– Ride and handling
– Cabin legroom and features
– Decent engine power
– Rivals offer better fuel economy
– Limited rear headroom
– Pricey with options
When a Lexus ES 350 is on your shopping list, it can mean one of two things. Either you have realised you’re getting old. Or you are more interested in appearing rich more than you’re interested in cars, but you really aren’t rich as you clearly worry about resale value. However, we have to say that if the all-new Lexus ES 350 is still on your shopping list, you are getting a much better car now.
To differentiate from the Toyota Camry, the new Lexus ES is based on the Toyota Avalon platform, which is essentially a stretched Camry. It was a good move, considering the ES is all about passenger comfort anyway. The exterior design is fine, and owners will be glad that it looks like a GS or LS from far away.
Inside, the cabin is trimmed nicely for the most part, with tasteful amounts of wood. That full-colour LCD screen nestled within the soft-touch dash looks elegant, while the doors, armrests and seats are all padded with nice cushy leather. The only nitpick is the area below the a/c console, which is made of hard plastic and looks the part too. Also, we checked out a privately-owned ES 250, and noticed less-cushy materials and an uglier monochrome screen, so you have to pay up for an interior like the one you see here.
Cabin volume has apparently increased thanks to the new longer wheelbase. It remains spacious up front, while the rear has almost as much legroom as a proper full-size sedan. The leather seats have minimal bolstering. While you can stretch out your legs, you have to watch your head in the back, because taller passengers will have their hair nearly touching the headliner. It’s an odd decision to sacrifice rear headroom for swoopy styling in a car that has no sporting pretensions. At least there are lots of cup-holders, and the boot is big, even if awkwardly shaped along the sides.
Opt for the top models, and you’ll have all the gadgets you’ll ever need. The joymouse-controlled LCD computer, unique to Lexus, replaces the traditional touchscreen now, and integrates the solid 8-speaker CD/DVD/MP3 stereo, USB player, Bluetooth phone, navigation and other settings all in one. The mouse-pointer system is ingenious, although it can be gimmicky to use on the move, but thankfully some basic stereo controls can be found on the centre-console as well as the steering wheel, while the strong tri-zone climate control has separate buttons too, with rear passengers getting controls and a/c vents too. There’s also adaptive cruise control, HID headlights, pull-up rear-window sun-shades, vented power front seats, smart key, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitor, lots of airbags, and a panoramic glass roof.
The 3.5-litre engine is the same as before, still making 272 hp at 6200 rpm and 346 Nm of torque at 4700 rpm. It’s a good engine, even without the benefit of modern direct-injection tech, as it managed to haul our 1685-kg test car strongly on the road if not on the drag-strip, with an as-tested 0-100 kph run of 7.4 seconds in hot September weather. With the aid of a smooth 6-speed automatic, we were burning 13.3 litres/100 km of petrol in spirited driving, which is average for the class.
For a car that was a bit of a boat before, the handling has improved a lot in its latest iteration. While it won’t chase BMWs, the ES 350 actually handles rather well, to the point where we were fairly confident in taking corners quickly, thanks to those 215/55 tyres wrapping its 17-inch alloy wheels. Understeer comes on late and predictably, the body roll never gets excessively floaty, and the grip limits are surprisingly high. The steering lacks feedback, but there is now a little bit of weight to it, while the brakes work linearly and more than adequate.
The ES 350 remains a good cruiser, with a fairly smooth and quiet ride. Wind noise is slightly noticeable at 120 kph, while some uneven surfaces are sometimes felt inside the cabin, but they are minor concerns. The engine is barely audible most of the time.
In our minds, the Lexus ES 350 is finally a car that doesn’t fall in the “boat” category by default any more. With its new-found prowess, it can actually be entertaining to drive while retaining the characteristics that made it popular with luxury-taxi fleets and old people in the first place. Of course, the price has gone up considerably now for the V6 variant, so you have to pay for all these improvements, and pay some more if you want all the toys.
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