The Lexus ES series is a family of mid-size luxury sedans sold by Lexus since 1989. Now in its fifth generation, the series has been consistently built on the Toyota Camry platform with a V6 engine, automatic transmission, and front-wheel drive. For much of its existence, the Lexus ES has anchored the entry-level luxury car segment of the Lexus lineup in North America, a position it maintained until the introduction of the Lexus IS sport luxury sedans in 2001. It was Lexus' only front-wheel drive vehicle until 1999, when the related Lexus RX 300 arrived. For over fifteen years, the Lexus ES has been the best-selling Lexus sedan in the United States.
The first through fourth generation Lexus ES sedans shared body styling elements with Japan-market Toyota sedans, and a domestic market equivalent, the Toyota Windom, was sold until the launch of the fifth generation ES in 2006. The fifth generation ES 350, featuring Lexus' own L-finesse body styling, was unveiled in the spring of 2006 as a 2007 model. Like the previous generation ES 330 model, the fifth generation Lexus ES is geared towards the comfort luxury segment, with an emphasis on interior amenities, quietness, and a smooth ride.
The first Lexus ES (codename VZV21) debuted in January 1989 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit as part of the launch of the Lexus division. In order to avoid introducing the nameplate with only one model, the LS 400, Lexus debuted the ES alongside their flagship sedan. The smaller representative of the initial two-sedan Lexus lineup was designated the ES 250, and powered by the Camry's 2.5L, 156hp (116kW) V6. The ES 250 was partly based on the Toyota Vista, a Japan-market sedan which was never sold in the United States, which in turn shared the chassis of the Toyota Camry.
On the exterior, the ES 250 shared the same general body style and overall dimensions as its Toyota counterparts, but had a more prominent grille, bigger tail lights, chrome trim, frameless windows, and distinct wheel design similar to its LS brethren. Inside the cabin, the ES 250 featured a six-speaker Pioneer sound system, genuine wood trim, one-touch power windows, and leather seats. A four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission was offered. The Electronically Controlled Automatic Transmission (ECT) featured "normal" and "power" modes.
Safety features included a driver's SRS airbag and anti-lock brakes. In typical specification, the ES 250 further included 15-inch alloy wheels, a power driver's seat, power moonroof, and CD player. Leather upholstery was common equipment, despite being listed as an option, while some ES 250s were also produced with cloth interiors.
In September 1989, the ES 250 and the flagship LS 400 went on sale in the United States. The ES 250 was marketed as the "luxury sedan of sports sedans," and carried a U.S. market suggested base price of approximately $22,000. During the first month of release, the ES 250 logged 1,216 units in sales. However, these numbers were eclipsed by the larger LS sedan, which unlike the ES was built on a unique and all-new platform. The original LS had been envisioned as a a standalone model, but Lexus dealerships had asked for an additional vehicle to accompany its launch. Due to its similarities to the Camry, some viewed the ES 250 as a placeholder product of badge engineering and the vehicle ultimately did not sell as well as its more expensive counterpart.
Production totaled 19,534 units in 1990 and 17,942 units in 1991, most for the automatic transmission model. The ES 250 was built from August 30, 1989 until July 5, 1991. Because of its relatively brief production run, the ES 250 is a rare model on U.S. roads today.
In September 1991, Lexus unveiled the second generation Lexus ES (VCV10), an all-new executive sedan for the Lexus lineup. Completely redesigned for the 1992 model year and now based on the VCV10-series Toyota Windom, the model was renamed the ES 300 to reflect the half-liter bump in engine displacement. The ES 300 sported a 185hp (138kW) 3.0 L V6 engine and had an advertised 0-60 time of 8.0 seconds. In Japan, a 172hp (128kW), 2.5L version using the same body style was made available in October 1993 (including the VCV-11 Windom). Compared to its Camry relatives, the ES 300 featured a different suspension setup (front and rear independent MacPherson strut) and 200lb (91kg) more weight due to asphalt insulation in the body panels, additional on-board equipment, and other differences. As with its predecessor, anti-lock brakes were standard. A 5-speed E53 manual or 4-speed A540/1E automatic transmission was offered.
