$30,000 - $40,000 Mid-Size Front-Wheel Drive Luxury Sedan
Who should buy this car:
A person looking for a comfortable, upscale front-drive sedan with impeccable fit and finish and an interior that puts you in the lap of luxury.
People looking at this model might also want to consider:
Acura TL, Buick Lucerne, Hyundai Azera, Lincoln Zephyr, Nissan Maxima, Saab 9-5, Toyota Avalon, VW Passat, Volvo S80
In the near luxury sedan category, Lexus is one of the few manufacturers that has two distinct offerings. There is the IS, a highly competent, energetic sports sedan that can go head-to-head with the best of the European status symbols, and its alter ego, the ES, a sedan that leans more toward quiet relaxed comfort while coddling driver and passengers in luxury surroundings.
Now, don't get me wrong, the new for 2007 Lexus ES350 has wonderfully accurate steering, good handling, and plenty of power to blast out onto a crowded interstate highway. It just does it in a more dignified manner without all the chest thumping machismo that is associated with some of today's sport sedans.
Lexus always placed a premium on quiet luxury in the ES mid-sized front-drive platform. Year after year, the interiors were well tailored with high quality materials, control placement was designed for ease of use and clarity, and overall quality was always world class. What the Lexus ES lacked was inspired styling and decent go power from the meager engines that always seemed to find their way into the ES engine compartment. Some people considered the Lexus ES to be nothing more than a glorified Camry with added bells and whistles.
Much of that has changed for the 2007 model year. The Lexus ES350 has received the L-Finesse styling treatment makeover which transformed a homely undistinguished sedan into the sleek, good looking car that you see in the photos at the top and bottom of this article. L-Finesse is the name given to a styling direction that is intended to give the various passenger cars in the Lexus stable a family identity. This "design language" made its first appearance as a series of concept cars, then found its way to the new 2006 GS sedan, From there, it showed up on the IS series and also will be found on the the upcoming LS460 flagship sedan. I personally think that this new styling direction is clean, tasteful and flowing with beautiful lines.
The ES350 is still built on the Camry platform, but it is a good platform that has received a host of improvements. The L-Finesse styling treatment changed the profile of the car to give it a more distinctive look that few people will mistake for a Camry. While the overall length remains the same as previous years, the wheelbase is stretched by more than two inches for more stretch-out space in the interior. There have been a number of suspension refinements that help smooth out the ride and new active engine mounts to better isolate engine vibrations from the passenger compartment.
Sitting behind the wheel, there are a number of things you will notice. The instrument panel looks like it was put together by a fine watchmaker. All surfaces are finished in premium looking materials and have impeccable fit and finish. The wood is rich looking and definitely not an imitation. All controls seem well placed and easy to reach and use.
Standard on the new Lexus ES is keyless entry and start. What this means is that the remote transmitter never leaves your pocket or purse. As long as you are within arms length of the door and the transmitter is on your person, the car will unlock as soon as you touch one of the front door handles. Once behind the wheel, you step on the brake pedal and give the large Start button a tap. The engine will come to life and you will be ready to go with the "key" never having left your pocket.
The driver's seat is a 10 way power affair and, along with a steering column that is power adjustable for reach and angle, will allow you to quickly find a comfortable driving position. An optional feature allows you to electrically adjust the length of the driver's seat cushion. The extra thigh support will be appreciated by people with longer legs.
Power comes from a silky smooth V6 coupled to a new 6 speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. Engine sounds are only noticeable under heavy acceleration where you will hear a pleasant, but muffled growl. Shifting is barely noticeable and feels refined. Taking off at light throttle, the ES350 is almost completely silent. At about 25 mph, you notice a whisper of sound coming from the car as it picks up speed. Sure, there are other cars that are quiet and refined, but I don't know of any that I can say are better.
This is one of the few cars in the near luxury segment that is not trying to be a sport sedan. Lexus has that market sewed up with the IS series, so the ES can concentrate on the comfort and luxury side of the equation. This is not to say that it can't perform or handle respectably. If pushed hard, it can even beat some of the better sport sedans at their own game.
The glass smooth highways around the Nevada desert where we put this car through its paces made it difficult to test the ride compliance, but there were brief patches of broken concrete on some of the secondary roads where we could see that the ride is in keeping with the personality of this car, meaning soft. At highway speeds, we heard a small amount of wind noise, but then we noticed that the speedometer was hovering around 90. (it felt more like 60). Once we slowed to normal highway speeds, the whispers around the windows were gone.
Lexus likes to compare this new ES350 to their original LS400 flagship that launched the Lexus brand to stardom back in the early nineties. When the LS400 came out, it quickly became the standard by which other luxury cars would be judged. According to Lexus, this new ES350 is faster, more powerful and quieter than that original LS400 luxury sedan.
The Engine in the ES350 is a new 3.5 liter V6 that delivers 272 horsepower and 254 lb.-ft. of torque, good enough to launch the ES from a standing start to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds. Despite this added performance, fuel economy is quite good at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. Lexus claims that it expects to have it certified as an Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle II (ULEV II).
Standard on all models is Dual Zone Automatic Climate Control, 10-way power front seats on both sides, power tilt and telescoping steering column, power moonroof, and sophisticated interior illumination, which even includes illuminated cup holders up front.
Standard safety features include: Stability Control, Traction Control, 4 wheel antilock disc brakes and eight standard air bags. These include drivers and front passengers dual-stage front airbag, front knee bags for driver and front passenger, front side air bags and side curtain air bags to protect the heads of outboard passengers in both the front and rear.
A new option package, called Ultra Luxury, has been added this year and is worthy of note. This package includes an all-glass roof with retractable shades for both the front and rear compartments. The front panel slides open and includes a pop-up wind deflector at the front. Other features that are part of the Ultra Luxury package include:
Graphite Finish 17 inch wheels
Power cushion extender for the driver's seat
Memory for both the driver and front passenger
Rear Seat Side Airbags (for a total of 10)
Wood/Leather-trimmed Steering Wheel & Shift Knob among other things.
Lexus told us that this Ultra Luxury package offers a step up for current ES owners who want more luxury without going all out for the $60,000 plus top-of-the-line LS.
Other high end options available for the ES include Radar Cruise Control, a system where you would set the cruise speed just like on an ordinary cruise control. The difference is if the car ahead of you is going slower than the the speed you have set, the radar camera will see it and slow you down in order to maintain a pre set following distance. Also included in this system is a feature called Pre-Collision. This is a feature that uses the forward-looking radar system to detect an impending collision and perform certain steps to minimize the effect of the accident.
Getting back to more pleasant topics, let's talk about the optional Mark Levinson Sound System. It is hard to imagine how sound systems keep getting better. While I am certainly not an audiophile (I mostly listen to talk radio) I can tell that these premium audio systems envelope the listener in clear, vibrant sound.
This system is a 14 speaker, 300 watt powerhouse with Discrete 5.1 multi-channel playback via a 7.1-speaker topology. It has 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS decoding of DVD Video and DVD Audio discs. It also has Proprietary metal cone midrange and tweeter transducers and full digital from the digital source to the discrete output topology power amplifiers. Now, if you understand that gobblygook, I am told that you should be quite impressed. I know that I was impressed when I heard it playing the demo CD.
Smooth, graceful, classy, plenty of power and performance if you want it, not to mention the Lexus reputation for bulletproof reliability. On top of all that, you get styling that no one will ever have to make excuses for. What more could you ask for in a mid sized premium sedan?
Premium Plus Package includes: all items in Premium Package + Power Cushion Extender (Driver), Rain-sensing wipers, Heated & ventilated front seats, Front passenger seat memory, Full-sized spare tire on 17" alloy wheel
Ultra-Luxury Package includes: all items in Premium Plus Package + Panorama Glass Roof, Upgraded Leather, Special 17" wheels (Graphite Finish), Power rear sunshade, Wood/Leather-trimmed Steering Wheel & Shift Knob, HID Adaptive front lighting, Navigation system with backup camera, Rear Seat Side Airbags.
Lexus Pre-Collision System (PCS) & Dynamic Radar Cruise Control Package (requires Ultra-Luxury Package)
Mark Levinson audio system
GPS navigation system with rear view camera
Power Rear Sunshade
Heated and Ventilated Front Seats
Wood/Leather-trimmed Steering Wheel and Shift Knob