Relaxing highway drive, low noise levels, richly detailed and upscale cabin, and great up-level feature content.
The sixth-generation Lexus ES hit the road in 2012 for model year 2013 with a distinctive new look and advanced performance and technologies. Building on the ES’s long-established recipe of delivering an effortless and attainable luxury experience for its drivers, this generation of ES has been around for about six years, and an all-new model was just unveiled.
The ES was a four-door, front-drive sedan available in conventional and hybrid models. Numerous option packages and grades allowed shoppers to devise the perfect ES for their tastes and budget. Equipment may include climate-controlled seats, a premium Mark Levinson stereo, window shades, push-button start, full multimedia connectivity, and a broad array of advanced outward-looking safety equipment.
Memory seating, the Siri Eyes Free system, and a heated steering wheel could also be specified. Look for Touring, Premium, Technology, and Leather / Navigation packages, which value-bundled numerous up-level features and systems.
All said, the ES was well-reviewed by experts (your writer included) as a supremely comfortable, nicely built, and very quiet and effortless cruiser that meets the needs of drivers after comfortable long-haul cruising. Lexus’s reputation for top-notch safety, reliability, and resale value also add appeal. Note that Lexus recently earned a top rating for dependability in the automotive industry as a whole, and was also called one of the least-expensive brands to maintain.
Standard models are dubbed ES 350, and come powered by a 3.5L V6, good for 268 hp. Hybrid-powered models were called the ES 300h and ran a 2.5L four-cylinder with hybrid drive. Output from the hybrid model was rated at 200 horsepower. All models ran an automatic transmission (V6) or continuously variable transmission (hybrid), and were front-wheel drive.
What Owners Like
Owners tend to report a completely luxurious execution, thanks to the ES’s relaxing highway drive, low noise levels, richly detailed and upscale cabin, and great up-level feature content. Hybrid models are highly rated for a seamless powertrain and great mileage, and the power and sound of the V6 engine are said to be pleasing and robust.
What Owners Dislike
Common gripes include a sometimes-vague steering feel, a reduction in trunk size in models with the hybrid powerplant, and road noise over some surfaces.
Mind the model year. When considering your budget and studying used listings, note that model year 2014 saw an increase in standard equipment, including a standard heated steering wheel, back-up camera, and premium audio system. From model year 2015, revised styling was applied to freshen the ES’s look and bring its appearance in line with other models in the Lexus lineup. If possible, opting for a 2014 or newer model may present better value, depending on shopper priorities.
Here’s Your Test Drive To-Do List
Give the Stereo a Workout
Listen to the ES’s stereo system for a good portion of your drive, noting that any sudden shut-off of the system, or the playback audio, likely indicates a problem with the stereo system head-unit. Some owners have reported this problem, though most haven’t. The likely fix, if detected on your test drive or later, is a hard reset of the stereo system, or some servicing action by the dealer. The stereo on newer used copies of the ES may still be covered by warranty, and if that’s the case, have any issues looked into by a dealer as soon as feasible.
Check the Multi-Information Display
In this discussion, an owner reports a non-functional multi-information display, which is a small colour display screen on the ES’s dashboard. The cause, in this case, was likely a weak battery – which can cause random issues with a plethora of on-board electronic systems. For this reason, be sure to confirm that the battery and charging system in the used ES you’re considering are healthy, as a pre-emptive measure to fend off frustrating electronic issues. Note that the discussion above includes owner advice to “unplug and reconnect” the vehicle battery, which is strongly not advised on modern cars.
Check all Windows and Door Handles
Some owners have reported issues with fussy door locks or power windows, which test drivers should check for. Confirm that all windows operate at the same speed from all possible switches, confirm that all door-mounted lock and window buttons are functional, and that all door handles, inside and out, are in proper working order. Door-lock actuators have been replaced by numerous owners, sometimes more than once. Others have had problems with slow or non-functioning power windows. Neither is a huge or expensive problem to remedy, but you’re best to know about it before you buy. Note that regular servicing or lubrication of the power window mechanisms as per the instructions in the owner’s manual service section can help ensure long life from these components.
