Monday, May 21, 2007

Lexus ES 250

The Toyota Lexus ES250 is a glorified Toyota Camry for a few grand more.

At least that`s what rival Honda Acura and Nissan Infiniti dealers tellprospective customers.

Considering the ES250 and Camry are built on the same platform and sharethe same engine, it would be difficult to dispute the charge.

This fall, the ES250 becomes the ES300, the name change signaling notonly new sheet metal but the unveiling of a 3-liter, 24-valve, twin-cam, 185horsepower V-6 engine to replace the current 2.5-liter V-6.

The ES300 will share the powerplant with the Camry, which also undergoesa styling change for the coming model year.

Sources say Toyota was well aware of the ES250-is-too-similar-to-the-Camry complaints; so styling on the `92 versions will be considerablydifferent, to avoid a repeat of the $30,000-Cadillac-looks-like-a-$20,000-Oldsfiasco that hampered General Motors.

The 3-liter in the ES300 won`t be the same as the new 3-liter engine tobe offered in the SC300 coupe, the coming six-cylinder version of the SC400coupe introduced this spring. The SC300 engine will be a 3-liter, 24-valve,twin-cam, 225-horsepower in-line six-cylinder, not a V-6, according toAutomotive Industries Insider, a trade publication.

But we digress. Glorified Camry or not, the ES250 is a pleasant machine,with loads of room and comfort, passenger and cargo-carrying capacity and morethan decent power from its 2.5-liter, 156-horsepower, 24-valve V-6 engine.

Driver`s-side air bag and antilock brakes are standard.

The ride is whisper quiet and befits a luxury car. Handling benefits from variable-effort and quick-response power steering, front and rear stabilizerbars, fully independent four-wheel suspension and 15-inch Goodyear GA radials. About the only shortcoming is the suspension seemed a bit mushy at timesin the so-called $22,000 entry-level model in the overall luxury Lexus lineup,which also includes the $37,500 SC400 coupe and the $40,000 LS400 sedan.

It`s nice to have a cushion over bumps in the road, but we`d rather dowithout the roll and sway in corners and turns. However, the problem may have been the result of the optional ($950) leather seats, which don`t hold thebody as well as cloth in sharp maneuvering. Because cloth is cooler in thesummer and warmer in the winter and easier to clean regardless of the season, save yourself $950 and forget the leather.

Base price is $22,050.

Perhaps the extent of the standard equipment is the reason thecompetition calls it a glorified Camry.

It includes power brakes and steering, four-speed automatic transmission, power locks/windows/mirrors, air conditioning, tinted glass, digital clock,AM/FM stereo, alloy wheels, color-coordinated lower bodyside cladding,intermittent wipers, rear-window defogger, remote-trunk and fuel-filler doorreleases, visor vanity mirrors, cruise control, first-aid kit and the ever-popular pullout cupholder.

In addition to leather seats, the car we tested added a power moonrooffor $700, power driver`s seat for $250, carpeted floor mats for $105 (when youexceed the $20,000 mark there`s no reason mats shouldn`t be standard) and atrunk mat (ditto) for $62.

ES250 sales have been somewhat spotty in 1991, in large part due to theit`s-a-ritzy-Camry flap. With the new engine for `92 and sheet metal sporting a few bends and twists different from the Camry, the ES300 should help Toyota settle into its own niche.

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