2021 Lexus ES250 AWD:Luxury for the Masses
“Affordable luxury” tends to be an oxymoron, especially when referring to midsize luxury sedans. But the 2021 Lexus ES250 AWD might be the exception to the rule. Yes, the Lexus comes with some compromises, like its base naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. However, the ES250 offers an entry-level price point to the Lexus marque that other luxury automakers don’t offer buyers looking to step into their fold.
For the first time in seven generations—and new for the 2021 model year—the ES packs an all-wheel-drive system, and pairs it with a four-cylinder engine.
You get a nice first impression when you enter the 2021 Lexus ES250 AWD. Although the cabin doesn’t have an eyebrow-raising X-factor, it does give you a warm welcome. The available 12.3-inch screen is a nice start, and it displays modern graphics and supports full-screen Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It all appears great until you touch the screen and notice you can only control it via the not-so-useful touchpad, making an easy task more difficult than it needs to be.
The big 12.3-inch screen with navigation is packaged together with a 17-speaker Mark Levinson system that sounds crisp, and the stereo ups the experience in the ES250.
Another great impression is the space and comfort found in the cabin. Almost every past Lexus ES was based on the same architecture as the Toyota Camry, but a few years ago Lexus adopted the Toyota Avalon platform for this model. The result is a larger and more spacious cabin—whether you sit in the front or rear seat. Space has always been a plus in the ES, but along with adopting the larger architecture, designers lowered the hip point to allow more headspace for rear-seat passengers. Regardless of where you sit, the leather feels soft and premium despite this being an entry-level luxury sedan.
Not every one likes the center console’s design, but it befits a luxury car. The three-level setup gives the ES’ interior a sort of old-fashioned luxury feel, as opposed to the clean, minimalistic looks of many of today’s cars. The console’s design also allows quicker access to the air conditioning and radio controls. Meanwhile, the instrument cluster lacks a full digital display, something competitors have, but the optional 10.2-inch head-up display enhances the experience.
On a sad note, despite the great space inside the 2021 Lexus ES250, does not have folding rear seats. This lack of versatility makes it impossible to fit larger items for the occasional trip to Ikea or Home Depot, and I personally missed them greatly when I wasn’t able to go surfing during my time driving it.
The 250 badge means this Lexus is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder non-turbo engine that makes 151kW and 250Nm of torque. That’s way less than what the competition makes, but the ES is also available with the more powerful V-6 for the same money, driving the front wheels only. If performance is less important to you and perhaps you live in a place where it snows often, the ES250 AWD may be the one to get.
The modest torque and power curves mean this Lexus never feels dynamic or punchy. The engine note is surprisingly good, but unfortunately, it doesn’t match what the driver feels behind the wheel. But the Lexus doesn’t feel completely sleepy, either. On the track, the 2021 ES250 AWD made it to 100kmh in a lazy 8.2 seconds, but on the road, it feels adequate in terms of acceleration. Although the car doesn’t feel powerful, it also doesn’t feel lethargic.
Besides the unimpressive power delivery, an eight-speed automatic transmission works relatively well. It occasionally hunts for gears but generally shifts smoothly. The steering feels a bit bland in Normal mode, but Sport mode adds more weight and balance. On the other hand, the ES’ ride is a refined and luxurious experience and one of the Lexus’ best attributes. No, the comfort is not comparable to what you get in the 2021 Car of the Year, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which offers Air Glide suspension for an impressive ride. But the Lexus ES comes standard with a strut front, multi-link rear suspension, making the ride surprisingly pleasant and serene—and even better than that of the new Genesis G80. The ES displayed good body control through tight corners at the track.
Like in most Lexus models, there are three available drive modes: Eco, Normal, and Sport. Eco completely kills the engine power and makes the driving experience weaker, Normal delivers a regular drive, and Sport enhances the experience by tightening the steering response and sharpening the throttle and transmission mapping.
2021 Lexus ES250 AWD: Safety
The new 2021 Lexus ES250 AWD brings tremendous value to a luxury brand that’s known for building comfortable, reliable cars. If you don’t really care much about all-out performance but have a medium budget and are looking for a fair amount of interior space, luxury, and all-wheel drive, the ES250 is for you. Priced below the competition—at least to start—the ES provides a plush ride and a well-equipped cabin that, although not segment leading, brings a real luxury experience to its occupants.
Indeed, the ES is far from being the segment leader, but it does a lot of things well for a luxury midsize sedan. And with the addition of the 250 model and all-wheel drive, the ES should appeal to a broader audience. In this sense, the 2021 Lexus ES250 AWD does luxury right.