Every time Lexus has a press preview for a new car, I approach the event with great expectations. This latest debut, the fourth in less than a year, was held at the Foxwoods Hotel and Casino, a large complex built on an Indian reservation where Connecticut anti-gambling laws are powerless to stop the influx of visitors with gambling fever. This resort is surrounded by rural farmlands and meandering roads, a perfect setting for a first-time evaluation of a new vehicle.
For the introduction of the ES 300, Lexus brought out about a dozen pre-production prototypes so that we could see them, drive them and kick their tires. This pilot production run is the final step towards a full production automobile and is fairly representative of the cars that will be hitting the showrooms this fall.
My first impression is that Lexus has raised the bar yet again on smoothness and a quiet ride. The new ES 300 promises to be Best In Class for those qualities that make a Lexus, a Lexus. Body gaps are even narrower than before and the interior trimmings are first class. Many new options are available for the ES that were formerly reserved only for the flagship LS. These options include a new and improved DVD based navigation system and a superb Mark Levinson Audio Package.
|Category:||$30,000 to $35,000 Near Luxury Sedan|
|Who should buy this
|A person who is looking for a mid-sized sedan that is a cut above the average sedan in styling,
comfort, luxury & performance.
|Comparable cars in
|Acura 3.2 TL, Audi A6, Cadillac Catera, Infiniti I30, Lincoln LS, Mazda Millenia, Volvo S60|
Lexus’ hallmark Smooth and Quiet ride reached a zenith with the new LS430, but this new ES comes remarkably close, not only with the excellent Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) option, but with the standard suspension as well. This car is probably the best riding, quietest car in its class with creamy ride motions on every road surface that I encountered in the couple of hours that I test drove this car. All this plushness did not come at the expense of good handling either. Steering control,directional stability and cornering were all first rate.
The Lexus ES 300 is, and always has been based heavily on the Camry platform,so many people discount it as being just a glorified Toyota. I suspect that the people who hold that opinion haven’t driven an ES 300. If they had, they would consider a Camry to be a junior Lexus instead. Behind the wheel of this new car, you get the feeling that it was designed from the ground up to be a Lexus with few compromises.
The styling on the new ES takes cues from other cars in the Lexus family. The rear end treatment was taken from the LS430 (which borrowed heavily from Mercedes Benz); the side windows seem to have been lifted from the GS line; while the front looks a lot like the new SC430. It seems like Lexus is searching for a family identity beyond the stylized L in the grill (or in the case of the ES 300, on the hood). Frameless door glass from the previous model is gone in favor of less wind noise and a quieter cabin (my guess is that cost played a part in that decision as well).
The interior has all the expected Lexus bells and whistles, from the signature electro-luminescent instrument cluster to the dual-zone automatic temperature control, not to mention the well-thought-out layout of the dash. Everything from the cup holders to the convenient purse hook on the passenger side of the console has a quality feel and is placed right where you would want it to be. The driver’s seat with its 10-way power adjustments and 4-way adjustable headrest was both comfortable and supportive.
Engine performance, on the other hand, has not improved, which is a disappointment. The 2002 model has the same horsepower and torque ratings (210 HP & 220 lbs ft.) as last year. Full throttle acceleration was adequate but not exhilarating when compared with other cars in this class. The 0 to 60 figure supplied by Lexus was 8.1 seconds which was about what I thought it felt like. This putsit towards the back of the pack in this aggressive, performance oriented market segment. On the plus side, the ES 300 now meets the super stringent ULEV emissions certification and also gets better gas mileage with an expected EPA rating of 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.
You won’t feel the limitations of this engine during normal driving. As long as you don’t floor the pedal, throttle response is quite good. This is due to the new drive-by-wire system where the gas pedal controls the throttle through electrical signals and a computer instead of by a cable. The brakes felt strong and responsive, although I couldn’t get too exuberant due to an all-day rain. I can, however, vouch for all the computerized skid control systems that kept me out of trouble on the rain-soaked roads.
Beside the electronic throttle, the big changes to the powertrain include the new super-smooth five-speed automatic transmission. The shift lever for the new automatic runs a gauntlet through the zigzag track so popular on today’s premium cars. The idea of this design is to allow you to shift manually to the next gear up or down without overshooting your target. This should come in handy on winding mountain roads where you often shift between 2 and 3 in order to take advantage of engine braking. The problem is that the 2-3 shift, a common move, is not well controlled and it’s easy to shift past 3 and wind up in 4th. The obvious solution would be to have the E-shift buttons for full manual control when desired, like the ones found in the IS300, but Lexus tells us that if they added that feature, they wouldn’t be able to meet the stringent ULEV emissions standard. Besides, the reason why Lexus has two cars in this price range is so they could target one toward sporty driving (the IS300) while the other one can be tailored for luxury (the ES300).
Safety features include dual-stage front airbags, front seat mounted side airbags and new side curtain airbags that protect the head and upper torso of both front and rear seat passengers. The driver’s front airbag will detect if a small person is driving (by the seat position) and deploy with extra low force where necessary. Dual-thickness side pillars and reinforced floorpan structure improve side impact protection while redesigned seats have improved whiplash protection. Varying metal thicknesses are used in the front body structure to better control and absorb impact energy and protect the passenger area from deformation.
