There is quite a lot to appreciate about the seventh-generation Lexus ES 350. The midsized luxury sedan is extremely quiet, sumptuously comfortable, practical, well-appointed, attractive and it is one of more affordable offerings in the midsize luxury sedan segment.
So, it is a shame that the 350’s infotainment system and control is remarkably, stupendously frustrating.
The system puts an enormous damper on the overall experience of the ES. It stands out like locusts at a delicious bar-b-que, impedes your enjoyment like being laid off while on vacation, and is as frustrating as a zit the size and color of a breath mint showing up on your face a few hours before your nuptials.
To control the infotainment system, Lexus gives you its Remote Touchpad, which works similar to a laptop pad. Inputs are controlled by scanning the screen with a cursor. There is haptic feedback, and users push on the touchpad to make selections.
On paper it sounds fine, but in use, it is maddening and requires drivers to constantly look away from the road. Lexus says the touchpad mimics smartphone operation, which I can understand, but try navigating to a particular menu or app on your phone without looking at the screen. That is what it’s like to use the Remote Touchpad. And when you make a selection, which will usually differ from what you actually wanted to click, the Lexus gives you a “bong” noise. Every. Single Time.
Though it would still be inconvenient, I wouldn’t mind so much if the 12.3-inch screen had touch control so you could forego the pad, but it doesn’t.
The system is also frustrating in other ways. Navigating Sirius XM, which comes standard on all models, can also make you avert your eyes from the road. Users are required to pick out a genre, such as rock or dance. Once the selection is made, you can only scroll through those genre-specific stations. Is the smooth jazz channel making your eyelids heavy? Well you have to use the touchpad to back out, select another genre, and then pick out your station. And for seemingly no reason, sometimes the “all genre” option can’t be selected. Sure, you could use the presets, but if you are an A.D.D. music listener like me, you like to scroll through all channels, and that just can’t be done easily in the ES.
The whole system is made more frustrating by the fact that the ES 350 is otherwise excellent. So much so, the infotainment operation is my only real gripe.
When I finally gave up on the fidgeting with the infotainment system and turned the radio off, I momentarily thought I had lost my hearing. That’s because the ES is extremely quiet. Like, sensory deprivation chamber quiet.
Wind noise and outside traffic are practically muted and tire noise is barely perceptible. Travel in this car alone and you can hear your digestive tract working on that burrito you had for lunch.
The sumptuous ride quality adds to the calming experience. The 350 irons out bumps and road imperfections without transferring any of the harshness to the cabin.
The 350 also sports a comfortable, 14-way adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support and seat cushion extender in the top two trims — Luxury and Ultra Luxury. As long as you limit the rear row to no more than two adults, the ES gives driver and passengers room to stretch with a healthy dose of legroom.
My tester came in Ultra Luxury trim, which adds to the creature comforts with a power rear sunshade and manual rear window sunshades, a driver memory system that automatically adjusts the seat, steering wheel and outside mirrors to tailored preferences, a hands-free open/close trunk and the previously mentioned seats, which are heated and ventilated.
The 350 also comes with a panoramic moonroof, dual-zone climate control, Wi-Fi hotspot, Alexa integration, LED headlights, a 10-speaker sound system and other features.
If you have driven a Toyota Camry, you will have a good general idea of the 350’s interior shapes, but Lexus hasn’t just slapped on a few pieces of higher-quality trim to gussy up the interior. Just about every surface has a luxury feel and appearance, and all the knobs and buttons feel well-made and are laid out intuitively. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough of them to counter the infotainment system.
Lexus has made some attractive exterior updates for 2019 models. The downward slope of the hood and sharp angle on the nose with its hourglass grille gives the front of the 350 a handsome look.
The 350 comes with a 3.5-liter V6 offering 302 horsepower with 267 lb.-ft. of torque and an 8-speed automatic transmission. A hybrid 350 is also available.
It would be a bit of a stretch to call the ES sporty (the Sport version has a sport-tuned suspension with the same engine output as other non-hybrid models), but it’s no slacker and has more than enough grunt and power for the everyday driving. Hard acceleration provides a consistent pull and despite the smooth ride, it doesn’t gangster lean while cornering. Adding to the comfortable aspects of the 350, the engine and transmission both do their work with smooth precision.
The ES comes standard with Lexus’ second-generation safety system which includes radar cruise control, lane-keep with steering assist, automatic braking and other features. My tester added blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, parking assist and a panoramic camera system.
Other options fitted to my 350 included wireless charging, 18-inch alloy wheels, an upgraded audio system, added connectivity such as Apple CarPlay, panorama glass roof and other features. With around $9,000 in upgrades, my Ultimate Luxury tester rang in at a little under $53,000. A standard starts 350 starts around $40,000. Buyers wanting a hybrid version with its in-line four offering a total 215 horsepower can add about $2,000 to the price of a non-hybrid model in each trim.
And in the midsized luxury department, the 350, though less powerful than some its competitors, is high on the list of affordability.
The ES provides driving tranquility with its extremely quiet cabin, silky-smooth ride, well-built feel and an attractive appearance. It is a sensible choice in the midsize luxury class that has scarce flaws. If you can get beyond its insanely frustrating infotainment system, that is.