New Lexus ES 350 Promises Ultra Luxury

But it needs more than soft leather to deliver.

I expected at least 24-karat gold leaf on the shifter. And seats trimmed in ermine and silk. Maybe even a Swarovski crystal chandelier dangling from the dome light.

When you badge your car “Ultra Luxury” you really do need to lavish it with a few more baubles than a power rear sunshade and rain-sensing wipers.

Welcome to the 2020 Lexus ES350 Ultra Luxury, the high-falutin’ flagship of Lexus’s midsize premium sedan line-up. At least our test car was painted a rather exotic-sounding shade called Nebula Gray Pearl.

For the seventh generation, and mightily-improved, version of its strong-selling ES sedan, Lexus decided buyers needed reminding that the Camry-based ES really is all about premium luxury.

While that Ultra Luxury title is way over the top, the package does endow the car with such niceties as perforated semi-aniline leather seats that are heated and ventilated.

Add to that, acoustic side glass, the aforementioned power rear sunshade, along with manual rear-door shades, and a hands-free power trunk lid.

And that’s about it. Nothing too Ultra Luxury here. In fact the latest diamond-quilted-leather Genesis G70 totally out-luxes the Lexus for less money.

Yes, you can doll-up the ES350 to reach true luxury status. But you’ll have to splash the cash.

Optional features like a 17-speaker, 1,800-watt Mark Levinson audio package with an enhanced nav system will set you back $3,000. An excellent safety package with features like blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert costs an extra $1,900.

While the $43,750 asking price of the, er, “base” ES350 Ultimate Luxury represents an excellent value, start adding the extras and the $54,050 sticker on our tester sounds a little ambitious.

The key here is not to get too distracted by that frankly silly Ultimate Luxury moniker. Just focus on the ES350’s inherent all-round goodness.

After six generations of the ES being little more than a gussied-up Camry, this latest edition is an altogether more sophisticated animal.

For starters, it’s bigger. It’s now 2.6 inches longer than before, 1.8 inches wider with two inches added to the wheelbase. Rear-seat legroom is now positively limo-like.

And it looks super-upscale, with that swoopy roofline, lower stance, bulging fenders and eye-catching LED headlight signature. Even that polarizing spindle-grille seems less visually offensive on the ES than other Lexus offerings.

It’s also more dynamic to drive, courtesy of its all-new front-drive platform/chassis with more advanced suspension, and new electric-assist steering that gives greater precision, more feedback.

There’s also an uprated version of Lexus’s trusty 3.5-liter V6 that gets a power hike to 302 horsepower, up from 268. Add to that a new 8-speed automatic with two more gears than before.

It’s lovely combo that delivers on the Ultra Luxury promise. The big V6 is Teflon-smooth, whisper-quiet and nicely responsive; the new transmission shifts with the smoothness of hot molasses pouring from a mason jar.

And the new ES has no shortage of giddy-up, especially if you toggle to “sport” mode. Zero-to-60mph sprinting now takes just 6.6 seconds – half a second less than before.

While you’d never describe the Lexus’s handling as sporty, it is a solid improvement on the last-generation ES.

More important is the continued focus on delivering a velvety-smooth ride that’s guaranteed not to put a ripple on your Starbucks Grande Americano.

Inside, despite the lack of Swarovski crystal, the ES does feel suitably luxurious. Everything you see and touch is Lexus quality, and with all that acoustic glass and sound-deadening, the cabin is more hushed than sleeping kittens.

Just don’t get me started on the annoying Remote Touch touch-pad on the center console. It’ll drive you nuts with its over-sensitivity, irritating sound and the impossibility of using it without the need to stare intently at the screen.

But for the luxury sedan lover who hasn’t imbibed the crossover Kool-Aid, this latest ES does have considerable appeal and cache. Ultra Luxury? Not so much.

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