Contributing Writer: Craig Fitzgerald
- The ES 250 F SPORT offers all-wheel drive, a bit of performance, and luxury, but isn’t a huge upgrade over a well-equipped Camry.
- The eight-speed automatic makes the most of a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder with just 203 hp.
- A fine luxury sedan a few years too late.
- Quality interior
- Quiet ride
- Excellent ride quality
- Questionable styling
- The infotainment touchpad is well beyond its sell-by date
- Faces strong competition in its segment
WHO IS THIS VEHICLE FOR
The entry-luxury shopper who isn’t interested in making the move to a crossover.
- New touch-screen functionality and positioning of the Lexus Multimedia Display
- Standard Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 and Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
- Newly designed bi-LED headlights
- Dynamic Handling Package available on F SPORT gas models
- First-ever ES 300h F SPORT grade with sporty appearance
There’s nothing wrong with the Lexus ES 250 AWD F SPORT. It’s a comfortable, relatively fun, decent-looking entry-luxury midsize sedan – which used to be enough. Lexus used to sell these things by the boatload, and if things weren’t so dramatically different from a decade ago, it still would.
What’s wrong with the Lexus ES 250 is twofold: First, the American automobile shopper seems to want a crossover or SUV instead of an actual car in 2022. They’ve essentially given up on handling and style in favor of the charade that they’re driving a truck.
Secondly, Toyota has done ES 250 sales no favors by cramming the Camry full of content that used to be reserved for luxury vehicles. There’s really nothing – other than the dreadful Lexus touchpad infotainment control – that the ES 250 offers which you can’t buy in a Toyota Camry for less money.
The formula here is exactly the same as it was in 2007 when Lexus could count on selling 82,000 better-equipped Camrys every year. Obviously, every auto manufacturer has struggled in 2022, but in 2021, Lexus sold just over 45,000 ES vehicles across all trim levels. Increasing competition from the likes of Genesis, and its own Toyota stablemate has made it hard for the ES 250 to find an audience.
At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised at the Lexus ES 250’s styling, because it’s been with us for a decade. Lexus refers to it as a “spindle grille,” and ever since its introduction, it’s been controversial.
“You should be able to identify a car as a Lexus immediately…Instant visual recognition, for example, is the reason behind our spindle grille. It may look aggressive at first glance, that’s intentional, but it also conveys its boldness with sophistication and elegance,” said Kiyotake Ise, president of Lexus International at the time.
Well, he was right, in a way. You can certainly tell a Lexus when it’s behind you in traffic. But Ise no longer holds that position, and Lexus designers are left trying to figure out how to incorporate this imposing design element on vehicles that don’t need it. The electric RZ 450e, for example, doesn’t need a grille opening at all, yet has a vestigial spindle grille as a means of identifying the vehicle as a Lexus.
Beyond the grille, the ES 250 is a completely conventional sport sedan, long and low with a minimum of non-functional sheet metal sweeps and scoops. For a car with such a distinctive nose, there isn’t anything that makes the rear ¾-view any different than most entry-luxury sedans. The taillamps make the corner onto the rear quarters like most cars do now, and the lower valence has a diffuser-like panel that incorporates the low reflectors. Overall, it’s a decent-looking car once you get past its face.
Inside, our sample ES 250 AWD F SPORT trim was dramatic. The F SPORT gets much more heavily bolstered seats than a conventional ES 250 would, and they do an outstanding job of keeping the driver and passenger in place. They’re heated and ventilated as part of the trim package. The console is wide and flat and provides ample real estate for both the driver and the front passenger to use it as an armrest. The rear seat is spacious for two and doable for three in a pinch. There’s ample legroom and headroom in the rear seat, and they’re formed into almost buckets in order to maximize the space and keep the rear occupants in place.
Aside from the unique knobs that control things like the driving modes, there’s not much here that’s distinguishable from the Camry. It’s sporty, but so is the Camry TRD and depending on how you order it, you can build in even more drama to the cabin than the Lexus offers.
The ES 250 AWD F SPORT – as the name implies – is all-wheel drive. Couple that with 203hp out of the conventionally aspirated four-cylinder and you’re not talking serious 0-60 times here. While the F SPORT implies performance, you don’t get more engine power. The ES 350 offers two more cylinders and another liter of displacement to deliver 302hp if you’re looking for more than the ES 250 provides.
A 60-mile-per-hour run in the ES 250 AWD F SPORT will take about 8.6 seconds according to Lexus. Honestly, in most driving situations it’s completely adequate, but in those times when you’d like to briskly merge onto the highway, or around a 52-foot tractor-trailer, it can feel pretty pokey.
