For value in a luxury sedan, the clear winner is the Lexus ES.
Built on the same platform as the gorgeous but soon-to-be-extinct Toyota Avalon, the ES adds a subdued and plush cabin and superior ride and handling to justify a starting price of $42,490 (delivery).
That’s around 15,000 fewer than competitors like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Start ticking option boxes – and most buyers in this category do – and the price difference widens. The maximum amount you can spend on an ES is around $53,000. The Audi is around $75,000 and the other two can easily zoom past $100,000.
“Yes, but the Germans are more exciting to drive,” you’re probably thinking, and you’re right. On the other hand, our tester, outfitted with a tried-and-tested naturally aspirated V6 mated to a trouble-free 8-speed automatic, hit 100mph in under a quarter mile and has, as Lexus says, a top speed of 80mph.
That’s enough to spook most people, as it should.
We also had the F Sport Dynamic Handling Package, a $1,610 add-on that comes with Sport+ and Custom Drive modes, intuitive parking assist with automatic braking (no more backing against bars), adaptive variable suspension, 19-inch -Aluminium wheel and a long list of interior and exterior options, such as spoiler, heated steering wheel, Hadori aluminum trim, aluminum pedals, black headliner.
The handling piece of this car is brilliant. When needed, the front and rear variable dampers give the car enough firmness to power through corners at speed, but also enough body roll to ensure a premium ride. At full throttle, the 302-horsepower V6 puts out a meaty exhaust note that’s satisfying for baby boomers who grew up with Detroit muscles.
To be honest, we muted our backroad test to just slow down and enjoy the optional 17-speaker, 1800-watt Mark Levinson sound system and play with the optional 12.3-inch multimedia touchscreen. In its ultimate nature, this machine has the vibe of a muscular yet relaxed boulevard cruiser.
Toyota/Lexus has sold dozens of variations of its V-6 in millions of vehicles, from Tacomas and 4Runners to the new Tundra, available with a twin-turbo hybrid that produces 437 hp and 583 lb.-ft. of torque. Full disclosure, I have a 14 year old Highlander Hybrid V6 that still gets close to 30mpg and doesn’t burn a drop of oil.
I first looked at a younger Audi A6 when I bought it, but the maintenance required – disassembling to replace the timing chain – would have cost more than $2,700. At 140,000 miles, the required work on my Highlander, which included a new timing belt and water pump, has cost less than $500 in the last three years (thanks Godfather Automotive).
And that’s the point of buying a Lexus ES. You buy it because it spoils you. They buy it because it offers safety equipment and driver assistance technology that is as good as the Germans. Above all, buy it to own for 10-15 years because it is reliable. This in turn makes the long-term cost of ownership one of the best as depreciation is less.
I once looked at the underside of a “brand new” pickup truck and noticed that the transmission was covered by a cross member.
“If you have to service this gearbox, you have to pull it out with the engine,” I said to the colleague who led the engineering team.
“That won’t happen during the warranty period, so it’s none of our business,” was the reply.
Toyota engineers think about how second, third and fourth owners can service their vehicles. Because they’re continually improving components, rather than going “brand new” every few years, things don’t break, and as they wear out, they’re accessible. No pulling the engine to replace a clutch or flywheel.
So it’s no wonder that Intellichoice’s annual Best Value of the Year awards are dominated by Toyota and Lexus. A key metric is the cost of ownership over 70,000 miles. The cost of maintaining a Lexus at this point is only for routine items
New standard: 40mpg
While I’m a big fan of the V6 engine, it’s not the one I would choose for a Lexus ES. Our tester averaged a solid 24.5mpg on regular unleaded petrol, which was wonderful in 1990 but abysmal in 2022 when so many vehicles can top 40mpg.
Case study, a loaded to the gills ES 300h, the hybrid version that gets 43 mpg in the city, 44 on the highway. Mated to a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, another ubiquitous and bulletproof Toyota engine, the hybrid accelerates just as smoothly but isn’t quite as quick as the V6. It only goes 112 mph, which is still hard to explain to your friendly local highway cops.
The hybrid version starts at $43,690. The F Sport handling version tops out at $49,985, but we don’t think it’s needed in the hybrid. It’s better to stick with 18-inch wheels, which handle better, and buy the $2,900 navigation system, which includes the Levinson sound system, the larger screen, and a voice command that responds to “Hey, Lexus.”
Triple-beam LED headlights for $1,315 are another smart option.
As we’ve already discussed, the hybrid system allows for longer engine life because the electric motor does its work during peak load periods, such as starting and accelerating. How long does the battery last? Lexus guarantees 10 years or 150,000 miles.
As mentioned, I have one that’s 14 years old and it’s still running at over 90% capacity. Also, you don’t “replace the battery”. The ES 300H’s 29.1 kW battery consists of 204 individual cells that can be replaced individually. It will be 15 to 20 years before this is required, and shops specializing in this work are popping up across the country.
Remember, Toyota has been in the hybrid business for 25 years, and Consumer Reports consistently ranks Lexus and Toyota hybrids among the best used cars on the market.
Don’t pay over the label
If you are in the market for this or any other vehicle and a dealer is trying to raise the price above what is displayed in the window, just walk away.
Rising prices and rising interest rates have already dampened demand for used and new cars; In fact, the wholesale value of used cars is falling nearly 1% every week. At the same time, manufacturers are finding solutions to supply bottlenecks and stocks of new vehicles are beginning to rise.
Everyone is an expert at this, but most estimates of when the supply and demand lines will cross are between three and six months. That means if you give a trader an extra $10,000 list, you’re just wasting that money. It is amortized in the first year. If you have a 6 year loan, you are 5 1/2 years under water.
Spend a little money at an honest and competent repair shop and ride out this storm.