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Hesitation on Acceleration
Based on this lengthy discussion, many owners have experienced hesitation of one form or another when setting off from a stop in their ES. There’s much debate as to whether this is a normal function of vehicle or transmission programming, or some other problem. The gist? Most drivers say it’s normal, and depends on the currently engaged drive mode, but test drivers are advised to have any unwelcomed sensations relating to driveability addressed by a Lexus technician before their purchase. In some cases, revised computer programming can fix issues like this.
Assume It Needs Tires and Brakes
A great way to avoid buying someone else’s upcoming maintenance bill is to assume that the tires and brakes on the Lexus ES you’re considering are worn out and need replacement, until you or a technician confirms otherwise. Worn tires are easy to detect visually or with a tread-depth gauge, and worn brakes typically give themselves away with a soft or spongy pedal, and a squeaking, grinding, or scraping sensation or sound on light to moderate braking. Especially on higher-mileage units, a full check of the tires and brakes by a professional is a good idea before you buy.
Check the Climate Control
Be sure to check the Lexus ES’s climate control system on a variety of temperatures from hot to cold, in the Auto setting. In this owner’s example, the climate control system fails to maintain cabin heat, even with the temperature set and the climate control system set to Auto. Any failure of the system to consistently provide air at the selected temperature may indicate the need for adjustment of the system, or the installation of revised control system software, via a dealer technician.
Numerous owners have modified their Lexus ES, often with the installation of non-factory lighting and stereo provisions, and sometimes, with suspension, engine intake, and exhaust modifications. In most cases, the average shopper should avoid a model that’s been modified by a previous owner, especially if the modifications in question altered any of the vehicle’s factory electronics or suspension components. Non-factory parts and software can adversely affect the durability of the vehicle and may cause problems or even void remaining warranty coverage. Stick to stock where possible for maximum confidence.
Other Useful Checks
Considering a Hybrid?
If you’re considering a hybrid-powered Lexus ES, a pre-purchase inspection of the vehicle, with a focus on the hybrid driveline, should be considered absolutely mandatory. A hybrid-trained Lexus technician is the best person for this job. Lexus has built and sold more hybrid-powered luxury car drivetrains than other manufacturer, and commonly reported problems are few and far between according to the owner’s community. Still, given the relatively complex nature of hybrid vehicles, a full professional inspection by an expert is advised.
Full Tune Up
Though purchasing a used luxury vehicle without full service records is a bad idea, shoppers who do wind up in a used Lexus ES with unclear service records are best to budget for a full tune-up and oil change for maximum long-term peace of mind. Fresh fluids and up-to-date servicing of all components are vital to their long-term operation.
No Dealer in Town?
If you’re buying an in-warranty Lexus ES but live in a town without a dealer, be sure to talk to the nearest dealer to understand any possible challenges. The ES you’re considering may need dealer-performed maintenance and servicing to keep its warranty in good standing, and roadside assistance or towing may be covered by factory (or extended) warranty coverage in cases where a warranty repair is required. Ask questions and understand fully where and how the vehicle needs to be serviced to maintain its warranty if you live far away from a dealer.
Here’s a list of recalls; using the VIN, check to make sure all applicable work has been carried out.
As a reliability and cost of ownership leader, the Lexus ES should make a compelling buy for the luxury shopper after years of worry-free driving from a comfortable and upscale cruiser that’s long-haul ready. The most commonly reported issues with the ES are rare and easily detected, and in researching this piece, your writer encountered no serious, common, or systematic problems. For maximum peace of mind, a used model with full service records should prove a great investment for years to come.
Crash Test Ratings
IIHS: Top Safety Pick + (2016 and up)
NHTSA: 5/5 Stars (2014)