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Car Review: 2005 Lexus ES330

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Lexus

MODEL: Lexus ES330
ENGINE: 3.3-liter DOHC V6 
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 225 hp @ 5,600 rpm/240 lb.-ft. @ 3,600 rpm 
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic 
WHEELBASE: 107.1 in. 
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 191.1 x 71.3 x 57.3 in. 
TIRES: 215/60R16 V-rated all-season 
LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 14.5 cu ft. 
ECONOMY: 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway 
PRICE: $38,444 

When my daughter pulled into my other daughter's driveway and noticed that we had the Lexus ES330, her first reaction was, "Dad has the new Camry."

Well, the ES330 isn't a Camry, although the two cars share the same platform. The 3.3-liter V6 is available on the Camry as well, but not the Lexus LS-style luxury that sets the ES apart.

True, the ES isn't an LS, but it's just about as close as you can get. This is an entry-level luxury car with tasteful wood trim and leather seating, but with a price of $38,444, you can't expect the same levels as in the $60,000-plus LS.

But what you do get is more than adequate power from the 3.3-liter V6. It's rated at 225 hp, and in all the driving situations we encountered, that was more than enough. The engine drives the front wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode. We used the ES primarily on Interstates, but we also had the opportunity to test it on some dirt-and-gravel roads, paved back roads, and some tough hilly roads. The ES performed well on all surfaces and road conditions. Occasionally we shifted into manual mode on the more winding roads because acceleration out of the curve wasn't as quick as I would have wanted, but that was my only complaint, if minor.

Part of our test was one that we don't normally encounter. We loaded two child seats in the back and lugged a couple of grandchildren south for a couple of days. The ES330 has LATCH connections to assure that the child seats are firmly installed, something that made my daughter happy. When I compare the quality of seats my daughters are using with the minimal safety seats that were available when they were growing up, it almost scares me what might have happened if we had had an accident, but we didn't.

Even with the two extra small passengers, their luggage and ours, diaper bags, food, birthday gifts, etc., we had plenty of room and cargo capacity. The ES330's trunk is rated at 14.5 cubic feet, smaller than the Camry's, but we found room for everything we wanted to bring.

The ES330 also had some neat touches. Among these was a handbag hook on the passenger side of the transmission tunnel that folded out when needed. There was a small fold-out tray by the driver's knee that was handy for cell phones or coins, but I knocked the door off twice.

The sound system was excellent and played all the young CDs to keep the kids quiet. It also played "our" music once their parents returned from their side trip. There were volume and other controls on the steering wheel that didn't get in the way of steering. We also didn't push some of the buttons by accident.

We had an excellent navigation system that found all our daughters' streets as well as ours. The screen tilts to give the best angle for reading. It also opens to reveal the CD slots and navigation CD slots. The nav CD that was installed took us from Pennsylvania to Virginia with no problems.

We were cozy warm with the HVAC system. The seats were heated and cooled, or at least had a fan that blew air through perforations in the seat.

Vision was compromised when looking to the right rear (as in a bear left turn) by the headrests and C-pillar. Forward vision was excellent. There was also a rear sunshade that the driver could power up and down. We didn't need it, but with the children back there it would have been valuable on a hot sunny day.

Since we had children in the car for a change, and our time constraints weren't tough, wen enjoyed the pleasure of cruising without rushing and it was fun. The ES isn't a Lexus LS, but it isn't the LS's price either. It's a very comfortable car to drive and ride in.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate