2001 Lexus ES 300 Road Test

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Ever fall in love with a car?  If you are looking for a comfortable, good looking sedan with room for five and you like to drive, this could be the one that does it for you. When Lexus introduced the ES 300 in 1991 as a ’92 model, it helped create a new market segment called “Near-Luxury Sedan”, which it has dominated ever since.  This market segment has steadily grown over the years and currently has almost a dozen excellent cars to choose from. In fact, one of those cars is another, equally-priced Lexus called the IS300. These two models from Lexus cater to opposite driver personalities. The ES300 is a comfortable smooth, quiet, front-wheel drive luxury sedan while the IS300 is a fast, small, crisp handling rear-wheel-drive sports sedan. Both cars have a starting price of around $31,000.

From the clean attractive style to the well laid out cabin to the world-class fit and finish, the ES300 seems to have it all.  On the road, it manages to combine a smooth and comfortable ride with impeccable road manners. Go power comes from a 210 HP 3.0L V6 engine hooked up to a 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission driving the front wheels while whoa power is handled by 4-wheel disk brakes with Anti-Lock and Electronic BrakeAssist.  In fact, the only fault that I could find is that the ES300 shares its body structure and mechanicals with the Toyota Camry. It’s not that the Camry is a bad car, quite the contrary, the Camry is an excellent platform for any car to be based on. The only problem is that, in some people’s minds, the association with the mundane Camry dilutes the exclusivity that normally goes with the Lexus nameplate.


The $5,000 premium over the price of a top-of-the-line Camry XLE V6 gives you a few additional goodies besides the more exclusive Lexus badge and the right to patronize the award-winning Lexus service centers.  You get a more powerfulV6 engine with VVTi (Variable Valve Timing with intelligence) and a wonderful sounding 3-way bypass exhaust system, Other features over the Camry include better sound deadening, The clear,easy-to-read Lexus instrument cluster,  Automatic Climate Control AirConditioning, and 10-way driver and 8-way front passenger power seats. In fact, when you sit behind the wheel, there isn’t a hint of its Camryorigins. This is a well-appointed, comfortable, friendly interior with high-quality leather, real California Walnut wood trim, perfect placement of the controls and gauges and the impeccable fit and finish that is so typical of Lexus.

Driving this car, I had a sense of control that was both reassuring and enjoyable. On winding, undulating roads the ES300 handled nimbly and felt smaller than was while the ride remained luxury car smooth and quiet, a difficult combination to achieve.  Noise isolation was exceptional with minimal wind noise and only the wonderfully rich but muffled engine sound coming through during hard acceleration. Computer controls allow the 3.0L V6 engine to run fine on regular fuel but would take advantage of the extra octane if filled with hi-test.  Acceleration from 0 to 60 on premium gas takes 8.3 seconds, about average for this class.

The ES300 caters to the driver who just wants to go, stop and steer and let the car do everything else automatically.  To that end, there are no sport shift patterns or performance ranges on the four-speed automatic, you just put it in Drive and go. This is a smooth cruiser that cocoons you and feels right in your hands, obeying every input accurately and predictably with a minimum of effort. If it’s driver involvement that you want, then look at the LexusIS300 instead.  

Category:$30,000 to $35,000 Near-Luxury Sedan
Who should buy this car:A person who is looking for a mid-sized sedan that is a cut above the average sedan is styling, comfort, luxury, and performance.
Comparable cars in this class:Acura 3.2 TL,  BMW 3 Series, Cadillac Catera, Chrysler 300M, Infiniti I30, Lexus IS300, Lincoln LS, Mercedes C Class, Oldsmobile Aurora, Saab 9-5, 

Traction during high-speed cornering was excellent due to the optional V speed-rated16″ all-season tires.  The optional Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) system(which includes Brake Assist) also helped as did the adaptive variable suspension system.  VSC helps maintain vehicle stability on slippery or dry road surfaces by detecting and then correcting understeer and oversteer conditions.  It works by applying individual brakes and reducing engine power in order to bring the vehicle back under control. Brake Assist determines if the driver is attempting emergency braking, and, if the driver has not stepped hard enough on the brake pedal, the system adds the force needed   ABS on all four wheels. Adaptive Variable Suspension uses a computer to adjust the shocks as you drive thereby improving the ride as well as the stability. The ride stays soft when you are cruising but can instantly stiffen up if you start producing G-forces on your favorite winding road.

The only problem that I noticed as I flung this car through its paces was that the seats weren’t shaped to hold you in place during hard cornering, and to make matters worse, the leather was quite slippery causing me to struggle to keep myself planted behind the wheel. Of course, the ES300 was not designed to be a race car, it is a luxury sport sedan with the emphasis on comfort and that is the characteristic that most owners will appreciate over everything else. 

In my opinion, this is one of the nicest looking sedans on the road with clean, flowing lines and excellent proportions when viewed from any angle.  Behind the wheel, it felt like an old friend who was ready to do my bidding, no questions asked. Another important point is that the ES300 has a reputation for being one of the most reliable cars on the road.  Like a certain pink bunny, it keeps going and… Well, you get the idea.

The ES300 has been on my favorites list since it was introduced in model year1992.  I thoroughly enjoyed getting acquainted with this car and was sorry when it came time to give it back.

How would I improve this car?

How does the ES-300 fit your driving style? 


Engine Type3-liter DOHC V6, Cast aluminum block and heads. Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i).  
Compression Ratio10.5: 1
Horsepower210 @ 5,800 RPM
Torque220 @ 4,400 RPM
Fuel RecommendedPremium 91 Octane Unleaded.  Regular fuel can be used with reduced performance
TransmissionFour-Speed Electronically Controlled Automatic
Tires – Standard


No-charge option

P205/65R15   V-speed rated High-Performance summer tires


P205/60R16 V-speed rated High-Performance All-Season tires

Overall Length190.2″
Turning Diameter36.7 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight3,373
Fuel Tank18.5 Gals.
Miles Per GallonEPA city 20, hwy 28. 
Acceleration 0 to 608.3 Seconds
Top Track Speed140 mph
Base Sticker Price$31,505 + 495 destination charge

Lexus ES-300 Front Wheel Drive Sport Sedan

Standard Equipment

Major Available Options

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Charles Ofria

Automotive Expert

Charles Ofria was an automotive journalist who was active in the automotive industry for over 40 years. During the '70s, he was owner-operator of Ofria Automotive, a thriving auto repair shop in Brooklyn, NY. During that time he became involved with auto mechanic training when he set up courses to help prepare mechanics to take the then new A.S.E. (Automotive Service Excellence) mechanic certification exams.

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