Now available as either a normally-aspirated 350 or the 300h Hybrid, the Lexus ES is the company’s entry-level offering, and is the latest in a barrage of new-model introductions that came from the Japanese car maker last year.
I recently drove the re-done 2013 ES 350, and let me say right off the top: this is a hard car to review. Why? Because, aside from some minor nit-picks, there isn’t much to complain about. It does everything a car in this segment is supposed to and does it well.
With the ES 350, Lexus has produced an upscale sedan that feels more exclusive than it is. It has interior elbow room that is equal to that of the larger Mercedes-Benz S-Class and, with arguably the best assembly quality in the industry, features an almost completely silent ride with taut handling and improved fuel economy. Yes, Toyota has had its share of issues over the last couple of years, but it still knows how to make a luxury sedan with the best of them.
Power for the ES 350 is delivered by a 3.5-litre V-6 that develops 268 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic only. This engine – or derivatives of it – is used throughout the Toyota/Lexus lineup and you’ll look long and hard to find a smoother, more refined and thrifty V-6 engine, although it could do with some tweaking vis-à-vis fuel economy, especially in town. Still, it’s no exaggeration to say that Toyota has mastered the art of building V-6 engines, and if you had to use one word to describe the driving experience of the ES350 it’d have to be: refined.
It’s also a rolling showcase of luxury and convenience goodies. It may be an entry-level model, but it is definitely not lacking in amenities. Standard equipment includes Bluetooth, climate control system, Sirius satellite radio, 10 airbags, and all the usual power convenience goodies.
My tester, which featured the Touring Package, also came with larger 18-inch wheels and tires, upgraded sound system, navi system, heated/ventilated seats and a heated steering wheel. Here’s one of the nit-picks: a heated steering wheel is one of my favourite goodies in a car, but I wish this one featured a completely heated wheel, rather than just around the spokes. Not a big deal, but Audi, for example, does this properly. Anyway, the Touring Package will run you an additional $9,050, and brings the price tag of the ES 350 up to just less than $51,000 after taxes and extras.
Although there are other, similarly priced models out there that will out-handle and out-perform the ES350, for the vast majority of buyers in this market, so what? Unless you’re some kind of hot-shoe and have had track experience, this car is more than enough when it comes to driving kicks. Excellent reserve power, decent braking and a nicely tuned suspension that is neither squishy nor rock hard.
So, without beating it to death, you really couldn’t ask for a more competent luxury car. In terms of creature comforts and accommodations, absolutely no complaints. Yes, you can spend more and dial up the luxury quotient, but in terms of getting a better automobile, well, define “better.” Anything beyond the ES is getting into snob territory. I could whine about the front-end “spindle” treatment, which I’m still trying to make my mind up about, but that’s more of a personal taste issue.
Toyota/Lexus’ biggest challenge these days is not mastering the ability to make a good automobile. The biggest rap against the company is that its cars are boring and have no personality. To that I say, if being reliable, comfortable and well-made is boring, then that’s my kind of personality. Even during the company’s darkest hours, when the lawsuits were coming thick and fast and the company’s president testified before the U.S. congress, I wouldn’t have hesitated to purchase a Camry or Sienna or whatever. And that applies to the ES 350.
Last but not least, in Consumer Reports latest round of “Best Of” new automobiles, four out of the 13 models that placed the highest were Toyota products – including the ES 350.
2013 Lexus ES 350
Base Price: $39,500; as tested: $50,680
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 268 hp/248 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift feature
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.9 city/6.4 highway; regular gas
Alternatives:Acura TL, Nissan Maxima, Infiniti G37, BMW 3-Series, Hyundai Genesis, Audi A4, Cadillac XTS, Buick Allure
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