'It's certainly a lot more stunning, more emotional even--dramatically transformed from the sixth generation.'
We’ve just landed in Los Angeles International Airport. We step out for some air and do a bit of car-watching while we're at it. We've been in transit for the last 17 hours and have another six hours before we depart for Nashville for the Global Dynamic Press Launch of the seventh-generation Lexus ES. Why Nashville? I haven't been to the place, so I'm intrigued.
After going around Nashville the next day, it gives you an idea why: It’s vibrant, it's an up-and-coming city—the fastest growing city in the US in the past few years, I'm told. They even jokingly call it "Nash Vegas." Like the new Lexus ES, this city boasts a new level of dynamism.
"The new one has to deliver more comfort and be more dynamic," says Yasuo Kajino, Lexus International chief designer. "It has to inspire and spark joy in daily life." It's certainly a lot more stunning, more emotional even—dramatically transformed from the sixth generation.
The new ES is longer, lower and wider by +65mm, -5mm, and +45mm, respectively. The wheels have been pushed more to the corners for a 50mm increase in wheelbase and 10mm and 30mm wider track front and rear. The proportions and stance provide a much sleeker profile. For instance, the hood is lower by 16mm, the top of the windshield moved back by 24mm, and the C-pillar heavily slanted. The result? A flowing line that gives the ES a coupe-ish shape. It's said to be patterned from the LS and the LC, but I seem to see a stronger resemblance with the RC and the GS, which is personally a good thing as the latter pair's designs are more of my preference. Breaking the smooth roofline is a shoulder line that runs from the front wheel arch to the trunk.
Just like any other modern Lexus, the trademark spindle grille grabs a lot of attention, sporting a new vertical pattern and satin-plated trim in this latest gen. Slim headlights with those identifiable 'L' shaped marker lights cap off the front.
The design flows to the rear through wrap-around taillights. An interesting element that further fuses the side and the rear together are shoulder and bumper corner lines that run until the inner edge of the taillights, drawing your attention toward the middle, making the car look wide.
This midsize sedan has been a staple in the luxury brand's model range since 1989, well known for its comfort and refinement. There's now more space, thanks to its increased dimensions. What catches my attention is the Viscotecs interior trim, a Lexus-first three-dimensional painted finish on the leather surfaces. It looks like an optical illusion.
While the luxurious cabin remains a strong selling point, the new model appears to be more driver-focused. To start off, the front seats have a new frame that improves the pelvis section for a more natural driving position. The position of the pedals has also been revised. In a matter of seconds, I find my ideal position. The idea, according to Lexus International chief engineer Yasuhiro Sakakibara, is that the ES should be comfortable but equally fun to drive. He compares it to your go-to shirt or your favorite watch. And it's easy to see what he’s trying to impart.
With everything set, the organizers double-check my navigation to West Haven Golf Club in Franklin, which is about 33km away via the route plotted. It turns out I'm not heading off alone. None other than Paul Williamsen joins me. Apart from being Lexus International's strategic communications global media communications manager, he’s a 30-year member of the Sports Car Club of America. He's a real motorhead and car geek. Conversations with him could be about gear ratios, viscosity, and other technical stuff. You could learn a thing or two from him and I'm thrilled to have him as a passenger.
Right now, though, it’s all about the ES. He points out the numerous new bits, like the 7-inch LCD instrument panel, the 10.2-inch head-up display, and the 12.3-inch multimedia display. Considering how fast he sifts through the interface, it's obvious he's mastered it. I'm not getting lost, that’s for sure!
"You wouldn't really expect it, but Nashville has great driving roads. That's the reason why we chose this place apart from it booming so quickly," Paul shares. "Just three kilometers from the city, you have beautiful country roads." Spot on, and you can sense it as the greenery becomes more lush.
When we approach the Old Natchez Trace forest trail, Paul tells me this portion is the highlight of the drive. It's a historic place with a good amount of curves and slight elevation changes to highlight the ES's all-new Global Architecture-K (GA-K) platform. It's one thing to improve a car's looks, and another to improve how it drives, especially when the ES has been renowned for comfort. The chassis is now constructed from various grades of high-strength steel and features much more structural adhesives compared to the previous model—20 meters of adhesive as opposed to eight meters. It also incorporates laser-screw welding, a construction method taken from the LS. Stiffness, meanwhile, has been enhanced with the use of a front strut tower brace and new support braces for the radiator.
The new platform served as a blank canvas for Bara-San (fondly called by his Japanese colleagues because his last name is too long). That meant being able to pinpoint exactly where noise and vibrations were coming from. Sound-deadening insulation almost covers the entire floorpan—96% from the previous gen's 68%.
There are also new dampers to further reduce vibrations. With the comfort aspect now covered, Bara-San could concentrate on tuning the suspension for better handling. The front suspension still has a similar design to the older model, but the angle of the strut has been altered for better ride quality and straight-line stability. The rear trailing arm has been positioned higher and the bushings are larger and wider spaced for better absorption. Further reducing noise and vibration is an optional cast-alloy noise-reducing wheel. There are four tiny holes behind the wheel that lead to a hollow passage on the outer circumference. Think of it as an escape route for suppressed energy. We're driving on smooth roads, however, so I don't notice any difference at the moment. With the kind of roads we have back home, the feature should be a big help.
Relaying all that to the driver is a new rack-assist type electric power steering, with the assist motor found on the steering housing, parallel to the rack for quicker feedback. On the Natchez Trace, steering is obviously sharper.
Propelling the ES350 is the latest version of the 3.5-liter V6, which now features the D-4S fuel-injection system. You can expect substantial improvement from the previous model that yielded so-so consumption. Initial combined consumption is estimated to be 13.5km/L. Output is 300hp @ 6,600rpm and 357Nm @ 4,700rpm, 28hp and 11Nm more than the old ES. It's coupled to a new eight-speed Direct Shift automatic transmission, which is more responsive, more quiet, and aids fuel efficiency.
After driving the ES, Bara-San's go-to shirt/favorite watch analogy makes the approach of the seventh-gen much simpler to comprehend, especially after driving and getting reacquainted with the previous model they brought along for comparison. The new one feels more engaging. And the new seating position makes a big difference.
They also demonstrate the difference between the noise-reducing wheel and a regular wheel by letting you lightly pound on the tires they've fitted with a rubber mallet. The thumps are very different. There's more absorption with the noise-reducing wheel, while there's a firmer bounce on the regular one. There's also a cutaway for you to see how it works. Clever yet simple. Paul tells me the PSI isn't affected.
To experience the rear seat, we're chauffeured back to downtown Nashville. While most ES customers in the US drive themselves, the ES is still typically chauffeur-driven in ours. Impressively, it has 6mm more legroom than the flagship LS. For a tall guy like me and with the driver’s seat still in my position, I have about seven inches of knee room to spare. For added comfort, you can power recline the backrest to a maximum of eight degrees.
So, the new ES is more engaging and more dynamic. Considering it has just gone through its biggest transformation, I can't help think the ES has been given a dose of "waku-doki." And for those who'd rather be behind the wheel than be at the back seat, this is a very welcome change.