2021 Lexus ES 250 review: Super cruiser

The F Sport upholstery has these 19-inch wheels.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

The 2021 Lexus ES 250 is more impressive than you might think. After 800 miles in the saddle of this gold-plated Toyota Avalon on a trip to Michigan’s upper peninsula and back, I’m happy to report that the ES is an all-star champion thanks to its comfort, refinement and fuel economy.

Like it

  • Excellent adaptive cruise control
  • Refinement on the road
  • Comfortable accommodations
  • Good fuel economy

I do not like

  • That damn infotainment system
  • Listless performance
  • No folding seat

Redesigned a few years ago, the ES Soldiers made some improvements for 2021. The Luxury, F Sport and Ultra Luxury models now come standard with blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning, a special Black Line model is on the menu and, for the first time, you can get this venerable all-wheel drive sedan, which comes standard with the basic four-cylinder engine. That’s the powertrain that this example is equipped with, although it also features the F Sport package, which includes unique wheels, a mesh grille insert, other visual changes, and a retuned suspension setup. Adaptive dampers are also available, although they are not fitted here.

The interior of the ES 250 is well built and comfortable. The materials used are mostly of high quality, from soft leather to shiny aluminum to the almost organic hole pattern on the speaker grilles. Some not-so-large hard plastic can be spotted if you look around and the switches that operate the heated and ventilated front seats are buried at the bottom of the center stack and look crude, especially compared to the naive adjustment knobs and are two dial concentric integrated in a single assembly. Not a big deal, but I love this little touch because not only does it look good, it lets you tune the radio without reaching halfway across the dash. I also appreciate the mechanical shifting of this car. There is no ambiguity in how it works and you can rest your hand on it while browsing.

On top of all that, this Lexus’ comfortable front bucket seats get two thumbs up. Even after hours in the saddle they leave me rested. A plus for passengers, the ES’s back seat is spacious and very comfortable, plus it comes with a 12 volt power outlet and a pair of 2.2 amp USB ports so everyone’s phone can stay fully powered on long journeys. The ES 250 offers 13.9 cubic feet of boot space, a good amount to be sure, but by limiting this car’s versatility, the rear seatback won’t drop. At least a small pass-through is included for long loads. Curiously, the glove box is also quite small, barely big enough to hold the owner’s manual.

As for the technology, the ES comes standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and compatibility with Amazon Alexa. An 8-inch infotainment screen is included on the lower-end models, but a beautiful 12.3-inch is available, which includes built-in navigation. This display looks good, with vibrant colors, good viewing angles, and minimal glare. Unfortunately, it’s not touch-enabled (yet
), which means you have to navigate Lexus’ intricate infotainment system with a vile trackpad on the center console. This arrangement is as annoying as it is difficult. The reason the automaker hasn’t moved on to something better after all these years is beyond me. As with other Toyota and Lexus products, infotainment technology is this car’s biggest weakness.

A comfortable interior with a bad infotainment interface. At least the next 2022 ES will finally have a touchscreen.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

As you may have guessed from its name, the ES 250 is equipped with a 2.5-liter engine, just like you can get on a Toyota Avalon or Camry. Without a supercharger or turbo to provide the extra gear, this four-vessel unit delivers a modest 203 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Making the most of this power, the engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. That gearbox is mostly nice, shifting quickly and promptly by dropping gears as required to keep things moving, though it can feel a little lumpy at times.

Listed in the luxury car service, this Toyota engine is perfectly repairable, but like government bureaucracy it is devoid of any joy. Occasionally, rough vibrations may be heard, although the unpleasant noises it generates during work, particularly when climbing hills, are more evident. Of course, this engine isn’t even a trademark of fire, shifting the ES to 60 mph in just an adequate 8.6 seconds. But what this car’s powerplant lacks in terms of thrill and verve, it largely makes up for with excellent efficiency. This Lexus is rated at 25mpg in the city and 34mpg on the highway. Combined, it should return 28 mpg, although it averages around 32 mpg in my hands, a damn impressive score for a large, comfortable, non-hybrid sedan, one equipped with all-wheel drive, nothing less.

The ES 250’s steering and braking feel are good to the point of being forgotten. These primary controls get the job done without earning any praise or contempt, which is A-OK in my book. The car’s ride quality, however, is lovely, even without those fancy adjustable dampers. Despite wearing F Sport badges, this Lexus is soft and quiet, floats slightly over wide undulations of the roadway, and protects passengers from almost any wind and tire noise, even at extra legal speeds. Dark-finish 19-inch F Sport rims are also win-win, with a swanky look without clotting that creamy ride.

This unassuming luxury sedan is super comfortable.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

The adaptive cruise control with lane centering works phenomenally, smoothly and carefully adjusting the vehicle’s speed as needed and keeping it stuck in the center of its lane. Other useful services such as lane departure warning, automatic high beams, traffic sign recognition and more are also included in the Lexus Safety System Plus 2.0 suite of advanced driving aids, which is standard on every model.

The 2021 ES sedan starts at $ 41,000 and changes to include $ 1,025 in delivery charges, which isn’t a bad price for a comfortable cruiser from a blue-chip brand. As tested, the example seen here is still reasonably priced at $ 53,400. Aside from the F Sport trimmings, a wireless charging pad ($ 75), navigation package ($ 2,900), LED headlights ($ 1,515), and a few other options filled the bottom line. However, this is a more than reasonable figure, especially considering that the average transaction price of new vehicles in the United States these days is around $ 40,000.

Sure, there are a few things to complain about, but the ES 250 is a pleasant luxury sedan … provided your expectations are reasonable. If you want thrilling acceleration or the agility of a superbike, you will be deeply disappointed. However, if you drop those claims and accept that this is a quiet and comfortable cruiser, it’s easy enough to enjoy this Lexus.

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