Opinionated at any speed . . . Silvio Calabi

Lexus ES 250 AWD F Sport

Wed, 06/15/2022 - 9:00am

First, the sad news: Even the F Sport version of the ES 250 sedan is bog-slow. Now the glad news: It’s pretty, it’s built well and said to be utterly reliable, it’s comfortable and, even with the extra weight and friction of all-wheel drive, it gets an astonishing 35 miles per gallon on the highway, at least with just one occupant. That’s the trade-off for being underpowered.

The naturally aspirated (no turbocharger or supercharger) 2.5-liter Four under the hood is rated for 203 horsepower and an even more disheartening 184 pound-feet of torque. Furthermore, to reach that meager output requires revving the engine to well past 4000 RPM, which makes it moan like a wounded animal. All the while, the 8-speed automatic transmission is steadily—and smoothly, I might add—downshifting to try to keep up with the driver’s foot. Even in Sport mode or with the manual shift paddles, it takes determination to reach passing speed. And then maintaining reasonable cruising velocity requires constant throttle vigilance; better to let the adaptive cruise control do it.

As the car reels off mile after mile with the gas gauge seemingly stuck, the ES 250’s strong suit shows up in the fuel efficiency panel on the touchscreen: This is a long-hauler built for comfort. The seats (heated, ventilated, widely adjustable), stereo (Mark Levinson), climate control (dual-zone) and quiet are what we expect from Lexus. Our ES also handles confidently, thanks to its F Sport suspension, a $4,650 upgrade that also brings some cosmetic tweaks and 19-inch wheels.

The ES 250 F Sport AWD base price is now $46,675; ours was optioned up to $53,210. At first, this feels spendy for a dressed-up and rather slow Toyota Camry. But it is a Lexus, a prestige brand, and it is loaded with nice toys, from a clever 360-degree-view camera to parking assist, a head-up display, triple-beam LED headlamps, pushbutton rear window shade, driver-aid and safety features galore and a good deal more. Everyone’s favorite assistant Alexa is here too, waiting to help if asked.

ES fans who want acceleration have other options. A 6-cylinder ES 350 with 99 more horsepower, for example, starts at $42,025 without AWD or the F Sport upgrade. More opulence is available too: The top ES is the 350 Ultra Luxury, at $51,205 and up. The “best” ES—the one that may be most satisfying in both performance and fuel efficiency—is likely the gas-electric ES 300h Hybrid, which delivers well over 40 MPG plus ample acceleration (and of course luxury). Lexus offers four ES Hybrids starting at $43,225. It’s worth noting that a) Lexus has always done hybrids well; and b) its hybrid models cost only about a thousand dollars more than their gas-only siblings.