Car reviews - Lexus - ES - ES300 LXS sedan
Smooth V6 power, commendable economy, equipment
Room for improvement
No driver's car, anonymous looks
16 May 2001
THE second generation Lexus ES300 - like the almost identical original launched in Australia in mid-1992 - is a Japanese-built BMW 3 Series-class executive car heavily based on the contemporary Toyota Camry.
Compared to the ES300 MK1, Toyota has redrawn every panel although it is difficult to pick the differences at a casual glance.
It seems pointless that all the reworking goes largely unnoticed by all bar those with an intimate knowledge of the old car.
The ES300's identity crisis is further exacerbated by the current model Vienta which is clearly a very close second cousin.
Factor in the similar mechanical hardware and the ES300's uniqueness is watered down considerably.
In 1999 the ES300 was dealt another blow, this time from within: the cheaper, if smaller, rear-wheel drive IS200 arrived with much anticipation, savagely focussing the question marks hovering over the relevance of the ES300 in the Lexus range.
Two ES300 models are available - the well-equipped 'S' and luxurious 'LXS' - and both come standard with the ES300's best feature: the honey-smooth, 3.0-litre, quad cam V6 engine which produces an impressive 149kW of power.
Incidentally, this is 8kW more than the standard Camry/Vienta V6.
With enough torque from low revs the purring V6 pulls hard across the rev range. The standard smooth shifting four-speed automatic slurs effortlessly from gear to gear but lacks the extra gear of many other rivals' transmissions.
The engineers have allowed the engine to develop just a hint of V6 hum as it gathers speed.
The Lexus is impressively economical, considering its substantial 1500kg weight.
The front-wheel drive ES300 does not lead its European rivals in other areas of dynamics. Although it handles benignly, the mid-sized Lexus does not steer fluidly around corners, as it tends to run wide.
Nevertheless, Lexus has worked hard to lift the dynamic qualities of the ES300. While still using virtually the same suspension as the MK1 model, much effort went in to making the ES300 ride, handle and steer better.
Driven with enthusiasm it will resist understeer far longer than before and at the same time the steering is far more faithful and better weighted.
The all-important ride impresses around town, soaking up all manner of bumps with little fuss.
The down side to this low speed comfort is the car tends to get too soft and bouncy, and likes to lean as cornering speeds get more serious.
The ES300 is big on refinement and noise suppression with little or no wind or tyre roar.
The interior really does cosset, leaving its occupants in peace to enjoy the comfortable seats, clear and attractive illuminated floating dials, sensibly laid out centre console and good ergonomics.
Both models come standard with anti-lock brakes, climate control air-conditioning and dual airbags.
The clear and attractive illuminated floating dials lift the instrumentation above the ordinary. The overall ergonomics, helped by the sensibly laid out central console, get high marks.
Unusually, the car has a footbrake that you engage and disengage using your left foot. Most other systems have a dash-mounted handle you pull to let-off the brake. A conventional pull-up handbrake is far and away more preferable.
We do have two criticisms with the central air vents not able to be shut and the interior door handle is small and will be impossible for shorter people to reach from their seat when the door has been left wide open.
Another gripe includes limited rear headroom thanks to the acutely angled rear window, which also slowly roasts the heads of unsuspecting occupants.
The high quality, exquisitely-built ES300 appeals to those who would have bought the late and lamented Toyota Cressida a decade ago.
Unlike its thoroughbred European rivals, the little Lexus fails to stir the keen driver's soul but it will comfort and caress admirably without fuss or bother.
- Automotive NetWorks 24/05/1999
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