But the benefit is fuel economy. The numbers the ES 250 delivers are pretty impressive, considering this is a very conventional four-cylinder engine. The ES 250 delivers 25 mpg city, and 34 highway, for a combined 28 mpg. There’s a compelling argument for a car like the Genesis G70 in terms of interior styling, exterior styling, and performance from its turbocharged 2.0-liter four – but its fuel economy numbers are nowhere near the Lexus ES 250s, with a minimum five mile per gallon difference in every measure.
The ES 250 offers pretty much every bit of infotainment and safety technology you could possibly want in 2022, with the exception of some of the early autonomous driving features that some of the ultra-premium cars are beginning to offer now. At a base level, you get an eight-inch color display with 10 speakers, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, smartphone integration, and integration with the most popular brands of voice activation.
Our tested ES 250 was equipped with navigation and the Mark Levinson Audio System, which also increases the display size to a massive 12.3 inches, stretching halfway across the dash. The audio system increases to 17 speakers and 1800 watts of surround sound. It’s truly one of the most enjoyable car audio systems we’ve evaluated. It should be at a $2,900 price boost.
What’s not enjoyable is the touchpad that Lexus still retains for some unfathomable reason. Most of the major controls are thankfully redundant with buttons and knobs, but there are times – like when you’re using Apple CarPlay – when the touchpad in the console is necessary. It’s terrible, it’s always been terrible, and it really needs to be eliminated. There’s something completely disconnected about moving a cursor around with a small touchpad, on a screen that’s a much larger size. You end up scrolling to the edges of the pad and having to pick up where you left off from the middle of the pad. It’s bad enough trying to do it on a cheap laptop in your office. It’s a whole other set of problems when you’re doing it at 70 miles per hour.
The ES is almost fully loaded with safety technology from the base level as part of the Lexus Safety System+ 2.5, which includes their Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Tracing Assist, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Intelligent High Beams, a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, and bi-LED headlamps. Our tester came with Intuitive Parking Assist for $565.
Adaptive safety equipment can be intrusive and annoying, but that wasn’t the case in our Lexus ES 250. It provides helpful audible, visual, and near-autonomous prompts to keep you out of trouble, without ever alerting you to things that aren’t there. Premium manufacturers – we’re looking at you, Mercedes-Benz – should really keep an eye on how Lexus has managed to deliver all of this safety equipment without making it so annoying that it gets in the way of the driving experience.
2022 Lexus ES 250 AWD F SPORT
- Base MSRP: $45,540
Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and Intuitive Parking Assist with Auto Braking: $565
- 10.2-inch Head-Up Display: $500
- Triple-Beam LED Headlights: $1,215
Power Rear Sunshade: $210
Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio Package: $2,900
- Premium Paint: $595
- Heated Leather F SPORT Steering Wheel with Windshield De-Icer, and Fast-Response Interior Heater: $180
- Illuminated Door Sill: $400
- Carpeted Trunk Mat: $120
- Total MSRP as tested: $52,135
- Delivery: $1,075
The Lexus ES pricing strategy is interesting. You choose either better performance, all-wheel drive, or a hybrid drivetrain in the F SPORT for the same money. You can’t get any of these three things together, so the choice is up to you.
|2022 Lexus ES||Price:|
ES 350: $40,800
ES 350 Luxury: $46,200
ES 350 F SPORT: $45,450
ES 350 Ultra Luxury: $49,980
ES 250 AWD: $40,800
ES 250 AWD Luxury: $46,200
ES 250 AWD F SPORT: $45,450
ES 250 AWD Ultra Luxury: $49,980
ES 300h: $41,900
ES 300h Luxury: $47,300
ES 300h F SPORT: $45,450
ES 300h Ultra Luxury: $51,080
2.5-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder with variable intake and exhaust timing
|Vehicle Type: Entry-luxury sedan|
Wheelbase: 113.0 in.
Length: 195.9 in.
Width: 73.4 in. (including mirrors)
Height 56.9 in.
Passenger Volume: 99.9 cu.ft. with moonroof, 97.0 cu.ft. with panoramic roof
Cargo Volume: 13.9 cu.ft.
|Horsepower: 203hp||Torque: 184 lb.ft. @ 4,000 to 5,000 RPM|
|0-60 mph: 8.4 sec||Warranty:|
Basic: 48 mo/50,000 mi.
Powertrain: 72 mo/70,000 mi.
Hybrid Battery: 8 yr/100,000 mi.
Craig Fitzgerald began his automotive writing career in 1996, at AutoSite.com, one of the first online resources for car buyers. Over the years, he’s written for the Boston Globe, Forbes, and Hagerty. For seven years, he was the editor at Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car, and today, he’s the automotive editor at Drive magazine. He’s dad to a son and daughter, and plays rude guitar in a garage band in Worcester, Massachusetts.