All this crash protection is fine, but what’s more important to me is the active safety features designed to help you avoid an accident in the first place. Standard active features include 4-sensor, 4-channel anti-lock brakes (ABS), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) and daytime running lights. Optional features include Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) which incorporates Brake Assist and Traction Control (TRAC). VSC works by monitoring the steering wheel position, speed and inertia in order to determine whether the car is following the path that was intended by the driver. If the system detects that the car is beginning to skid, it will apply individual brakes and reduce engine power to bring the car back under control. But while this system can work wonders, it can’t disobey the laws of physics, so you’ll still need to drive sensibly. Sorry to disappoint.
In the short amount of time that I had behind the wheel, I can tell you that all the smoothness was not at the expense of handling or road feel. I found the directional stability to be first rate while steering feel was up there with the best of them. I couldn’t really test cornering limits since it was raining the whole day and the roads in the Connecticut woods didn’t have shoulders, just large unforgiving trees. Lexus wouldn’t be very happy with me if I tested all those fancy air bags on one of their expensive prototypes. I will save the more aggressive testing for the production car which is due to hit the dealers by October.
I could have used more wheel time to complete my evaluation of this new Lexus, but they had to pack up the cars and ship them to the next press event in another part of the country. The driving was over, but my ferry to Long Island wasn’t scheduled to leave for another three hours, so I wandered into one of the many casino rooms at Foxwoods to see what those one-armed bandits were like. I sat down, noticing that they no longer have arms, just buttons. I read the instructions, fished for a quarter, dropped itin and was greeted by an incessant clanging bell. I had won at 400 to 1, which meant that my quarter became a hundred bucks! Since I am normally not a gambler, I decided to quit while I was ahead and I left with a “cat who swallowed the canary” grin on my face.
Do you have any feedback on the Lexus ES 300? Any opinions or experiences of yourown? We would love to hear from you.
How would I improve this car?
- More power
- Add real station-select buttons on cars with the Navigation system
- I’ll have more suggestions after I get my hands on a production model
How does the ES 300 fit your driving style?
Your dream come true, Smooth, comfortable and quiet, easy to control and predictable. This car is the one to beat.
Electronic throttle is very responsive, handles well for a car with such a cushy ride, Not as powerful as the other cars in this class.
Should opt for the Adaptive Variable Suspension. The firm setting provides this car with the character you are looking for as far as handling goes, but for all around performance, you may be happier with a Lexus IS300 or maybe an Acura TL Type S.
|Engine Type||3-liter DOHC V6, Cast aluminum block and heads. Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i). Meets Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) certification|
|Compression Ratio||10.5 : 1|
|Horsepower||210 @ 5,800 RPM|
|Torque||220 @ 4,400 RPM|
|Regular 87 Octane Unleaded. Premium fuel can be used for improved performance|
|Transmission||Five Speed Electronically Controlled Automatic|
|P215/60R16 V-speed rated High Performance summer tires
P215/60R16 V-speed rated High Performance All Season tires
|36.1 ft Curb to Curb|
|Fuel Tank||18.5 Gals.|
|Estimated EPA city 21, hwy 29.|
|Acceleration 0 to 60||8.1 Seconds (Lexus Estimate)|
|140 mph (Lexus Estimate)|
|N/A Expected to be in the low $30s|
Lexus ES 300 Front Wheel Drive Sedan
- 3.0-liter V6-cylinder engine, 210 HP, 220 lb.-ft. of torque
- Five-speed electronic automatic transmission
- Electronic Throttle Control System
- Front ventilated and rear solid disk brakes
- 4-sensor, 4-channel anti-lockbrakes (ABS)
- Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD)
- 16″ x 6.5″ alloy wheels with 215/60 R16 V-rated tires
- 10-way power driver’s seat and 8-way power passenger seat
- Power front and rear windows with auto up/down and pinch protection
- Heated outside mirrors
- Automatic dual zone climate control
- Dust (particle) interior air filter
- Manual tilt steering wheel
- Programmable garage door opener (Home-link)
- Auto-dimming, electrochromic inside rearview mirror with compass
- Multi-information display with trip computer
- Purse hanger located in the front passenger footwell area
- Alarm with immobilizer, and in-key remote control
- Lexus Premium AM/FM ETR with auto-reverse cassette and single CD player
- Genuine California walnut trim
- Multi-function in-key remote
- Trunk pass-through
- Tool kit
- First aid kit
Major Available Options
- Leather trim interior with 2-position memory
- Six-disc in-dash CD auto-changer
- Mark Levinson Audio Package
- One-touch open/close moonroof
- Optional DVD-based navigation with three position tilt screen, multi-route calculation, multi-destination input, and route preview
- Wood & Leather Steering Wheel
- Heated Front Seats with two heat settings
- High Intensity Discharge Headlamps (HID)
- Rain sensing wipers
- Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS)
- Vehicle Skid Control (VSC)
- Power Rear Sun Shade
- Chrome Wheels
- Adjustable Brake & Accelerator Pedals (est. January availability)
For more information on the ES 300, visit Lexus.com