limber, a vehicle designed for ingress and egress is much appreciated.
2023 Lexus ES 350 F-Sport Handling in Ultrasonic Blue Mica, powered by a 3.5L V6 with 302hp. BASE PRICE: $37,800.00. Options included: Panoramic view monitor, 10.2-inch heads-up display, Triple beam LED headlights, Smart Access Card Key, 12.3-inch touchscreen interface, Power Open/Close trunk and premium paint. AS DRIVEN: $53,775.00.
Disclosure: Lexus loaned me this vehicle for a week – even paying for gas! – in return for this candid and honest writeup and review. Thanks, Lexus!