F Sport trims get these 19-inch wheels.
The 2021 Lexus ES 250 is more impressive than you might think. After 800 miles in the saddle of this gold-plated Toyota Avalon on a drive to Michigan’s upper peninsula and back, I’m happy to report the ES is an all-star road-tripper thanks to its comfort, refinement and fuel economy.
LikeExcellent adaptive cruise controlOver-the-road refinementCushy accommodationsGood fuel economy
Don’t LikeThat damn infotainment systemHalfhearted performanceNo fold-down seats
Redesigned a few years ago, the ES soldiers on with a few enhancements for 2021. Luxury, F Sport and Ultra Luxury models now come standard with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, a special Black Line model is on the menu and, for the first time, you can get this venerable sedan with all-wheel drive, which comes standard with the base four-cylinder engine. That’s the powertrain this example is fitted with, though it also features the F Sport package, which includes unique wheels, a mesh grille insert, other visual tweaks and a retuned suspension setup. Adaptive dampers are also available, though they’re not fitted here.
The ES 250’s interior is well built and comfortable. The materials employed are mostly high quality, from the supple leather to the aluminum brightwork to the almost organic hole pattern on the speaker grilles. Some not-so-great hard plastic can be spotted if you poke around and the switches that operate the heated and ventilated front seats are buried at the bottom of the center stack and look crude, especially compared to the ingenuous tuning and volume knobs, which are two concentric dials integrated into one assembly. It’s not a big deal, but I love this little touch because not only does it look cool, it allows you to tune the radio without reaching halfway across the dashboard. I also appreciate this car’s mechanical shifter. There’s zero ambiguity to how it functions and you can rest your hand on it while cruising.
In addition to all that, this Lexus’ cushy front bucket seats get two thumbs up. Even after hours in the saddle they leave me feeling refreshed. A boon for passengers, the ES’ backseat is spacious and plenty comfortable, plus it comes with a 12-volt power outlet and a pair of 2.2-amp USB ports so everyone’s phone can stay fully juiced on long drives. The ES 250 offers 13.9 cubic feet of trunk space, a good amount to be sure, but limiting this car’s versatility, the rear backrest does not fold down. At least a small pass-through is included for lengthy cargo. Curiously, the glovebox is quite small as well, barely large enough to hold the owner’s manual.
As for tech, the ES comes standard with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa compatibility. An 8-inch infotainment screen is included on lower-end models, but a beautiful 12.3-incher is available, which includes embedded navigation. This display looks great, with vibrant colors, good viewing angles and minimal glare. Unfortunately, it is not touch-enabled (yet
), which means you have to navigate Lexus’ tangled infotainment system with a dastardly trackpad on the center console. This arrangement is as distracting as it is difficult. Why the automaker hasn’t moved on to something better after all these years is beyond me. As with other Toyota and Lexus products, infotainment tech is this car’s biggest weakness.
A comfy interior with a lousy infotainment interface. At least the upcoming 2022 ES will finally get a touchscreen.
As you may have guessed based on its name, the ES 250 features a 2.5-liter engine, just like you can get in a Toyota Avalon or Camry. Without a supercharger or turbo to provide extra oomph, this four-pot unit delivers a modest 203 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Making the most of that output, the engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. That gearbox is mostly agreeable, shifting quickly and readily dropping gears as required to keep things moving, though occasionally it can feel a bit lumpy.
Pressed into luxury-car service, this Toyota engine is perfectly serviceable, but like government bureaucracy it’s devoid of any joy. Uncouth vibrations can occasionally be felt, though more noticeable are the unpleasant noises it generates while laboring, particularly when climbing hills. Of course, this engine is no firebrand, either, moving the ES to 60 mph in a merely adequate 8.6 seconds. But what this car’s powertrain lacks in emotion and verve it largely makes up for with excellent efficiency. This Lexus is rated at 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. Combined, it should return 28 mpg, though it’s averaging about 32 mpg in my hands, a damn-impressive score for a large, comfortable, non-hybrid sedan — one fitted with all-wheel drive, no less.
The ES 250’s steering and brake feel are fine to the point of being forgettable. These primary controls get the job done without earning any praise or scorn, which is A-OK in my book. The car’s ride quality, however, is lovely, even without those fancy adjustable dampers. Despite wearing F Sport badges, this Lexus is soft and quiet, floating ever so slightly over large roadway undulations and shielding passengers from nearly all wind and tire noise, even at extra-legal speeds. The dark-finished 19-inch F Sport wheels are a win-win, too, looking swanky without curdling that creamy ride.
This unassuming luxury sedan is super comfortable.
The adaptive cruise control system with lane centering works phenomenally well, smoothly and attentively adjusting the vehicle’s speed as needed and keeping it locked in the middle of its lane. Other helpful amenities like lane-departure warning, automatic high beams, road-sign recognition and more are also bundled in the Lexus Safety System Plus 2.0 suite of advanced driver aids, which is standard on every model.
The 2021 ES sedan starts at 41 grand and change including $1,025 in delivery fees, which isn’t a bad price for a cushy cruiser from a blue-chip brand. As tested, the example seen here checks out for a still reasonable $53,400. Aside from F Sport trimmings, a wireless charging pad ($75), the navigation package ($2,900), LED headlamps ($1,515) and a few other options padded the bottom line. Still, that’s a more-than-reasonable figure, especially when you consider the average new-vehicle transaction price in the US these days is around $40,000.
Sure, there are a few things to gripe about, but the ES 250 is an agreeable luxury sedan… provided your expectations are reasonable. If you desire tire-roasting acceleration or the agility of a superbike you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you drop those pretenses and accept that this is a quiet, cushy cruiser, it’s easy enough to enjoy this Lexus.