LEXUS ES350 REVIEW
What’s hot: Luxurious and spacious cabin; eerily quiet on-road
What’s not: The foot parking-brake is old hat
X-FACTOR: Gold-medal motoring refinement and cosseting quality and luxury in a big handsome sedan
Vehicle style: Premium large sedan
Price: $74,000 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 204kW/346Nm 3.5 litre V6 | 6spd auto
Fuel economy listed: 9.5 l/100km (95RON) | tested: 9.6 l/100km
Seven years ago, Lexus in Japan decided to drop the right-hand-drive Lexus ES.
The move was not welcomed by Lexus Australia - Australian buyers had put more than 7000 Lexus ES sedans in their garages - and they lobbied hard to get the decision reversed.
And now the Lexus ES range is back in Australia.
Interestingly, the just-released line-up has a hybrid - the $63,000 ES 300h Luxury - as its entry-level model.
Others in the brood are the V6 petrol-powered ES 350 Luxury at $65,000. This is followed up the ladder by the $72,000 ES 300h Sports Luxury Hybrid and the range-topping Lexus ES 350 Sports Luxury with its $74,000 price tag.
For this test, the range-topper was the vehicle of choice.
Supple leather is everywhere and where practicality and design calls for it, there is beautifully executed stitching that is a highlight in itself.
(The Lexus factory has a tiny team of just 12 craftspeople with so-called Takumi training who do all the needlework required for the new ES.)
Comfort: The newly designed front seats are not the most heavily bolstered - especially for the thighs - but they are well-shaped and supremely comfortable. Seat heating and cooling functions add to the comfort.
Rear seat legroom is huge at 1015mm. It’s as roomy as a limousine: ES passengers can stretch their legs further than their counterparts in the back seat of an S-Class Benz.
Equipment: Certainly better-equipped than its closest German competitors, the ES has no shortage of standard luxury features.
Buyers can look forward to tri-zone climate-control, HID headlights, a superb 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio, heated and ventilated front seats, power-operated boot lid, powered rear-window sun blind, manual side sun blinds, centre-armrest-mounted controls for the rear-seat passengers and semi-aniline leather-accented interior.
Also on the menu is a sunroof, advanced Bluetooth connectivity, sat-nav, reversing camera, parking sonar, blind-spot monitor, keyless entry and start, digital radio and an analogue clock.
The infotainment system and its various controls take some learning and buyers with 14-year-old kids (or grandkids) would do well to take some lessons.
A full-size spare tyre is tucked under the boot floor.
Storage: The boot capacity of the ES 350 Sports Luxury is a wide and deep 490 litres.
Inside there are small front-door pockets (none in the rear), a deep centre-console bin, a reasonable glovebox, two front and two rear cup-holders, a small coin tray positioned below and to the right of the steering column and a bin under the rear-seat centre arm rest.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: With an array of technical wizardry, driver aids and creature comforts, being behind the wheel of the new ES 350 Sports Luxury is pretty easy on the driver.
To add to driver comfort, the steering-column angle has been lowered to 22 degrees. Naturally there is height-and-reach adjustment, and, behind it, a speed-sensitive electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion steering rack.
The steering though can feel a tad numb when you push the car hard into corners; the ES’s front-wheel-drive layout lacks the driving feel of the RWD Lexus IS and GS.
While the new ES is no rocket-ship, it can sprint to 100km/h in a respectable 7.4 seconds. In real world driving, it feels very swift.
Refinement: It is hard to immediately think of a more refined or eerily quiet car. If there is one, it’s probably a Lexus.
With a super-slippery drag co-efficient of 0.27, wind-noise is non-existent and the work on minimising the impact of noise, vibration and harshness clearly shows.
The new ES rides on a specially-developed set of Yokohama 215/55 R17 low-noise tyres.
There are also all kinds of clever aerodynamics tweaks, acoustic glass, and, clearly, sound deadening everywhere.
The result is a cabin in which you could hear the proverbial pin drop as you cruise down the highway.
Suspension: For cosseting comfort on road, the ES also challenges the benchmarks. It is soft - noticeable with some understeer when cornering - but without wallowing.
Up front is a MacPherson-strut double-wishbone adaptive variable system with coil springs and gas-pressurised dampers.
At the rear is an independent multi-link set-up with a rear-located toe-control arm with separate coil springs and dampers.
Braking: Braking feel through the pedal is just right for a car of this type.
Braking performance is strong thanks to 296mm x 28mm ventilated discs at the front and 281mm x 10mm solids on the rear.
ANCAP rating: untested - The new Lexus ES however has achieved the highest-possible US safety rating.
Safety features: Standard safety gear includes ABS brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake-assist, emergency brake signal, vehicle stability control with electric power-steering co-operative control, traction control and a radar-controlled pre-collision safety system that has active distance and speed-measuring control.
There are also 10 airbags inside the car plus design features for pedestrian safety.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: A four-year/100,000km warranty and roadside assist is standard.
Servicing: Service costs vary, consult your local Lexus dealer before purchase.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Audi A6 2.8i - $91,900: Quattro engineering, smart interior and a rapid large sporting saloon with lots of appeal for keen drivers.
But for those looking for luxury and comfort, the Lexus ES is less expensive, larger inside, quieter on road, and better equipped for a lot less coin. (see A6 reviews)
BMW 528i - $97,400: With 180kW and 350Nm, and brilliant chassis-feel and handling, the BMW is another for keen drivers.
But its ride is harsher than the ES, and it too struggles to match the big Lexus for its limousine silence and pampered luxury feel. (see 5 Series reviews)
Mercedes Benz E 200 - $79,900: Closer on price, and one of the world’s great saloons, but certainly challenged for comfort, for quality feel and for the serene on-road performance of the Lexus. (see E-Class reviews)
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
By resurrecting the ES in right-hand drive, Lexus has returned a classy sedan to its model line-up: there are few cars with interiors that can match its feel of elegance, attention to detail and comfort.
There are also very few cars that can match its eerily quiet driving refinement - and that’s on just about any road surface.
Not to be faulted is the car’s inventory of standard features. It’s an absolute smorgasbord of technical and creature-comforts.
The ES’s steering is still a little dull and uncommunicative when the car is pushed hard, but it’s not a sensation many buyers will notice.
As Lexus Australia boss Sean Hanley says, “it’s a car that creates its own niche segment”. It sits in the C-segment in terms of pricing but offers the interior space of the larger E-segment.
Certainly, the new ES should appeal to the limousine market as much as private buyers. Their passengers, cosseted in the spacious, luxurious rear seat, will feel they are pampered royalty.
PRICING (excluding on-road costs)
The ES is on sale in Australia now.
- ES 300h Luxury - $63,000
- ES 300h Sports Luxury - $72,000
- ES 350 Luxury - $65,000
- ES 350 Sports Luxury - $74,000