There are so many variables in the day-to-day experiences behind the wheel that it is not always easy to form a full and accurate opinion of an automobile after only a few miles, or even a few hours, behind the wheel.
A car which seems to have it all during a leisurely cruise on a smooth highway may reveal unseen faults when subjected to the rigors of heavy traffic, the ups and downs of rural roads, or differing weather conditions. Then, again, quite the opposite might be true.
Last year, Charles Ofria, the owner and overseer of this Web site, and I spent part of a sunny day zooming along the smooth highways and byways near Las Vegas, Nev., in an all-new 2007 Lexus ES 350 sedan.
Recently, I spent a week with the car on four-lane interstate asphalt and pockmarked two-lane macadam, in the sun and in the rain and am happy to report that, for the most part, our first impressions were borne out in more extensive driving.
Anyone looking for a luxury sedan capable of hauling four adults or two grownups and three kids in quiet comfort will find the ES 350 to be an ideal traveling companion.
This Lexus has come a long way since the early days when it was little more than a Camry clone. While many mechanical components are still shared with the Toyota, the ES 350 has a smooth, solid, upscale demeanor that sets it apart.
The look and feel of quality materials is evident everywhere. Lavish interior appointments, sound-deadening materials and an excellent sound system combine to give driver and passengers alike a relaxed and comfortable travel experience.
Of course, many of these qualities were also evident in ES sedans that preceded the latest generation. What sets the 2007 ES 350 apart besides its more attractive design - is the new 3.5-liter V-6 engine that finally gives the car the power it deserves.
Channeled to the front wheels through a seamless six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature, its 272 horses and 254 pound-feet of torque can hurl the sedan from a stop to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds, then continue to an electronically limited top speed of 137 mph..
In my initial stint behind the wheel, I marveled at the strong thrust of the new powerplant. But, after living with the car for a more extended period of time, I realize that the power to thrill or impress is not what it is really all about.
What this engine does best is flex its considerable muscle in a smooth, almost unassuming way, moving the sedan as swiftly as required without ruffling the passengers.
The strong thrust does makes itself known occasionally through torque steer, that tug on the steering wheel that is the Achilles heel of powerful front-wheel-drive automobiles. Mostly, however, its there simply to get the job done as quietly and efficiently as possible.
One thing you wont learn from an abbreviated trip in the Lexus ES 350 is real-world fuel mileage. I averaged between 18 and 28 miles per gallon of the recommended premium fuel. In cold weather or heavy traffic, Im sure that around-town figure would drop below 18. In any case, dont count on the 21/30 mpg figures supplied by the EPA.
When Lexus decided to aim its entry level sedans at two distinct audiences, it created the nimble IS model to satisfy the enthusiast drivers who put a premium on athleticism. The rear-drive sport sedan was introduced in 2000.
The bigger and roomier ES sedan received a different treatment, one focused on smoothing out all of the rough edges and offering lots of luxury features.
For 2007, the base ,470 Lexus ES 350 has 10-way power front seats, keyless entry and ignition, tilt-and-slide power sunroof, climate control, tilt and telescoping multi-function steering wheel, eight-speaker sound system which automatic adjusts its volume to compensate for outside noises, and a multi-function display which includes a trip computer and maintenance reminder.
Beyond that, a buyer can opt for the premium package, the premium-plus package or the ultra-luxury package. Fully equipped, the Lexus ES 350 will cost considerably more than ,000.
But, it will contain most of the features contained on world-class premium vehicles, including voice-activated navigation system with rear-view camera, adaptive cruise control, high-intensity discharge headlights that help a driver to see around turns, heated and ventilated leather seats, upgraded 14-speaker audio system and Bluetooth connectivity
The emphasis on comfort, however, is not at the expense of competence.
The rigid new chassis and independent suspension control body motion over rough roads and around sharp curves; the four-wheel, antilock brakes can bring the car to a quick halt when required; and the rack-and-pinion steering follows the drivers commands with precision, if not with a lot of feedback from the road.
Perhaps surprisingly, the ES 350 generated numbers nearly identical to the IS 350 in slalom and skidpad handling tests conducted by the editors of Road and Track magazine.
That said, the 3,500-pound Lexus is still governed by the same laws of physics that limit the handling prowess of a front-wheel-drive vehicle, particularly one that carries 61 percent of its weight over the front wheels.
Yes, the car is prone to understeer, that inescapable tendency of a nose heavy front-driver to resist changing direction. Come upon an unexpected tight turn too fast and the Lexus will telegraph a pulse-quickening reminder that it was not cut out to be a sports car.
But, most people may never find that out. There is enough latitude engineered into the Lexus that understeer is not an issue in normal driving situations.
Lexus engineers concentrated a lot of their efforts on safety, too.
Every ES 350 comes with a total of eight airbags, stability control, traction control and a variety of structural reinforcements.
An optional pre-collision system can detect when an accident appears unavoidable. It will then tighten seatbelts and activate maximum braking forces as soon as the driver touches the pedal.
For its 2007 model year upgrade, Lexus has given the ES sedan a lot more than just a new engine. It has given it more luxury, more safety and better drivability.
It wont rank as a top choice for the enthusiast, but it should be high on the list for anyone who wants a high-quality sedan that pampers its passengers in an opulent and serene atmosphere.
Standard Equipment ES 350 (partial list)
6-speed automatic, Electronically Controlled Transmission with manual mode
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Dual-exhaust with seamless tips
17-inch alloy wheels
Wood trim for center console and doors
Power tilt/telescoping three-spoke steering wheel with audio and display controls
10-way power adjustable front seats
Dual zone Automatic climate control
Keyless SmartAccess with push-button start/stop
Homelink programmable garage door opener
Electrochromic autodimming interior mirror with compass function
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