2013 Lexus ES 350Posted on October 16th, 2012
Entry luxury sedan comes of age
By Nina Russin
For years, the Lexus ES had a reputation of being not quite a Lexus. As the least expensive model in the line-up, the ES was the stepping stone for Toyota owners moving up. More important, early ES models shared chassis components with the Camry, giving the ES a reputation of being a dressed-up version of that midsized sedan.
The newest ES, which rolled out last summer, is a dramatic departure from former models. It doesn’t look like a Camry, nor does it perform like one. The styling is similar to the new GS, with its wide stance and spindle grille. The biggest difference between those cars is that the GS is rear-wheel drive and the ES front-wheel drive.
For driving enthusiasts, the front-wheel drive chassis lacks the sweet front-to-rear weight balance of the GS. On the other hand, front-wheel drive platforms perform better in snow, sparing the buyer the expense of an all-wheel drive option.
Several months back, I drove the new ES gasoline and hybrid models at a media preview in Dallas, Texas. This week, I drove the gasoline-powered ES 350 on a road trip between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, as well as surface streets and highways in both cities.
Base price on the test car is $36,100, excluding the $895 delivery charge. The ES is no longer the least expensive model in the Lexus stable. That honor now goes to the CT 200h hybrid hatchback, priced just over $30,000.
Options on the test car include 17-inch alloy wheels ($110); high-intensity discharge headlamps ($515); intuitive park assist ($400); rain-sensing wipers ($155); a luxury package which adds semi-aniline leather upholstery, front passenger seat memory, panorama sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, driver’s seat cushion extender, maple wood trim with ambient lighting and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel ($2,935); navigation with Mark Levinson audio system, Lexus Enform, Sirius XM traffic, weather, sports and stock updates ($3,745); heated wood and leather shift knob ($480); cargo net ($64) and trunk mat ($105), bringing the final MSRP to $46,004.
Road trip from Phoenix to Tucson
The 200-mile round-trip between Phoenix and Tucson gave me some time with the ES on the highway: something I didn’t get the chance to experience at the press event in Dallas. Aside from the dramatic change in styling, high-speed performance is one of the biggest differences between the 2013 ES and its predecessors.
While the ES lacks some of the chops of the pricier GS, it’s a formidable road car: quiet, powerful and responsive. The 268-horsepower aluminum V-6 engine offers ample acceleration throughout the power band. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is 7.1 seconds, and acceleration in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range is equally impressive. Dual exhaust tips emit a throaty belch when the driver punches the throttle.
Highway fuel economy is excellent: up to 31 miles-per-gallon according to the EPA. The engine runs fine on 87 octane gasoline. I was able to finish up the 300-mile week on a single tank of gas, with some to spare.
Engineers have vastly improved performance from their electric power steering systems. On-center response is quite good on the highway, and there’s plenty of assist at low speeds for maneuvering around crowded parking lots. A 37.4-foot turning circle makes U-turns a non-issue on wider roads.
The independent suspension consists of MacPherson struts in front and back. Front and rear stabilizer bars keep the chassis flat in the corners, and reduce the tendency to push.
The driver can choose between three driving modes which modify throttle, shifting and suspension. The eco mode maximizes fuel economy; normal adds a bit more power, and sport maximizes throttle response for performance. In sport mode, the driver can manually select gears for a little more fun.
Ventilated disc brakes in front and solid discs in the back provide plenty of stopping power.
Visibility to the front and sides is good. I had no problems monitoring cars in the adjacent lanes on the highway. I wish that Lexus would offer the rearview camera as a stand-alone option rather than grouping it in with the pricey navigation package. Not only does the camera eliminate blind spots in the rear corners, it makes it much easier for the driver to monitor cross traffic when surrounded by high profile vehicles in a parking lot.
The optional high intensity discharge headlamps make a tremendous difference in nighttime visibility by producing longer beams of light which are closer to daylight. That option is more affordable, and I’d recommend it to drivers who live in poorly lit suburban or rural areas.
Inside, the ES 350 holds up to five passengers. The center console and small floor tunnel limit legroom in the center position, but average size adults should be fine on short trips.
Keyless entry and start on the test car enables the drive to enter the car and fire the ignition without removing the key fob from his pocket. Power trunk controls come in handy when loading up the weekly groceries.
The driver’s seat is easy to adjust, and had plenty of lower lumbar support for my road trip to Tucson. Since the weather this time of year is mild, I didn’t get a chance to try the seat heaters or ventilators.
A locking glovebox and center console bin provide secure storage inside the passenger compartment.
Lexus uses a mouse device on the center console to control infotainment functions. It is large enough to be easy to find, and intuitive to use. Graphics on the center stack screen and gauge cluster are easy to read in bright sunlight and at night.
A rotary knob on the center console enables the driver to shift between eco, normal and sport modes.
Dual-zone climate controls keep both front occupants comfortable. Vents behind the center console circulate air through the back of the cabin.
The optional panorama sunroof brings ambient light into the entire car, making the back of the cabin feel more spacious.
The ES trunk has plenty of room for luggage, groceries, golf bags and small camping equipment. A small pass-through between the rear seats enables the driver to load in skis.
The Lexus ES 350 comes with front, side, side curtain, driver and front passenger knee airbags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control. Standard safety connect automatically notifies police and emergency medical personnel in the event of a serious collision, and can assist police in stolen vehicle location. Other standard safety features include tire pressure monitoring, a tool kit and first aid kit.
The Lexus four year/50,000 mile factory warranty includes 24-hour roadside assistance.
Like: The 2013 Lexus ES 350 is a stylish yet practical five-passenger sedan with excellent performance and a high level of standard safety features.
Dislike: Rearview camera is not available as a stand-alone option.
Model: ES 350
Base price: $36,100
As tested: $46,004
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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