2013 Lexus ES 350Posted on January 19th, 2013
Sixth-generation sedan raises the bar for luxury
By Nina Russin
Twenty years ago, Lexus launched an entry luxury sedan called the ES. At the time, it was essentially a dressed-up Toyota Camry: something its critics didn’t take kindly to. But Lexus product planners were on to something the critics missed. The Camry is one of the best-selling sedans of all times. An upscale version enabled Toyota loyalists to make the jump to Lexus without sacrificing any of the performance and safety features that brought them to the brand in the first place.
As time passed and the Lexus brand evolved, its entry level buyers changed as well. Toyota’s hybrids, particularly the Prius, came to define the brand as much as the Camry. Prius buyers moving up to Lexus wanted a comparable product which spoke to their green awareness. A new Lexus hybrid called the CT 200h replaced the ES as the entry level model.
2013 ES gains power, performance and safety technology
The ES, now positioned between the hybrid CT and sporty Lexus GS, needed a new image and a new mission. The sixth-generation Lexus ES 350 is a completely distinct model from the Toyota Camry it was once based on. It is larger, more powerful and more luxurious than the original model, yet maintains some of its practicality, with standard front-wheel drive for four-season performance.
Buyers can choose between the gasoline-powered ES 350 and a gasoline/electric ES 300h hybrid. The newest ES shares similar styling cues to the GS sedan introduced last year, including its spindle grille and LED tail lamps. It is slightly longer and wider than the model it replaces. Engineers pushed the car’s 17-inch aluminum wheels to the corners to enhance high-speed stability, and reduced the front and rear overhangs.
Power comes from a 268-horsepower V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission. A rotary dial on the center console enables the driver to switch between eco, normal and sport driving modes. The eco mode stretches gas mileage, while sport gives the sedan a more responsive throttle and quicker steering.
Lexus Enform lets the driver access apps such as Pandora, Bing, Open Table and Movie Tickets using his smart phone and the car’s head unit. New available safety technology includes blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert and lane departure assist with intelligent high-beam headlamps.
Base price is $36,100, excluding the $895 delivery charge. Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring ($500), 17-inch graphite-finish wheels ($110), a power rear sunshade ($210), lane departure assist ($965), a luxury package including heated/ventilated leather seats, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, keyless entry and start and driver’s seat memory ($1370), navigation with Lexus Enfom, and Sirius satellite radio with real-time stock, sports, weather and traffic updates ($2,625), intuitive park assist ($500), and wood and leather shift knob and steering wheel ($330). Final MSRP is $43,605.
Test drive in the Midwest
This week, I drove the new ES on a road trip between Indianapolis and Cincinnati, as well as on surface streets in the Cincinnati metro area. One of the problems with testing cars in my home town of Phoenix, Arizona is the lack of road surface variation. Since Phoenix temperatures rarely dip below the freezing mark, highway engineers don’t have to contend with frost heaves or potholes from winter road salt.
As a journalist, I can’t tell readers who deal with these problems on a daily basis how any particular test car will hold up to the challenge. Driving a model in the Midwest in the middle of winter enables me to do that.
The most obvious characteristic about the ES, aside from its dramatic front end, is seamless performance. It is a completely effortless car to drive. Response from the electric power steering system is virtually indistinguishable from a hydraulic unit. Engineers enhanced torsional rigidity throughout the chassis, resulting in quicker steering and better on-center response.
Peak torque for the V-6 engine is 248 foot-pounds, available from half throttle. Not only did I have plenty of power on the highway in eco mode; I was able to power up some fairly steep hills with ease once I reached Cincinnati.
Cincinnati is not a car-friendly town. The streets are glorified cow paths, with an abundance of pitchy steep hills, off-camber turns and potholes. Road construction is ongoing: street repairs never catch up with the damage from winter road salt.
Around the university, I found myself doing multiple lane changes to avoid orange cones and make time through traffic. Blind spot monitoring was a lifesaver.
So was the rearview camera, which makes it much easier to park on the street. With its relatively high decklid, it can be hard to judge distances between the back end of the ES and a vehicle parked to the back. The rearview camera also makes it easier to see the curb, so I could pull into a space without a bunch of corrections.
The MacPherson front and dual-link MacPherson strut rear suspension did an excellent job of isolating us from potholes and changes in road surface in construction areas. Four-wheel disc brakes with antilock braking stop the sedan in a firm, linear fashion, even on wet roads.
LED daytime running lamps and LED tail lamps make it easier for other drivers to see the car in low light conditions, or on roads with blind corners.
The ES seats up to five adult passengers. Designers pushed the rear seats as far back as possible to maximize legroom. I had enough legroom in all three second-row seating positions. Headroom in the center position is a little scant since the seat is slightly elevated.
Keyless access and start enables the driver to open the car and fire the ignition without removing the key fob from his pocket. Once inside, the power driver’s seat memory that comes with the luxury option package makes it easier for multiple family members to share the car.
A mouse-type device on the center console controls many of the infotainment functions. It is intuitive to use for anybody familiar with personal computers. I found the navigation graphics in the center screen easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions: ditto for the luminescent gauges.
Dual-zone climate control along with heated and ventilated front seats keep the driver and front passenger comfortable in temperature extremes. Vents behind the center console circulate air through the back of the cabin.
The trunk is spacious enough for luggage, golf bags, groceries or some small camping equipment. Cyclists will be better served by one of Lexus’ crossover or sport-utility vehicles.
The Lexus ES 350 comes with front, side, side curtain and front knee airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, tire pressure monitoring and automatic on/off headlamps. Safety connect automatically notifies police and emergency medical personnel in the event of a serious collision.
The Lexus factory warranty includes complimentary roadside assistance and lodging if the breakdown occurs more than 100 miles from home.
The all-new ES 350 is rolling into Lexus dealerships nationwide.
Like: A stylish midsize sedan with four-season practicality and a high level of standard safety features.
Model: ES 350
Base price: $36,100
As tested: $43,605
Horsepower: 268 Hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 248 lbs.-ft. @ 4700 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 7.1 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 21/31 mpg city/highway
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