Driving the Lexus ES 350 Straight from the Nursery

I’ve driven a brand new 2016 Lexus ES 350 – and I do mean “brand new” — through the green, rolling hills of Kentucky.

During a recent tour of the recently expanded Toyota and Lexus plant just outside Lexington, Kentucky, I not only had a chance to test drive a new Lexus ES with less than 50 miles on it fresh from the factory line that birthed it, but I got a close-up look at the technology and engineering that forges the car alongside the philosophy that trains the men and women who build them.

Toyota built its Lexington plant in 1988, and it currently builds the automaker’s two biggest sedans — the Avalon and the Camry. It’s a hugely important plant for Toyota since the Camry is its top seller and the number one selling car in the world with roughly three selling per minute. 

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Since the facility can already handle larger frame sedans, it was a natural spot for Toyota sister company Lexus to step in and build its latest ES. Opened in October of 2015, the Lexus add-on in Lexington cost $360 million and employs about 750 people building around 50,000 models of the gas engine ES. 

That ES sits between the IS and the GS on the Lexus sedan family tree. Starting around $38,000, the ES 350 is built for smooth comfort with a nod toward sufficient power (268 horsepower) and responsible MPG (31 highway).


While the steel that forges its body is stamped in the main Toyota plant space alongside the Camrys and Avalons, the ES comes together on the separate Lexus factory floor.

While the media tour offered plenty of time to look over the engineering and inventiveness of the Lexus assembly automation, it’s clear the philosophy behind the creation of the ES or any Lexus focuses on the human touch — quite literally. As a luxury brand, Lexus – or the minds behind the line — feel a car built too much by machines feels too much like a mere machine. If an automaker wants the driver to enjoy the human sensations of driving, a car needs to be assembled by humans as much as possible.  

So, much of the training program for the people working the immaculate assembly lines involves refining and tuning the skills and senses to the most precise levels possible. If a Lexus buyer wants a car built more by human hands than by robots, those hands still need to create and sense quality fitting for a luxury car maker.

After wrapping up the tour, I had a chance to test drive a fresh specimen to experience the direct results of all that technology, training, and human input. The Lexus ES walks a fine line between the numbness some luxury cars look for and the tuned touchiness of a performance car. The result is a ride that’s ultimately smooth, yet grounded. 

You can feel the sensitivity in the design that the human element gives the car, and it’s up to the buyer to decide if that “on the rails” sense of complete order in the car is the result of the automated elements of its build — or the dedicated and highly trained hands that put it all together.

Photos from any automotive facility are rare but you can get some insider looks at the making of a Lexus within the gallery below.

All photos by John Scott Lewinski, courtesy Lexus