SEE ALSO: Lexus Rover Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 31,405 Price As Tested $ 36,101 Engine Type DOHC 24-valve 3.0 Liter V6 w/SPFI* Engine Size 183 cid/2995 cc Horsepower 210 @ 5800 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 220 @ 4400 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 105.1"/70.5"/190.2" Transmission Four-speed automatic Curb Weight 3392 pounds Fuel Capacity 18.5 gallons Tires (F/R) 205/65R15 V-rated Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS) Drive Train Front-engine/front-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Five-passenger/four-door Domestic Content XXX Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) 0.29 PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 19/26/23 0-60 MPH 8.5 seconds 1/4 (E.T.) 16.5 seconds @ 88.5 mph Top speed 140 mph * Sequential multi-port fuel injection
(Bob Hagin remembers when a luxury car marque had to have a pedigree a yard long to be taken seriously. Matt Hagin reminds his dad that things move too fast today for success to take half a century.)
MATT - The Lexus line burst on the luxury car market a decade ago and it was a success right out of the box. But as the upscale branch of the methodical Toyota company, Lexus had a big advantage in that its parent had already developed a reputation for quality and reliability. Lexus simply had to take the ball and run with it.
BOB - And it did it on its own. Franchises weren't handed out to Toyota dealers as a sideline to selling Celicas and pickups. Originally, the Lexus line consisted of a big rear-drive V8 sedan and a smaller front-drive V6 four-door but the lineup now includes an SUV and a sports sedan. Our ES 300 is mid-sized with room for four adults and enough luggage space for a weekend trip. The low trunk lift-over makes packing stuff back there lots easier. The interior of our test rig was trimmed in leather which is a pretty pricey upgrade at $1900 but it includes the Homelink setup and a couple of other fancy gadgets. It's pre-wired for a cell phone system, of course, and the steering and seat position memory system adjusts the side mirrors, too. They're heated and the one on the driver's side has a built-in dimming device that prevents the headlights on cars to the rear from blinding the driver.
MATT - One of the factors on this Lexus that I found kind of eerie is that it's almost silent on the road and that there's almost no wind noise. The engine is basically the same one that's in the Toyota Camry but with a few updates that increase the power. As a mechanic, I was impressed by the fact that even though the compression ratio is very high at 10.5-to-one, the ES 300 engine can get by on a diet of 87-octane fuel. It's an all-aluminum V6 that profits from an updated variable camshaft timing system that lets the unit develop most of its power at very low rpm. The horsepower is rated at 210 and pulls the 3300-pound sedan along a very rapid rate. The 0-to-60 mph time is only 8.5 seconds which is very quick for a boulevard cruiser.
BOB - And that's exactly how Luxus wants this ES 300 to be considered. It has MacPherson strut suspension at both ends and while our car had an active suspension system that adjusts the shock rating to match the road condition, it's not a sports sedan. If it's pushed into a fast turn too fast, it begins to understeer at which time its traction control system senses that the car isn't going in the direction the driver is pointing it and adjust the power and braking system go get things right again. Another system that keeps the driver from getting into more trouble than he or she can get out of can sense that the driver isn't applying enough pedal pressure in a "panic" stop and increases hydraulic pressure to just short of a brake lockup. These are the types of ancillary system that the driver hopes is never needed but is mighty glad it's there if the need arises. Back when it first cam out, the ES model could be had with a five-speed stick-shift but now it only comes with a four-speed automatic.
MATT - That's indicative of the type of buyer Lexus is aiming for. A buyer can order "performance" 16-inch wheels and tires but the ES 300 really isn't that kind of a car. Its pretty much unchanged since it was redesigned and revitalized in '97 but it's design is still not dated. Lexus had developed a reputation for refining the most minute details and the Lexus is even equipped with a small tool kit and a built-in box of first aid items. I can understand the bandages and that sort of thing, but I can't picture a Lexus owner doing much roadside repairing with the onboard tools.
BOB - I have ambivalent feelings about the headlights. I like the idea that they stay on for 20 or 30-seconds after the driver locks up the car at night but the blue-tint high-intensity lights take some getting used too.
MATT - Dad, I'm beginning to think that you've only recently gotten used to the sealed-beam headlights that came out in 1940.