Strengths and weaknesses:
- interior space
- no fold-down rear seat on 350
- info system operation takes eyes off rod
Lexus ups the entry luxury stakes with new ES
"For 2013, there are five models of ES 350 with few options – if you want more stuff, you move up a model."
NEWBERG, Oregon – I’ve just done something in the 2013 Lexus ES that I’ve never done in an ES before – chirped the tires.
I just stepped on the throttle as I left a stop sign and the ES 350 leaped ahead with a joyful little chirp from the Michelins up front.
That’s one of the big surprise-and-delight features of the new entry-level Lexus – a level of performance that will appeal to those who like a little oomph with their opulence.
Dare I say it’s neat? A car with a demographic the company admits is in the 63-year-old range? You betcha. It’s not exactly cool, but it’s a car the elder generation will appreciate.
It’s been an interesting day. The morning spent in the ES 350 and the afternoon in its eco-friendly sister ship, the ES 300h.
The sixth generation of ES bears the new Lexus family spindle grille which gives the car a more aggressive look. The profile is classic four-door luxo-sedan, but the back end doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the rest of the car – even with the trunk lid lip spoiler on the ES 300h.
A designer once explained – perhaps tongue in cheek – that Japanese cars have a pretty front end and rather ho-hum rear because “in Japan, people back into their parking places. Everybody sees the front while the back is out of sight.
For 2013, there are five models of ES 350 each having a higher level of equipment. There are few options – if you want more stuff, you move up a model. The same goes for the ES 300h, although there’s one less model in the stable.
The ES 350 is powered by a 3.5-litre V6 with shifting handled by a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s rated at 268 horsepower and 248 lb.-ft. of torque. The driver gets to choose performance mode: eco, normal or sport. The eco mode features rather sedate response, normal ups the ante a bit while sport gives the ES a downright spirited attitude.
The ES 300h version uses a 2.5-litre DOHC 16-valve in-line four cylinder engine rated at 156 horsepower and 156 lb.-ft. of torque. Add the Lexus Hybrid Drive System and you get a total of 200 horsepower. Shift work is handled by a CVT automatic with sport shift capability.
If you opt for the hybrid, you also get three drive modes from which to choose: EV, ECO and Sport. Really ECO and Sport are the two most usable options, because the EV operational speed range is very low.
The 350 is a car made for its primary demographic of 63. It’s not a stiff riding, stuck-to-the-road, fire-breathing sports sedan. It’s a luxury vehicle first and foremost. Its ride is well-modulated without wallowing, its new electric power steering responds quickly to inputs and handling is competent. With a softer suspension, there’s a bit of body lean in the corners, but I doubt many owners will push it much.
The 300 has a much softer ride (close your eyes and think big old Olds) but it remains pleasant.
The interior of both cars is considerably upgraded from the previous generation and there’s a wealth of features for the asking.
Cloth upholstery is no longer available. In its place is faux leather Lexus claims is more environmentally friendly in its production. The leading edge of the dash is stitched and soft to the touch.
The vehicles we test are top-of-the-line, full-load cruisers and there’s not much you would want to add to safety, comfort, convenience or even technological features.
There is, of course, power everything and all the electronic safety nannies along with 10 airbags, blind spot monitor with cross traffic warning, navigation with Remote Touch, lane departure alert, auto-dimming headlights, start-stop technology, 10-way power adjustable heated front seats, panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, premium audio system…I could go on.
ES means “Elegant Sedan” and this generation lives up to the name. The car will be in dealerships in August.