2019 Lexus ES: Keep the car, ditch the touchpad [Retake]

2019 Lexus ES 3.jpg
2019 Lexus ES (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

During my recent first look at the 2019 Lexus ES, I thought it was well-styled and comfortable. Plus, with the addition of Apple CarPlay and other convenience features, the vehicle becomes less stodgy and more tech-forward.

I really liked it.

With a second look at both the hybrid and gasoline versions of this all-new vehicle, the impression remains favorable.

With one tiny exception.

I’ve made a firm decision about how I feel about the Lexus touchpad, and that is not favorable.

Initially, I thought the touchpad was a good idea, kind of like a track pad on a laptop computer. But the more I use it, the less I like it.

It’s difficult to make selections and page through menu screens, and the location of the pad makes it easy for the front seat passenger to tap it and make an annoying clicking sound or change radio stations unintentionally.

First my mom and then my husband took turns driving me crazy with their errant taps.

If you can get beyond this black mark, the 2019 ES is an otherwise stellar vehicle.

And I can almost cancel out the hideous touchpad with the Lexus inclusion Apple CarPlay – especially since Apple has updated its iOS to include Waze and Google Map integration.

Waze through the available 12.3-inch, in-dash screen is a beautiful thing. But good luck trying to send an incident report using the touchpad. #Frustrating

Before you ask, no, Android Auto is not included. And, no, Lexus hasn’t given any indication about if or when, it will be.

But back to the selling points. The new ES will get Lexus’ Safety System + 2.0 as standard fare. This will include high-tech safety features such as lane trace assist, autonomous emergency braking, intelligent high-beam assist, adaptive cruise control and a road sign reader.

I do want to issue one quick note here: Safety System + 2.0 is a collection of features that aid the driver. They are not meant to take the place of defensive and astute driving practices, and in fact, they can malfunction in the event of inclement weather -- such as when snow covers a camera or sensor.

Other high-tech features available on the ES include a 360-degree panoramic camera, a 12.3-inch navigation display screen, a kick-activated trunk, Qi wireless charging, automatic reverse braking and an up-level Mark Levinson premium sound system.

For 2019 ES is a front-wheel-drive-only vehicle – meaning there is no all-wheel-drive option. It also offers two powertrains: a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and a 2.5-liter 4-cylidner engine mated to an electric motor.

The ES 300h is equipped with the 2.5-liter engine, and as you’d expect from a hybrid, the throttle response is definitely noticeably muted and the horsepower rating is only 215. So, if you’re an aggressive driver, this might not be quite the car for you.

The bonus here, however, is the engine’s quietness and the potential to get 44 mpg in combined driving.

During my week-long test, I averaged 39.4 mpg.

The ES 350 is equipped with a V-6 and has distinctly faster acceleration than the hybrid with 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque.

I found the ES 300h to be smooth and quiet, while the ES 350 had just the right amount of pep for moderate to aggressive driving. Both were quick off the start and merged well with traffic.

The second time around, I also had the chance to take the ES out in 8-inches of snow before the roads were cleared. Even without an AWD option, the ES did well in the slushy, icy conditions.

The ES trims and pricing for gasoline and hybrid models, respectively, are as follows:

  • ES: $40,625, $42,335
  • Luxury: $45,625, $47,335
  • F Sport (ES 350 only): $46,820
  • Ultra Luxury: $49,425, $51,135

The Bottom Line:

While I really like the 2019 ES, I must ask the same question I posed in my first-look review: Would I be willing to spend $5K more for a base ES over a top-tier Toyota Camry XSE, which has a lot of the same whistles and bells and the same 3.5-liter V-6?

With a second look, I’m starting to trend toward yes. The materials are absolutely upgraded in the ES, and the ride comfort is also a notch up. Plus, the more I look at the exterior styling on the ES, the more I love it.

However, it also depends on what you want in a vehicle. Lexus is more luxury. Toyota is more sport.

Let’s just not talk about the touchpad.