Car reviews - Lexus - ES - 350 Sports Luxury
Roomy cabin, exceptionally quiet, plenty of equipment, smooth V6 engine, good sound system
Room for improvement
Numb steering, some issues with the ride, some cheap cabin plastics
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6 May 2014
Price and equipment
Even the $63k (plus on-road costs) base ES gets satellite navigation, reversing camera, eight-head parking sonar, blind-spot monitoring, a sunroof, 10 airbags, an eight-speaker Lexus premium audio, smart entry with smart start, dual-zone climate control, digital radio, Lexus Remote Touch multimedia mouse controller, a Drive Mode Select system (that makes the controls glow red in Sport mode) and ‘leather-accented’ interior.
Interestingly, Lexus says its climate control system is even good for your skin. It features something called 'Nanoe' technology that uses microscopic ions with 1000 times the water content, allowing for a system that is said to be gentler on the occupant's skin that other air-conditioning units.
But our $74k car adds to this list: tri-zone climate control, HID headlights, a 15-speaker Mark Levinson Audio system, heated and ventilated front and rear seats, power boot lid (said to be the world’s quietest), manual side sun shades, rear centre armrest-mounted controls and ‘semi-aniline’ leather-accented interior.
Space and quietude. Few cars shy of six figures come close to matching the ES on both counts.
When considered in the context of a roomy, refined and relaxing cruiser par excellence, Lexus has kicked some goals.
Up front you get a pair of heated and cooled leather seats and lashings of woodgrain that will no doubt make this car’s older demographic right at home.
How’s this: the Lexus factory has a team of 12 craftspeople with so-called Takumi training who do all the needlework.
There is also a lovely sense of isolation from inside. The windows are more reminiscent of the double-glazed set-ups you might find on a fancy office, so good are they are removing the outside world.
Meanwhile in the rear, the legroom is closer to something like a Caprice or even an S-Class than a mid-sized price rival, and in a premium touch, side and rear sun-blinds are fitted.
Lexus claims segment-leading rear legroom, thanks to a long wheelbase and a special front seat design, and even suggests that at 1015mm it is bigger than the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Taking things up a notch further, the central armrest in the rear folds down to reveal seat heating and audio controls for back-seat passengers. That’s limo-stuff.
The boot is also sizeable at 490L, though can only be accessed from the cabin via a small ski-port.
On the downsides, the cabin plastics in part, especially on the transmission tunnel, feel a little hard and cheap. The central fascia is also a little messy, with buttons scattered about the place. There is also a dearth of cabin storage along the transmission tunnel.
The multimedia system is controlled by Lexus' mouse-like central controller, which moves an icon on the large and centrally mounted 8.0-inch screen.
The map software looks a little outdated, but the system itself works smoothly and remains an interesting alternative to BMW’s iDrive. Beats a touchscreen any day. The Mark Levinson sound system is also a cracker.
Finally, we don’t like the foot-operated parking brake.
Engine and transmission
Under the bonnet is a 3.5-litre quad cam V6 petrol engine matched to a six-speed sequential-shift automatic transmission.
The all-alloy 3.5-litre dual VVT-i unit has a healthy 204kW of power at 6200rpm on 95 octane fuel, and sports a claimed combined-cycle fuel economy figure of 9.5 litres/100km and CO2 emissions of 224 grams per kilometres.
The life-of-vehicle reading on our tough-life press car was 11.5L/100km.
This engine delivers 90 per cent of peak torque from 2300 to 6100rpm, with maximum torque at 4700rpm. Lexus claims the ES 350 accelerates from 0 to 100km/h in 7.4 seconds.
Like all Toyota-developed V6s, the ES’s unit is creamy smooth when dawdling around and takes on a nice raucous note under heavier throttle. The downside, of course, is that is uses more fuel than its higher-tech turbocharged German rivals, and is no faster.
To improve NVH levels, Lexus fits an active engine mount designed to reduce the transmission of noise, vibration and harshness from the engine bay to the body of the vehicle at low engine revolutions.
The front wheels – like all ES models, this is a front-drive rather than a rear-drive proposition – also struggle to put the power down on take-off. Plant the foot and the car can feel a little squirrely, and even display the odd hint of axle-tramp.
The six-speed transmission is smooth and unobtrusive as a rule, which is as an auto it should be. Don’t expect rapid-fire manual shifts here, because that would be completely out of character. Stick it in D and let it waft along.
Ride and handling
It’s all about refinement. Heavy use of high-tensile steel, extra spot welds, more body bracing and insulation and the active engine mounts give Lexus the ideal platform to calibrate a suspension system conducive to making the car as comfy as possible.
Front suspension is a MacPherson strut arrangement with counter-wound barrel-shaped coil springs and a rose-joint mounted stabiliser bar. The rear suspension comprises dual-link struts with conical-type coil springs and ball-joint mounted stabiliser bar.
The electric power steering is speed-sensitive – it becomes lighter around town – and has a turning circle of 11.4 metres with 2.9 turns lock-to-lock.
First, the good: noise is all but scrubbed out, the Yokohama tyres convey but a distant hint of noise, and the wind is little more than a soft sigh at highway speeds.
The ride is compliant at lower speeds and pleasantly calibrated for cruising at a clip on nice bits of asphalt. However, it has a tendency to become a little busy over corrugations, and thumps over speed-humps with a little too much drama.
The steering is also a little devoid of feel in any driving mode, with some slack on-centre and a lack of communication from the front wheels. We know Lexus does not have sporting aspirations for the ES, but a little more weight would be simple to dial in.
Safety and servicing
The ES features a whopping 10 airbags including full-length curtain airbags, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, a blind spot monitor, tyre-pressure warning system and the 'Pre-Collision' safety system that includes adaptive cruise control.
Lexus offers a 48-month/100,000km warranty with roadside assistance. Lexus’ aftersales service is rightly acclaimed. Expect free service loan cars and 24-hour care from Lexus’ response centre.
Don’t expect to have much fun on a twisty road, but as far as spacious, luxurious and quiet limos that pamper go, it’s hard to think of a better one for the money.
Chrysler 300 Luxury (from $51,000). Perhaps a left-field choice, but this large sedan is just as US-oriented as the Lexus and packed full of standard features.
It’s also not the last word in dynamism and fuel economy, like the ES.
BMW 520i ($79,900). The base variant of BMW’s mid-sized model runs rings around the Lexus when it comes to sportiness, but can’t touch the ES’ long list of equipment.
Infiniti M37 GT (from $76,400). Yes, we doubt you’ve ever seen one on the road.
But like Lexus, Infiniti is the luxury arm of a mainstream Japanese maker (in this case Nissan), and offers a cosseting experience with a plush cabin.
MAKE/MODEL: Lexus ES 350 Sports Luxury
ENGINE: 3.5-litre V6
LAYOUT: Transverse, front engined
POWER: 204kW @ 6200rpm
TORQUE: 246Nm @ 4700rpm
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed auto
0-100km/h: 7.4 seconds
EMISSIONS: 224g/km CO2
SUSPENSION: McPherson strut(f)/Independent multi-link(r)
STEERING: Electric rack and pinion PAS
BRAKES: Vented disc(f)/disc(r)
PRICE: From $74,000 before on-roads
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