The second generation ES was significantly larger and more curvaceous than its predecessor, gaining five inches (127 mm) in length and three inches (76 mm) of width. On the front fascia, the ES gained projector headlamps in a curved housing and a three-slat grille with the Lexus emblem moved above on the hood. The side profile featured an invisible B-pillar and frameless-window doors. The rear deck lid featured an integrated spoiler effect similar to the flagship LS 400, improving the ES' aerodynamics (drag coefficient, Cd 0.32). Inside the cabin, the second generation ES featured California Walnut trim on the center console, leather seats, an eight-speaker premium sound system, and keyless entry. The added wheelbase length and overall width made for increased legroom and shoulder space than the previous model.
Production assembly of the ES 300 commenced on September 9, 1991, and the sedan went on sale later that year in the U.S. as a 1992 model. The sedan was not released in Europe, where similar Toyota models were offered. The second generation ES was a major sales success, becoming Lexus' best-selling vehicle overall. In its first full year of sales, the ES logged 39,652 units, and throughout the following years of its production run, sales reached near or above that figure. Initial base price was $26,550 in the U.S. (increased to over $30,000 in later years). By 1994, in part because of the rising yen and high demand, the manufacturer's suggested retail price had increased to $31,200, 19.3 percent more than the original 1992 figure.
Minor updates were introduced between years, including: a new passenger side airbag (1994), outside air temp readout (1994), CFC-free air conditioning (1994), engine upgrades for less weight and more power (the all-aluminum 1MZ-FE in 1994) with 188hp (140kW) plus more efficiency and lower emissions (VVTi Variable Valve Timing - 1995), different signal and fog lights (1995); the five-speed manual transmission was discontinued after 1993.
In 1996, Lexus offered an ES 300 "Coach Edition," featuring select Coach leather trim in the interior and a set of Coach luggage. Despite being its final year of sales, the 1996 ES 300 logged a 21 percent increase in sales over the previous year, and 40,735 units were produced that year.
The third generation ES (designated MCV20) premiered in September 1996, featuring a design that was an evolution of the VCV10. The new cars possessed a more rakish profile, sharper body lines, reflector headlights (as opposed to projector headlights), and a more upscale-feeling interior. Introduced at a gala event on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills hosted by actress Sharon Stone, the ES 300 featured one powertrain option, a 200hp (150kW) 3.0 L V6 (a 197hp (147kW), 2.5L 2MZ-FE V6 was also offered in the Japan-market Windom) and a 4-speed automatic. The third generation ES was also slightly longer (overall length increased by 2.4-inch (61.0mm)) but weighed less than the previous model, and its drag coefficient was Cd 0.29, improved over its predecessor. For the first time, an Adaptive Variable Suspension, capable of adjusting individual wheels according to road conditions (within 0.0025 seconds), was offered.
Inside the cabin, the ES 300 featured a new electroluminescent Lexus Optitron instrument panel, walnut trim, and leather seats. Other luxury standard features included heated outside mirrors and an automatic climate control system. A power moonroof, Nakamichi premium sound system with in-glove-box mounted CD changer, and heated seats were options.
In 1998, the model received a few updates, mainly consisting of a revised supplemental restraint system (next generation), standard front row side-torso airbags, and force limiting seat belt pretensioners that were designed to tighten the front seat passengers into their seats upon impact. Transponder chips were now also used in the keys as to provide added protection from theft.
The power rating grew to 210hp (157kW) in 1999, and the model received a mild facelift in 2000 that consisted of new, clear tail lights and turn signals, a revised front end with a new grill, headlights, and lower bumper with clear fog lights and larger alloy wheels. Inside, the interior received an electrochromatic mirror, more wood trim and slight revisions to the audio system. Xenon High-Intensity Discharge headlights with auto-leveling were now optional. The third generation arrived in 2001 with virtually no changes. For 1999 through 2001, a limited "Coach Edition" was offered, and in 2000 a "Platinum Edition" package was offered, including power moonroof, unique interior trim, and custom alloy wheels.
