Lexus always had AWD vehicles. They have never installed it in their most popular sedan – the ES. It shouldn't be hard to do, right?
Luxury sedan consumers in the northern climes demand that their vehicle is equipped with all-wheel drive. Some of the established players have this down put. Their systems are second to none – on paper, at least.
Lexus always had AWD vehicles. They have never installed it in their most popular sedan – the ES.
It shouldn’t be hard to do, right? Well…
Over a year ago, I attended an online meeting with the Midwest Automotive Media Association with Lexus explaining how they were able to AWD to the ES. That was when my head started to scramble.
Before I tell you why my head went into several revolutions over that presentation, let me say for the record that this generation of the Lexus ES is a lovely sedan. I enjoyed my previous times behind the wheel of its popular mid-size sedan. It offered space, comfort, and solid performance. The Hybrid model also offered stunning fuel economy.
That was why I was curious about how Lexus executed an all-wheel drive system in their ES. I already knew the answer based on that presentation. I really wanted a real world experience to tell you about.
There is a bonus to the vehicle I just tested – it’s an F Sport!
F Sport is what attracts enthusiasts and enthusiastic drivers to the Lexus brand. The F Sport treatment includes a sportier mesh spindle grille, a more aggressive body kit, cooler wheels, and a firmer suspension and steering rack.
The ingredients were there for a winter test of the 2022 ES 250 AWD F Sport. I better dive into the nuts and bolts of this car…
The first thing that scratched my head was the choice of engine for the AWD ES. Lexus dropped a naturally aspired 203-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine underneath the ES’s hood. This is not an unusual engine, as it appears on ES models in various other markets. For North American consumers, this engine appears in the Toyota Camry, RAV4, and the 2022 Lexus NX 250 in all-wheel drive form.
From an engineering standpoint, adding the components for the Dynamic Torque Control electronic all-wheel drive system will take up some room underneath the hood and on the front subframe. Therefore, the Hybrid and V6 drivelines might not work here due to already taking up a lot of the precious space for the center differential and other drive components. That is why the 2.5-liter engine is used for this driveline.
In adding the driveshaft from the center differential to the rear differential and axle, there was piece of engineering that needed to be resolved. Normally, the fuel tank would reside just ahead of the rear suspension units. However, Lexus had to redesign the fuel tank to fit over and around the driveshaft, in a saddle-bag form. That also scratched my head.
These engineering decisions were made to work with the ES. These are things most consumers do not pay attention to. Still, I had a job to do. That was to drive the 2022 ES 250 AWD F Sport on snow, ice, and other winter conditions.
First off, the all-wheel drive system works quite well. It is connected to the superb eight-speed automatic transmission. The result is that there should not be any driver engagement for the system to work or to choose a drive setting to improve traction in specific conditions.
Yet, my ES tester had a couple of challenges in my care. One, was the use of Michelin Green X all-season tires. There were a few occasions when they had a blip of traction loss on some iced and caked roads. The solution is simple: Get a second set of winter tires.
The other was the engine itself. It is a wonderful engine for the Camry, but it felt adequate in the 300-pound heavier ES. My videographer George called this engine underpowered. Between our conclusions, the only solution I could think of would be a turbocharged engine that could fit with the AWD drive components on the subframe.
Engine performance aside, it cruised just fine in the city and on the highway. I did manage an average fuel consumption figure of 28.1 MPG.
What makes an F Sport a special model is the suspension. In the ES, Lexus created a balance between solid handling and a smooth-but-firm ride. It corners very well, and it came out of it painlessly. Evasive maneuvers were managed well overall.
The steering system is solid, offering a good on-center feel without a huge amount of weight. If you put this sedan into Sport mode, you will feel some additional weight on the steering effort when making turns. Do not expect a full enthusiast experience in this specific ES F Sport.
As for braking, the system responds well in normal, panic, and winter situations. The stops are precise and short. The pedal feel and response were very solid overall.
I wanted to talk about the driving experience, first. I believe it is important to understand how the ES 250 AWD F Sport drove, as it provides a focal point for everything else. I’ve driven a couple of the current generation of the ES over the past few years and know how it looked through my own eyes.
Yet, I have never experienced the ES as an F Sport visually. I always thought it elevated this popular sedan when it was added to the lineup. By making this an F Sport gives it a different personality. Instead of wearing Allen Edmonds shoes to go with its business casual attire by Brooks Brothers, it sports a pair of Diesel jeans, a Calvin Klein button-down shirt and a pair of Nike Air Zooms.
It is about the mesh spindle grille and the triple beam headlamp units. It is about the rear trunk spoiler and the black 19-inch alloy wheels. The ES F Sport gives you an attitude adjustment without being a spoiled brat. It gives you an adult mix of luxury and sport.
That is also translated inside the cabin. The F Sport seats offer strong bolstering, while giving you a wide choice of power adjustments and automatic seat climate control behind the wheel. All swathed in perforated NuLuxe upholstery. There is room for four-to-five humans across two rows. The driver’s seat will always be the best seat in the house.
New for 2022 is the repositioning of the infotainment screen closer to the driver. You can now reach the screen and use its functions by touch, while you have the option of either using the trackpad on the center console and the steering wheel controls. Lexus did not upgrade their infotainment system to its new Interface architecture, but it works much better now. My tester also added the 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system for beautiful sound throughout the cabin.
Everything else just simply felt familiar – which is a good thing. The F Sport adds the moving dial that slides away for more information screens. The head-up display offers the perfect amount of information for the driver to concentrate on the road ahead. Plus, every control and switch are logical to use and good to the touch.
We must not forget about the ES’s 13.9 cubic feet of trunk space.
One thing we need to remember is how much all of this will cost you. This ES 250 AWD F Sport tester came with a sticker price of $53,565. This is still less expensive than any of its direct competition in the luxury mid-size AWD sedan segment based on equipment levels. Pricing for the ES 250 AWD starts at $40,800.
While the idea of adding all-wheel drive will win you customers in certain markets – the Twin Cities, included – the next question is whether those same customers would simply just get that vehicle with it. It is a charming idea, but I fear some of you might feel compromised because a vehicle has AWD and that’s it.
Of course, I would prefer that AWD with some performance. More than enough to carry the weight and keep me on the road. One where I could add winter tires and be able to get through anything in my wake. I also want it to be comfortable, luxurious, with excellent audio reproduction and driving dynamics.
That is a tall order, I know. However, the 2022 Lexus ES is a lovely luxury sedan. The ES 300h is one of the better hybrids I have driven in the past decade. The V6 is simply fine. This AWD version simply needs more power. If you meet the demand for more performance, then the all-wheel drive version of the ES will be elevated towards something very desirable within the luxury sedan space.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America
All photos by Randy Stern