Behind the Wheel

2020 Lexus ES 350 F-Sport Review: This is the ES variant you should be buying

The 2020 Lexus ES F-Sport is the flashiest ES model.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

There is only one Lexus ES 350 you should consider buying unless the prospect of mundane drivability excites you – the 2020 Lexus ES 350 F-Sport.

The ES sits in the Lexus lineup between the IS and LS. It's a midsize sedan that is made in America and available in three models – ES 350, ES 350 Hybrid, and ES 350 F-Sport. There are a variety of trim levels for buyers to choose from for 350 and 350 Hybrid models.

2020 Lexus ES 350 F-Sport The ES 350 F-Sport has a different grille than other ES models.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

On the outside, it's immediately apparent that the 350 F-Sport has the better grille and wheels (19-inchers) than the other ES models. There's also black finish mesh on the front fascia and available triple beam headlights. Those enhancements make the ES appear more sophisticated and sassier.

As the saying goes, it's not the size, it's how you use it. All ES 350s are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The powertrain achieves 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. The oomph is enough for the ES, but not anything that will excite.

ES 350 models have Eco, Normal, and Sport modes. The ES 350 F-Sport replaces Sport mode with Sport+ and Custom. The Sport+ mode lengthens the amount of time between shifts and allows the driver to achieve a torquier behind-the-wheel experience, adjusts the throttle response, and changes the steering parameters. This is one of the keys to the 350 F-Sport's success.

2020 Lexus ES 350 F-Sport Lexus has given the ES 350 F-Sport spotter seats than what are other ES 350 models.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Combine the engine engagement with an adaptive variable suspension that is similar to the system in the Lexus LC and LS, and the ES's drive experience shines (for an ES). Don't mistake the enthusiasm for quickness. The ES still takes 6.6 seconds to get from zero to 60 mph and it only comes in front-wheel drive.

The ES serves valiantly as a daily driver in any model. Its trunk is spacious and there's a good amount of passenger space for four adult occupants.

While the materials in most of the cabin of this particular model are right with its price point, the entire interior experience is clouded by the Lexus track pad way of navigating the infotainment system. Thankfully, the ES is one of the few Lexus vehicles that has both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so use of the track pad is not often needed.

2020 Lexus ES 350 F-Sport The ES 350 F-Sport is available with a red leather interior.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Other high points of the model include the available 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system and the good amount of unobtrusive safety technology that works well including blind spot monitoring and lane keeping assist.

The 2020 Lexus ES F-Sport starts at $44,635. With the options boxes checked, it can get near $50,000 including destination and delivery charges. That price seems fair for the model. It's pricier than the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry but less costly than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The ES is priced most similarly to the Infiniti Q50's midgrade models. Top-tier models of the Q50 have significantly more horsepower befitting the higher rate.

Sure, the ES F-Sport isn't as

The stance and fascia of the model make it more crossover-like and harkens back to original RX design.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

There is no shortage of SUVs for buyers to choose from. When it comes to luxury vehicles the market is split between sport-centric engaging models and more typical family haulers. As mass market SUVs become more premium and offer advanced technology and high-quality interiors, the cost of going all-in on a luxury model might make buyers question if it's worth it.

The revisions to the 2020 Lexus RX 350 are made to persuade customers that a $50,000 luxury model is still the right way to go. But are the changes enough?

2020 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport Revisions to the car's front end have helped with its much-derided looks.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

The exterior of the RX has gotten refreshed to make it less hand vacuum-y and more crossover. That's not a bad thing. It's now more attractive than before though that's not really saying much. This isn't exactly the sales segment for sexy design.

Lexus has improved the model's stability on the road, steering responsiveness, and ride quality. The SUV is a better drive than before though still not in the same room as the conversation being had by Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz models. Its all-wheel drive helped the all-season shoes stick to dry roads with ease.

The RX 350 continues to prove easy to steer and a breeze to park though its A-pillar hampers visibility during turns. That's not an uncommon complaint of SUV drivers regarding a number of models.

The wheel feels good in-hand, but the wheel itself is a bit fat. The car's heated steering wheel feature only warms small sections of the wheel at three- and six o'clock, which is disappointing.

2020 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport The steering wheel of the model is fatter than what one may expect from the SUV.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Lexus did not update the powertrain of the model as part of the refresh. It still has a 3.5-liter V6 under the hood that delivers a competent 295 horsepower in the 350 F-Sport grade and is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The powertrain feels more responsive in this edition than it did in the last. The SUV gets 23 mpg combined, which isn't ideal, but not terrible.

The interior of the RX 350 F-Sport tester featured the new Circuit Red color throughout that garnered several compliments by passengers and passersby during the week-long test drive. The red-covered seats were comfortable, even on extended trips. Four adults easily fit in the two-row SUV.