The U.S. base price of the 1997 ES 300 was $30,395. The third generation Lexus ES expanded upon the success of the previous generation model, reaching a record-setting 58,430 units in sales in its first year, and recording sales in the 35,000-50,000 range throughout its production run. Rivals to the third generation ES 300 included the Acura TL, Audi A4, Cadillac Catera, Mazda Millenia, Infiniti I30, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Saab 9-5.
The Lexus IS was introduced to European markets in 1999 and became the luxury marque's entry-level model; by this time the Lexus ES was no longer sold in most European markets. Recent versions of the Lexus ES were sold in North America, Asia, and Australia.
The larger, fourth generation ES (designated MCV30) debuted in 2002, one year after the Lexus IS became Lexus' entry-level car. The presence of the IS in the Lexus lineup enabled the company to give the new ES 300 a more upscale image and luxury feel by excising the sporting pretensions of the previous ES models. Compared to its predecessor, the new ES possessed an interior with a greater emphasis on comfort, superior NVH isolation, larger and softer seats, and improved interior materials. The cabin was fitted with California Walnut wood trim on the front dashboard, center console, and doors. Exterior puddle lamps, floor-well lighting, chrome door handles, and rear-view mirrors that would automatically tilt downward in reverse gear contributed to a more upscale feel. Available options, including a power rear sunshade, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a DVD-based navigation system, and a Mark Levinson premium stereo system, were similar to features on the flagship LS 430 sedan.
Despite the additional features and added weight, neither the acceleration nor the handling of the ES suffered. Other new features included a drive-by-wire electronic throttle, a five-speed automatic transmission, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist as well as stability and traction control. On the exterior, the ES gained a more rounded shape than its predecessor, with pulled-back headlamps and a single-tone color scheme with chrome trim. New design elements similar to the LS sedan included a rear quarter window and wrap-around taillamps with a diagonal edge. The more aerodynamic shape had a drag coefficient of Cd 0.28. In Japan, the MCV30 Windom received a 2-star LEV rating. The fourth generation Lexus ES was built in Kyūshū and Tsutsumi, Japan.
For the 2004 model year, the American market received a new 3.3L engine producing 225 hp (later revised to 218hp (163kW), because of changes in SAE power testing procedures), and the car was renamed the ES 330. In the Middle Eastern and Asian markets, however, the 3.0L engine was still available. Lexus released the limited ES 330 "SportDesign" special edition in 2004. The model featured the Adaptive Variable Suspension, 16-inch Y-spoke alloy wheels, Mark Levinson audio, interior upgrades, and special dark exterior colors.
In 2005, the ES received a facelift with new front and rear fascias, clear taillights, projector headlights, and a redesigned grille. Inside, new features included standard audio and display steering wheel-mounted controls, power adjustable pedals and heated and ventilated front seats. Additionally, new Bird's Eye Maple trim brightened the interior and integrated satellite radio was offered as an option. Lexus also offered an exclusive ES 330 "Black Diamond Edition" in 2005, featuring black wood trim, iridescent Black Diamond paint, and a set of Tumi luggage.
The fourth generation ES 300/330 continued the solid success of the ES series for Lexus. Despite an increase in price befitting its more upscale amenities (2002 base price of $32,080), ES sales jumped to 71,450 in its first year, making the Lexus ES the best-selling luxury car in the United States. Throughout its production run, the fourth generation ES was Lexus' best-selling sedan, and outsold only in the Lexus model range by the RX luxury utility vehicle.
