Why is it that we become anxious the moment our internet slows down? Have we become so used to the ever-accelerating speeds of developing technology that any sign of slowing down can trigger a sense of worry of time being wasted? You feel it come on like an addict who’s abruptly been cut off anytime a video buffers, an email doesn’t send, or Twitter takes a second longer to refresh. You feel a sudden and alarming tightness in your chest that can only be released when the Wifi signal regains its strength. Modern cars are no different in that we, as consumers, want them to do it all.
Current sedans need to be fast, stylish, economical, comfortable, spacious, and intelligent. The problem with this is, like smartphones, they all end up looking and feeling the same. That’s why I was excited to test the new 2021 Lexus ES 250 Ultra Lux. It featured Lexus’ new inline-four cylinder engine in this well-sized sedan with no turbocharger to help pick up the slack.
Essentially, this is a modern sedan that has one main focus – comfort. During my week testing the Lexus ES 250 Ultra Lux, I never once felt angry behind the wheel. Traffic, work, stress, overthinking habits, all of it stayed outside the interior door. Sitting inside the car’s plush interior, I adjusted the lumbar support and set the adaptive cruise control for smooth sailing on the interstate.
Big Car, Small Engine, Ultra Lux Comfort
The 2021 Lexus ES 250 is the entry-level in the brand’s sedan lineup, and the Ultra Lux is its highest trim level before stepping into the ES 350 range. Its standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is naturally aspirated, a refreshing take from the flooded market of turbocharged 2.0-liters. I was concerned while reading the stats on this 16-footer, 3,780-pound sedan wondering if 203-horsepower and 184 lb.-ft of torque would be enough. In the real world, it was.
The small engine provides enough muscle to push the Lexus ES 250 to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 131 mph. Lexus’ all-wheel-drive system and eight-speed automatic transmission make the 2.5-liter engine look good during the get-up-and-go. On paper, the 2021 Lexus ES 250 AWD is supposed to average 25 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, for a combined average of 28 mpg. During a week-long test, I traveled 1,150 miles and averaged 31 mpg. One can opt for a more powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine producing 305-hp, but it will be front-wheel-drive only.
The 2021 Lexus ES 250 Ultra Lux’s highlight is its ability to make you forget about the performance altogether. Sitting inside always felt like the first rest after a long hike. Exhale with relief as you relax your muscles. As part of the Ultra Lux package, the interior featured perforated semi-aniline leather seats and accents. The test model was optioned with Flaxen-colored leather seats with Linear Espresso (tan) wood trim to create a tranquil space while riding inside the ES 250.
I did most of the Lexus’ road testing on the increasingly busy I-35 interstate that ties major Texas cities together like a row of Christmas lights. In Texas, one measures distance in hours rather than miles. Someone being asked how far the city of Austin is from Dallas will typically respond with, “Oh, about three hours.”
I did most of the Lexus’ road testing on the increasingly busy I-35 interstate that ties major Texas cities together like a row of Christmas lights.
The once super slab has slowly turned into a concrete thread mill of 80 mph bumper-to-bumper traffic in recent years. It can sometimes appear as crowded as Los Angeles, only traveling much faster. It can be a stressful environment to be traveling inches away from 18-wheeled semi-trucks and Come and Take It branded SUVs at the unofficial but agreed-upon 85 mph speed limit.
The 2021 Lexus ES 250 Ultra Lux proved to be the perfect vehicle for this sort of commuting. Lexus’ All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Tracing Assist with steering assist, and lane departure warning took much of the stress out. These standard safety driving assist systems provided reassuring comfort during stop-and-go traffic.
Set the speed limit to 80 mph and stretch your toes as the Lexus scans the road and manages to come to a complete stop on its own if traffic ahead slows down. Tab on the throttle, and the car will accelerate smoothly to a speed that matches traffic flow in front. Once it knows the road in front is clear, the car will speed up to its set speed. It takes the effort out, leaving you to focus on simply keeping the car pointed in the right direction.
To pass the time during the drive, I enjoyed listening to my favorite sound waves through the ES 250’s Mark Levinson 17-speaker audio system. Multimedia options are displayed on a center-mounted 12.3-inch screen that is not a touch screen. Instead, you use a touchpad cursor located below the gear selector. Personal preference will decide whether this is a deal-breaker or not, but the touchpad is more responsive than previous Lexus models. If you’ve ever used a laptop, you’ll quickly get used to this method of surfing Sirius XM channels.
The Ultra Lux trim level offers more interior options as standards like rain-sensing wipers and electric rear shade sunshade with manual sunshades for rear side windows. It also includes safety features like rear pedestrian detection, cross-traffic alerts, blind-spot monitoring, and intuitive parking assist.
Bumps in the Road with the 2021 Lexus ES 250 AWD
Probably the biggest drawback with the Lexus ES 250 is the rear seats do not fold flat. Graciously, the car offers plenty of trunk space, but not having the option to fold the rear seats for added storage space can be potentially frustrating. If you are the sort of car buyer who favors speed over comfort, the Lexus 2.5-liter engine will not be enough to satisfy you.
Reasonably Affordable Luxury Status
The 2021 Lexus ES 250 AWD starting pricing is $40k, with the Ultra Lux starting at $49K. Additional exterior options included its Eminent White Pearl exterior paint ($425), rear spoiler ($200), and triple-beam LED headlamps ($1,515). Interior options featured a wireless charger ($75), a 10.2-inch digital heads-up display HUD ($500), and the Navigation / Mark Levinson audio package ($1,080). The ES 250 AWD Ultra Lux shown in this article wears a total price of $54,325.
A Car that Forces You to Take It Easy
To sum up, the 2021 Lexus ES 250 AWD Ultra Lux is one of the most comfortable sedans I’ve ever driven. Driving in busy interstates in Texas, the summer heat is enough to make anyone’s blood run a little hot. But, in the Lexus ES 250, my world was chill, calm, and collected. It is fast enough to get out of its way, large enough to fit a family of four, and will stand tall while parked next to its European competitors. Lexus does offer faster sedans, but if all you want is a comfortable ride at a competitive price, the ES 250 is worth a second look. Life can often feel like one stressful episode after another with no breaks in between. A car that can make you feel comfortable while sitting in rush hour traffic is ultra-luxury.