Although Toyota’s launch of the Lexus luxury brand just over 30 years ago was primarily centered on the flagship LS 400, the carmaker quickly realized that a smaller, less expensive companion model was necessary. Japanese market derivatives of the 2nd-generation (V20) Toyota Camry (the Camry Prominent and Vista 4-door hardtop sedans, to be precise) were hastily facelifted, and the first Lexus ES 250 was born, powered by the 2VZ-FE 2.5-liter V6. This clear stopgap lasted but 2 years, as the 2nd-generation ES was launched in 1991 as a rebadged Toyota Windom, and with a displacement boost to 3-liters, the ES 250 badge gave way to ES 300.
Flash forward 21 years, to the April 2012 Beijing Motor Show, and the Lexus ES 250 marks its return to the lineup, this time as a Chinese market-oriented variant of the 6th-generation (XV60) Lexus ES powered by the 2.5-liter 2AR-FE 4-cylinder engine mated to the U760E 6-speed automatic transaxle. The 7th-generation (XZ10) ES for China and other markets saw an updated ES 250 powertrain, with the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine now the Dynamic Force family A25A-FKS unit used in the latest generations of Toyota’s Camry (XV70) and RAV4 (XA50) mated to the Aisin AW F8F35 8-speed automatic transaxle. As an aside, we’ll note that Lexus got wind of the unlucky connotations of the number 250 in Chinese culture, and the badging there was upgraded to ES 260 without a concomitant increase in engine displacement.
A new trademark filing suggests the original ES 250 badge will make a return to the United States (and, by extension, probably Canada). To be precise, Lexus parent Toyota filed the ES 250 trademark for “automobiles and structural parts thereof” under U.S. Serial Number 88521527 on July 18, 2019.
It’s pretty much a given that a North American ES 250 would share the A25A-FKS engine/F8F35 transaxle powertrain with its international counterparts, but this trademark filing begs a few questions: Could this filing be merely a “housekeeping” red herring as opposed to an actual prediction of a revived ES 250 for North America? (We think it’s the real deal, and expect to see an ES 250 on sale in Lexus new car showrooms). When can we expect to see the ES 250 go on sale in North America? (We don’t know for sure, but it could conceivably be as early as this fall for the 2020 model year). Could the first-ever non-hybrid 4-cylinder ES for North America have any bearing or effect on the engine lineup for the upcoming 4th-generation Lexus IS? (We don’t think so). And should we also expect 4-cylinder non-hybrid versions of the Lexus ES’s fraternal Toyota twin, the Avalon? (Probably, given that LE and SE trim levels are notably missing from the current Avalon lineup, and that China already offers 4-cylinder versions of the latest XX50 Avalon).