Review: 2002 LEXUS ES300

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SEE ALSO: Lexus Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 31,505

Price As Tested $ 39,963

Engine Type DOHC 24-valve 3.0 Liter V6 w/SMFI*

Engine Size 183 cid/2995 cc

Horsepower 210 @ 5800 RPM

Torque (lb-ft) 220 @ 4400 RPM

Wheelbase/Width/Length 107.1"/71.3"/191.1"

Transmission Five-speed automatic

Curb Weight 3483 pounds

Fuel Capacity 18.5 gallons

Tires (F/R) P215/60R16 V-rated summer tires

Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)

Drive Train Front-engine/front-wheel-drive

Vehicle Type Five-passenger/four-door

Domestic Content N/A

Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) N/A

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon City/highway/average 21/29/25

0-60 MPH 8.5 seconds

1/4 (E.T.) 16.5 seconds @ 86.5 mph

Top-speed 140 mph

* Sequential fuel injection

The new 2002 Lexus ES 300 follows a highly successful sales run in the near-luxury category of the car business, a segment that is less susceptible to current economic conditions than the ultra-luxury market, but still severely affected by it nonetheless.

It's only available one way but a host of options packages can customize it to an owner's specifications.

OUTSIDE - its two inches longer and just over two inches taller than the last version, and with a flat underside and a revised shape, now slips though the air with a low 0.28 drag coefficient. The new styling is a bit more elegant than its predecessor.

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Nearly devoid of chrome, Lexus sculpted the new ES 300 body with an edgy, flowing design, but was also very careful to maintain its understated elegance.

Two creases scallop the hood and splay backward toward the windshield, while a pair of swept-back headlamps are larger, crisper and more elegant looking than that of the previous version.

The grille is a simple arrangement of four slats that sit just below the telltale Lexus "L" badge on the hood. A sweeping character line gracefully arcs down each side from front to back, and the rear wraparound tail lights mimic the shape of the head lights and the creased trunk lid.

Multi-spoke alloy wheels are standard, as are grippy 16-inch all-season tires.

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INSIDE - The new ES 300 is larger on the outside, which translates into more space inside. Generous amounts of leather cover the seats as part of an options package that also adds a six-disc in-dash CD changer and a power moonroof.

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Dual powered and optional heated bucket seats coddle front occupants with good lumbar and side support. A thin swath of ocher-stained walnut wood trim wraps the interior across the dash and down each front door, while the same wood trim is on the steering wheel, shift knob and center console. New whiplash protection seats have built-in head restraints and offer better crash protection.

ON THE ROAD - The ES 300 retains the same 3.0-liter, twin-cam V6 as before, producing the same 210 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque as the older model. While it gives away some power to its competitors (most are well past the 225-horsepower mark), it's still the smoothest, most unobtrusive engine available in its class.

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It uses Lexus' variable valve timing technology and a completely redesigned exhaust system that reduces noise at certain engine speeds. A new "drive-by-wire" electronic throttle improves engine response, while a three-stage variable intake system optimizes its breathing and enhances the torque curve.

A new five-speed automatic transmission capitalizes on the engine's torque curve, and refinements to the torque converter and electronic controls allow it to shift smoother than ever.

Traction control is standard, while the optional Vehicle Skid Control system (VSC) can help a driver maintain control in a skid or slide.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The ES 300 chassis is also new. The platform is now stronger, stiffer and less complex than ever. It's a uni-body layout, with independent strut-type suspension at all four corners. The suspension has gained more up-and-down travel for a smoother ride, and the front shocks are tuned to handle a greater variety of road inputs. An optional Adaptive Variable Suspension system improves the ride even more by varying damping rates on all four shock absorbers in response to road conditions.

The rack-and-pinion steering system has improved feedback and quicker turn-in, while the four-wheel disc brakes with a standard anti-lock braking system stop the car quickly and with authority. The system also comes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution - two systems that help further enhance braking.

SAFETY - Dual front airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags and front and rear head curtain airbags, ABS, traction control and front seat belt pretensioners are standard. VSC is optional.

OPTIONS

Navigation system (with Mark Levinson-brand 240-watt stereo, leather package and memory seats), $4,860;

Power rear sunshade,$210;

Wood and leather steering wheel, $330;

Heated seats, $440;

High intensity discharge headlights, $640;

Adaptive Variable Suspension,$650;

VSC, $650;

Trunk mat, $64;

Wheel locks, $41;

Cargo net, $28.

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