Still, the Lexus ES is a luxury sedan that celebrates smoothness, quietude and sophistication. It doesn't suffer the hard ride of a sports sedan. You can safely sip a cappuccino on the way to work. The ride is smooth, the engine is smooth, the transmission operation is flawless, and everything is quiet.
The Lexus ES has come a long way. When Toyota launched its Lexus brand of luxury cars in 1989, its entry-level car was the ES 250, a thinly disguised Camry chassis and powertrain with an upgraded body and interior. This car's role was to give the new dealers some sales volume to help support the big LS 400. With each of the succeeding four generations of ES, the car has better met the needs of the upper end of the entry-luxury segment, with more room, more space, more power and more standard equipment. And more safety features. The all-new 2007 ES 350 makes the greatest single leap in ES history.
The ES uses front-wheel drive, while the Lexus IS models are rear-wheel drive. In short, the ES is designed more for luxury and a smooth, comfortable ride, while the IS models are designed more for performance and handling.
The ES 350 will compete with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series, Infiniti G35 and M35, Audi A6, Saab 9-3, Volvo S60 and a host of domestics in this popular class. Pricing for the 2007 ES 350 was not available at press time.
Line UpThe 2007 Lexus ES 350 comes as one model, but the buyer can opt for a huge range of equipment by selecting Premium, Premium Plus, Ultra Luxury, Pre-Collision, and Adaptive Cruise options packages. Freestanding options include park assist, a power rear sunshade, heated and ventilated front seats, a full-size spare tire, a wood and leather trim package, and DVD navigation with backup camera.
Optional equipment includes a navigation system, satellite radio (XM or Sirius), a 14-speaker Mark Levinson stereo system, Bluetooth wireless capability for cellphones, a panoramic glass roof, and radar-adaptive cruise control.
Safety features that come standard on the ES 350 include dual front airbags, a knee airbag, side-impact airbags (for torso protection), curtain airbags (for head protection), electronic stability control, traction control, antilock brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), and a tire-pressure monitor system. A new two-chamber passenger airbag is designed to stop your passenger's upper body and torso with minimal facial contact and neck stress on deployment.
The Pre-Collision package includes a radar-based cruise control system that automatically maintains a preset distance between the ES 350 and the car ahead. If the system senses an imminent collision, it retracts all the outboard seatbelts and triggers full panic-braking power at the pedal (but it doesn't close the windows and the sunroof like the Mercedes-Benz system).
WalkaroundThe 2007 ES 350 featires the Lexus L-Finesse design scheme used on three concept cars and the GS and IS sedans, with everything emanating from the grille and flowing back over the car in hard lines. The new look brings a new level of slickness, only 0.28 coefficient of drag in the wind tunnel, making the ES 350 inherently quieter and more fuel-efficient than before.
The first thing that impressed us was the new look and more generous physical size of the car. The grille has been subdued, the headlamp units have been made smaller and less obtrusive, and the accent line along the side has been raised to yield more musculature under the skin. Now this car looks like it belongs in a Lexus showroom.
The new ES 350 was consciously upsized, to about where the original LS 400 flagship car was when it was introduced. The wheelbase is more than two inches longer at 109.25 inches, the body is wider by 0.4 inches, the track is wider by 1.2 inches, and the body has crisper, shorter overhangs along with a new front, side and rear appearance that's much more luxurious looking than any previous ES.
About the only exterior customizing you can do other than paint and wheels is a choice of lighting, from standard projector beam to optional high-intensity discharge headlamps to optional adaptive lighting, the latter of which swings the headlamps through an arc of up to 15 degrees when turning. There are 10 colors to choose from.
The ES 350 is about 110 pounds heavier than the ES 330 due to the addition of more safety features and standard equipment built into the price.
InteriorIf there is any part of this car that could be called a quantum leap, it's the interior, which is much more together, more modern, and more fully equipped than any previous Lexus ES interior.
It starts with the standard SmartAccess key fob and push-button engine starting, a first for the ES, and goes from there. The instrument panel and center stack are completely new and much more driver-centered, engaging and involving that previous panels. The main instruments are deeply tunneled, using white LED lighting and the Optitron electroluminescent displays that are part of all Lexus models, with their eye-pleasing startup routine. The standard trip computer monitors a dozen functions. All of the real wood trim is from a matched set that is serial-numbered for future replacement, if necessary. The thick, fat steering wheel is a pleasure to use.
There's more space overall, within a few cubic feet of the original LS 400 V8 rear-drive sedan at 95.4 cubic feet, with more shoulder and leg room built in, and the rear floor is flat and can accommodate large American feet under the seats. There are three interiors to choose from in leather, perforated leather, or cloth, plus optional semi-aniline leather.
The new ES is insulated well. At cruising speeds, it's extremely quiet, in part due to a new acoustic-control laminated windshield.
The driving ambience is superb, with good sightlines, the hooded instruments and crisp graphics, a 10-way power seat and standard tilt/telescope steering wheel. Fit and finish inside are exemplary.