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

Celebrated storyteller Malcom Gladwell takes listeners behind the scenes at Lexus in a new podcast.

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

He's written several bestselling books, been a longtime storytelling in The New Yorker magazine, and has hosted the Revisionist History podcast. Malcom Gladwell is also a self-proclaimed car nut. He's has teamed up with Lexus for a six-part podcast that is available now.

The podcast is titled "Go and See", which is an approximate translation of the Japanese "genchi genbutsu," or "go and see for yourself." The idea stems from the idea that if someone goes to see how something is made, designed, or created, they'll gain a greater understanding of the people behind the method. Lexus has invited Gladwell to visit Japan to take a behind-the-scenes look at Lexus operations.

Go And See Malcom Gladwell The podcast is available on a number of platforms.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

"Human-centered design has been a Lexus core value since inception, and this has led to some interesting and original approaches through the years," said Lisa Materazzo, vice president of marketing at Lexus. "Malcolm Gladwell's curiosity is contagious, and we are so pleased that he accepted our invitation to take a closer look at Lexus. I believe he was able to gain an understanding of how we learn by studying people. The resulting podcast series is truly intriguing."

According to a release, the podcast series follows Gladwell as he travels to the company's headquarters in Japan, explores a top-secret racetrack, and shadows engineers and executives.

Lexus excels at infusing key components of Japanese culture into its vehicles' identity. Take, for example, the oragami-inspired folds of material in the Lexus LS.

The podcast takes a deeper look at this including how a Japanese tea ceremony influenced the engineering of a car window; to the musical composition of a coupe's engine and the emotions it elicits.

"I once had a Lexus sports car and loved it. But after I gave it up, I didn't really give them much more thought," said Gladwell. "In Japan, I saw firsthand just how much thought and cultural know-how and expertise goes into the final product."

Recorded over 10 weeks from December through February, Gladwell's own Pushkin Industries produced the six-part series in partnership with Lexus. The first episode became available on March 5, 2020, and new episodes launch on subsequent Thursday.s Listeners can stream or download the series from Apple Podcasts, Radio.com, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Pandora, Pocketcast, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, Castbox, NPR One, Web Players and more.

Dreams do come true for one child, who received a fancy new Lexus play car.

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

Lexus has teamed up with the Cerebral Palsy Foundation (CPF) to create a one-of-a-king ride-on vehicle inspired by children with cerebral palsey. The automaker says that the untraditional vehicle combines Lexus's "human-centric design philosophy with CPF's mission of improving the lives of people with cerebral palsy and opening up the world of possibilities."

The special ride-on vehicle was presented to its recipient Finley Smallwood earlier this month, which is designated National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month.

Lexus Cerebral Palsy Foundation custom car The play car has been modified to allow Smallwood to enjoy play in a way that doesn't restrict her.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

"People with cerebral palsy rarely get the interventions and support they need at the moments they need them," said Rachel Byrne, CPF executive director. "Our mission is to shift that paradigm and be a catalyst for creating positive change through innovative collaborations and partnerships."

For children with cerebral palsy, one of the greatest challenges is being able to participate in their environment and play as other children do. Many children with cerebral palsy don't have the strength to be able to hold and turn a steering wheel consistently for a given period of time, and mobility challenges can make using a foot pedal impossible. Smallwood has difficulty sitting for long periods of time.

"At Lexus, our core design philosophy has always been human-centric," said Cooper Ericksen, Lexus group vice president, product planning & strategy. "We create vehicles around the art and science of human needs. In this case, we wanted to push the envelope and explore what that might mean for a child with cerebral palsy who hasn't been able to experience the joy of mobility like other children have."

Smallwood's custom crafted vehicle includes modifications to the seat, with additional side padding for lateral support around her waist along with an adjustable headrest and a five-point harness. Her customized ride-on car also includes increased door size and reduced ground clearance to allow for ease of entry and exit.

Lexus Cerebral Palsy Foundation custom car A team of Lexus engineers worked on the project.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

There's an armrest joystick that allows Smallwood the ability to control the direction and acceleration of the vehicle without the need for foot pedals or holding a steering wheel for an extended period of time.

"Oh, and we painted the body of the car purple," said Ericksen. "Because that's Finley's favorite color."

The project was in partnership with Givewith. You can learn more about Smallwood's story here.