The fifth generation ES (GSV40) debuted at the Chicago Auto Show in February 2006, featuring an all-new body in the style of Lexus' new design philosophy, L-finesse. The new design is sleeker than its predecessor, with a streamlined cabin and character lines across the hood, fenders, and rear pillars. The Lexus emblem returns to the grille for the first time since the first generation, and is now placed at the center of a five-bar horizontal grille. The vehicle also no longer shares its body style with Japanese market models, as the previously related Toyota Windom was discontinued for the 2007 model year. The new ES, now called the ES 350, features the first use of a six-speed automatic transmission in a front-wheel drive Toyota vehicle along with its sister U.S. car, the Toyota Camry. The engine is the 272 hp (203 kW) aluminum 3.5 L 2GR-FE V6 engine with variable valve timing. Lexus estimates that this combination will accelerate to 60 mph (97 km/h) in less than 7 seconds, but actual tests have netted the ES 350 as being one of the fastest entry-level luxury sedans available now. 0-60 mph has been acquired in as little as 6.2 seconds by auto magazines, and the car shows a strong point of high-end power as it clears the quarter mile in 14.6 seconds while traveling at almost 100mph (160km/h). Fuel economy is estimated at 21 mpg (11.2 L/100 km) in the city and 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) on the highway. Although at a higher, cruising velocity the ES 350 has been known to get better than 30 mpg. Some commentators have complained that so much power to the front wheels has produced uncomfortable torque steer in both the new ES and Camry.
The ES 350 arrived at U.S. dealerships in late April 2006 as a 2007 model. That year, the ES 350 was launched in North America, the Middle East, China (Excluding Hong Kong and Macau), South Korea and Taiwan . Despite being built at the Kyūshū plant in Fukuoka, Japan, the ES 350 was not sold in the Japanese market, as well as the other regions where're drive on left. The fifth generation ES continues the previous generation's direction of moving the ES more upscale in its design and features. Lexus touts the ES 350 as faster, more powerful, more aerodynamic (Cd 0.28), and more quiet than the original LS 400 flagship.
The ES 350 interior features walnut wood accents, leather seats, dual zone climate control with air filter, an MP3 player auxiliary input, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and eight standard airbags. A keyless entry and ignition system, Lexus SmartAccess, which does not require the electronic remote to be taken out of the driver's pocket, is now standard. Available new features include a 300-watt, 14-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system, power seat cushion extender, radar-based adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, power rear sunshade, DVD navigation system, and Lexus Park Assist, a sonar-based warning system with backup camera. For the first time, the ES offers an "Ultra Luxury Package," which features many of the aforementioned options along with a three-panel panoramic glass moonroof. The ES also features a secondary start system, that runs on battery, so that the driver does not have to use the engine for accessory functions. The secondary system will let the driver use the radio, GPS, Bluetooth, and air conditioning/heating.
For 2007 models, Lexus introduced a number of unique colors exclusive to the ES 350, including Aquamarine Pearl, Royal Ruby Metallic, Moon Shell Mica, and Amber Pearl. The 2007 base price in the U.S. is $33,470.
In 2010, the ES wil go under a face lift. Spy shots have shown no major changes. Even though the ES is Lexus' best selling model, reports suggest that Lexus may move the ES off its shared platform or discontinue the model at the end of its production cycle.
- Consumer Reports named the ES 350 the highest ranked upscale/large car in reliability in its 2006 annual car survey.
- The Canadian Car of the Year Awards, selected by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, gave the ES 350 its Best New Luxury Car (under $50k) Award in 2007.
- J.D. Power and Associates named the ES 300 the best entry luxury car in Initial Quality in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2006.
- Intellichoice gave the ES 330 the Best Overall Value Award in the Near Luxury Segment in 2004, 2005, and 2007.
- Kelley Blue Book gave the ES its Best to Hold Value Award in 1998 and 2001.
- J.D. Power named the ES as one of the Top Ten in Initial Quality in 1991, 1993, and 1994.
- The ES series was named most appealing entry luxury car by J.D. Power and Associates in 1997, 2001 and 2007.
- Kiplinger's Personal Finance report named the Lexus ES Best in Class for the over $30,000 segment in 1993, and the ES was a Top Pick in 2007.
- Automobile Magazine named the Lexus ES one of its Top Ten All-Stars in 1992.
Production and sales data for Lexus ES generations are as follows. Production figures are not available for 2006 onward. Sourced from manufacturer production information, along with sales data.