Still, the overall Lexus drive and ride experience is hampered by the SUV's infotainment system. Lexus wins points for moving its available 12.3-inch screen 5.5 inches closer to front seat occupants. Despite spending a week behind the wheel, it was just easier to not deal with the infotainment system rather than use the awkward touch pad to plug in addresses for navigation and change the radio system.

2020 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport Some design elements of the RX are outdated, like the cell phone holder.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

The Lexus now comes with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa compatibility but during the test drive, despite several attempts with different cords and a variety of iPhones, the system never worked with the phones.

There are some design elements that are outdated. Its heated/ventilated seat controls appear from a lower-class parts bin while the slot cell-phone holder is from a small period of design history that is best left behind.

As tested, the RX came with a number of safety technologies that are part of the Lexus Safety Suite. None of the included features of the Safety Suite are obtrusive or annoying in their employment.

2020 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport This car has the new Circuit Red upholstery throughout the cabin.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

The tested 2020 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport has a starting price tag of $47,950.

The Lexus RX 350's closest competition is the Infiniti QX50. Its bests that model by a large margin. With the Nissan Murano getting a bit long in the tooth and Chevrolet Blazer coming in around the same price as the RX with less premium appointments, it's easy to make the argument that the RX is the right model for many buyers.

Still, it faces stiff competition from the spunkier and more agile Acura RDX, which easily earns top accolades for SUVs at this price point and size.

Lexus surveyed over 3,000 Americans to find out what they expect luxury to be like in the next 10 years.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Lexus wants to know what you expect from the future. What does luxury look like in a decade? Is it sustainable? Filled with refined materials and high-tech solutions? Does it solve life's problems before they pop up? The luxury arm of Toyota has commissioned a survey to ask Americans what they expect.

"From the very beginning, our greatest curiosity hasn't been machines, it's been people," said Lisa Materazzo, vice president of Lexus marketing. "What moves them? What makes them tick? It's the inspiration for everything we do. From the products we craft to the dealership experience, it's what makes us uniquely Lexus."

For the study, Lexus surveyed 3,200 Americans from Gen Z to Baby Boomers. Some information detailed as part of the results below, was gathered from an additional field study commissioned by the automaker on November 4, 2019 among 1,003 Americans aged 18-years old and older.

Most Americans (56%), feel that luxury is better described as a lifestyle of experiences than a collection of belongings.

woman boat island travel luxury

Photo by Getty Images

According to Lexus, "luxury has always been about exceptional quality and, more recently, experiences over possessions. They are the single most inherent features of luxury and are the top "must-haves" for luxury brands, according to the study findings. This trend is projected to continue, as the majority of Americans (73%) believe that identifying luxury with experiences over belongings will be just as, if not more, important in the next decade."

Lexus quote 1

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

A full 86 percent of Americans expect luxury brands to provide exceptional experiences.

Hotel receptionist assisting guest for checking in

Photo by Getty Images

Those surveyed expect luxury brands to be highly responsive to customers' needs, providing expert support and focusing on the details as well as giving a personal touch to service. This personal touch includes knowing the customer's name and preferences and even attention to sensory elements, such as scent, lighting and mood.

Lexus Quote 2

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Nearly three times as many people a will associate luxury with the opportunity for the occasional "digital detox", according to the survey.

High angle view of family using various technologies in living room at home

Photo by Getty Images

Americans love their digital devices continue to feel pressured to be "plugged in" at all times. As the number and sophistication of devices rises, the pressure mounts.

Lexus Quote 3

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

In the future, 93% of respondents expect to see just as much, if not more, features from luxury brands allowing them to make special requests.

Fashion designers working together in their studio

Photo by Getty Images

"I want it my way." Americans are able to customize their lifestyle more now than at any other time in history. They don't want that trend to reverse. More than half of the survey respondents (51%) are hoping to see additional tools and innovation supporting ways to customize their online luxury orders.

Lexus Quote 4

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Environmentally friendly manufacturing and messaging are important trends that Americans hope will continue in the next decade. 

Close-up of businessman holding recycable takeaway coffee cup

Photo by Getty Images

According to Lexus, "Most Americans expect luxury brands to have environmentally friendly manufacturing processes (81%). More than seven in 10 also believe luxury brands should act like leaders on issues surrounding sustainability (71%). And, they are open to innovative materials to help satisfy their demand for more sustainable manufacturing practices. In fact, nearly half (48%) look to see more original materials like faux leather and lab-grown diamonds in the future."

Ford also studies trends and each year releases their Ford Trend Report. One of the key findings of that global survey is that over one-third of respondents have no interest in owning an electric vehicle.