Lexus ES 350 a solid entry into the luxury niche
By Jim Bray
It began life as a Camry-based entry luxury sedan meant to expand the young Lexus line beyond its game changing flagship LS 400, but some 25 years later it has evolved into an extremely compelling Camry-based entry luxury sedan in its own right.
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Not that the original ES 250 was any slouch, but to compare that car with today's ES 350 would be as silly as comparing a, well, 1990 Camry with a 2015 Camry. Cars have evolved and so have the Camry and the ES. Yet while they're both terrific cars that share DNA, you wouldn't think they're connected other than through Lexus being owned by Toyota. The ES feels even more substantial, is definitely more luxurious, and is generally a more refined place to be than the Camry, which undoubtedly is the point.
This isn't meant as a slight on the Camry, which is a fine car. But it's like the difference between a Volkswagen and an Audi; they spawned in the same ocean, but took a decidedly different evolutionary path that leaves them related superficially, but each with its own distinct purpose and personality.
And so it is that this latest ES 350 has evolved into a really nice car, the best version of the ES series yet. The niceness starts with the current generation's exterior, which is classy but subdued in a way that makes it look like a smaller stablemate to the mighty LS 460 which, if nothing else, should telegraph its pedigree.
The ES is also available in hybrid form, and it's a very nice vehicle as well - as I noted in my review of one earlier this year. But this sample from Lexus Canada had the 3.5 liter gas engine that's nearly ubiquitous across Toyota's and Lexus' V6-equipped line. That may seem like laziness, or cheapness, on the manufacturer's part but the engine is a lovely example of the species and is tuned in a variety of ways to fit the model in which it's mounted.
In the case of the ES, it puts out 268 peak horsepower and gets it to the front wheels via a nice six speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. Acceleration is good, shifts are as smooth as silk, the steering feel is quite good and, though even in sport mode you won't think of the ES when contemplating track day, the ES makes for a pretty interesting and pleasant drive. I was surprised how much I enjoyed zipping around in the ES. It isn't really my type of car, yet I loved it anyway.
And though you may be zipping around, the cabin's quiet enough that you might as well be in a library, except that the car won't shush you if you speak - a good thing since it's equipped with Bluetooth for hands free phone operation (it'll stream your tunes, too). The wood and leather are quality stuff - heck, everything is - and the interior design is both pleasing and efficient. The driver's seat features memory and 10 way powered adjustment (and is heated and ventilated of course!) and everything the driver needs to see or touch is close at hand, save for the LCD screen, which isn't a touch screen anyway so it doesn't hurt that it's mounted high, close to your field of vision. I'd rather have a touch screen, but as usual they never consulted with me. If they had, they'd have dumped the optional "Remote Touch" system, a mouse-like thing that's great on paper but obtrusive in real life.
Driving modes, selected by a console-mounted knob, include ECO, Normal and Sport, and they modify various vehicle parameters based on whether you want to save the earth, just cruise around, or cause the end of civilization. The lighting theme of the instrument panel changes color depending on the mode; most of the time it's blue, but it turns an angry and accusatory red in sport mode.
Standard equipment is plentiful. New this year is a seven inch LCD, heated steering wheel, the driver's seat memory, a back-up camera and rain-sensing wipers. Not new for this year but still standard equipment is the eight speaker Lexus Premium Audio system (and it's pretty good), USB input, Bluetooth capability, dual-zone automatic climate control, the multi-information display on the instrument panel, power auto up/down windows all around, Smart Key with Push Button Start, cruise control, garage door opener, power moon roof, LED daytime running lights, fog lamps and more.
That basic ES will set you back $41,500, which seems like a pretty good price considering the car you get for that amount. Of course you can tech-and-luxury it up from there, to a high of about $51,000 Canadian. That's if you go all the way to the Executive Package, which includes all the goodies of the Touring and Technology packages - stuff like an upgraded audio system, navigation, Blind Spot Monitoring, leather, that Remote Touch Interface, auto-leveling HID headlights (Touring) 18 inch aluminum alloy wheels, a 15-speaker Mark Levinson Audio system, passenger seat memory, premium leather, power rear window sunshade and rear door sunshades, powered trunk with easy close feature, panoramic glass sunroof and more (Technology).
Opting for the full meal deal also throws in Lexus' Pre-Collision System, alerts for Lane Departure and Rear Cross Traffic, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams.
Naturally, you get the usual bounty of bags, belts and the like, including stuff like traction control, ABS, etc..
The Lexus ES 350 is a very nice luxury sedan. It's comfortable and classy, more interesting to drive than I expected, and has enough state of the art stuff squeezed into it to choke the proverbial horse. Seems priced decently, too. For what more could an entry luxury buyer want?
Well, maybe rear or all wheel drive, but other than that, this car aces it.
Copyright 2014 Jim Bray
Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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