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Review: 2002 Lexus ES 300


    The Lexus ES 300 has been a benchmark in the entry luxury 
segment since its inception, and the almost completely revised 2002 
model only raises the bar. With the introduction of the IS 300 for 
sports-oriented buyers two years ago, Lexus began to move the ES 
more toward serious luxury. The process continues at an accelerated 
pace with the introduction of the newest ES300.

    Little change was required to the ES 300, but little was left 
unchanged. Sleek new styling overlays a revised chassis structure 
with a longer wheelbase for more interior room and increased 
strength and rigidity for improved ride characteristics and safety. 
The new ES is even quieter than its predecessors, and fit and finish 
are even more precise, with narrower panel gaps. Although it has the 
same power output as previously, the ES 300's namesake 3.0-liter 
V6 engine has been refined, and is now matched to a five-speed 
automatic transmission instead of the previous four-speed. And ever 
more premium-level luxury features that debuted in the company's 
top-of-the-line LS 430 can be found, as standard equipment or 
optionally, in the ES 300.

    I've been driving a new ES 300  for the past week. ``Entry luxury'' 
is not the right term to describe it. In comfort and appointment, the 
ES is a true luxury car, with no compromises. ``The relentless 
pursuit of perfection'' is not just a Lexus advertising slogan, it is the 
way the company approaches the design and construction of its cars.

APPEARANCE: Influence from Lexus's GS sports sedan? The more 
formal styling of earlier ES 300s has been replaced by an elegantly 
muscular, toned look. In dry statistics, the new ES is a bigger car 
than last year's model. The wheelbase is two inches longer, length 
has been increased by an inch, and the roof is almost two and a half 
inches taller. Yet, because of its sleek, expressive styling, the 2002 
ES 300 looks smaller and lower than any of its forebears. The lower 
body shape is derived from the old car, but no body panels carry 
over. The greenhouse seems small because of the very raked 
windshield and near-fastback backlight. It's not. At the front, a small 
chromed grille, at the end of a sculpted hood, seems to be smiling, a 
look aided by headlights with bulging triangular covers. A high 
shoulder line that turns up towards the rear produces a wedge-like 
profile. The triangular wraparound taillights echo the shape of the 
headlights and incorporate the backup lights. The low 0.28 
coefficient of aerodynamic drag helps stability at speed in strong 
winds, and, even more importantly for a Lexus, reduces wind noise.

COMFORT: How could Lexus increase the luxury level of the ES 
300? Start with more space, and add an interior redesign that 
emphasizes that space with good use of colors, materials, and 
textures. Standard comfort and convenience features including dual-
zone climate control with air filtration, a five-channel, seven-speaker 
AM/FM/cassette/CD audio system, and a moonroof. All windows 
are one-touch, down and up, with pinch protection. Front seats are 
power-adjustable, of course, with the driver's 10 ways and the 
passenger's eight. Memory is available. Upscale cloth upholstery is 
standard, but leather is available, and the wood trim is real wood. LS 
430-pioneered features like water-repellent front door glass and 
ground and footwell illuminating courtesy lamps are standard. For a 
premium-luxury experience, an audiophile-quality Mark Levinson 
sound system similar to that on the LS 430, is available, as is a 
DVD-based navigation system. Seat comfort is, as expected, first 
rate, and there is more rear space, especially legroom. 

SAFETY: The ES 300's unibody chassis has a strong structure 
around the passenger compartment, front and rear crumple zones, 
and impact-protection beams in all four doors. All seating positions 
have three-point safety belts, and dual-stage front, front side, and 
front and rear side curtain airbags are standard.

ROADABILITY: Lexus's dual-entry level strategy has paid off, 
with the IS 300 handling the sports side, and the ES 300 further 
developed toward serious, LS-style luxury.  The ES's stronger 
chassis structure has benefits for ride and handling, allowing a soft 
suspension calibration for the ride comfort expected in a luxury car. 
Firmer suspension subframe bushings and good damping on the 
fully-independent MacPherson strut suspension make the ES as 
pleasant on the scenic route as the Interstate. A frame design for 
extremely low noise levels and new sound-absorbing materials 
make the new ES 300 even quieter, insulating occupants from the 
outside world. 

PERFORMANCE: The 2002 ES 300 has the same aluminum alloy 
24-valve 3.0-liter V6 as last year's version, with the same 210 
horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 220 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. It 
still uses the VVT-i continuously variable valve timing system for a 
broader torque spread. But new ``drive by wire'' electronic throttle 
control and a five-speed electronically-controlled automatic 
transmission in place of the previous four-speed improve 
powertrain responsiveness and fuel economy while lowering 
emissions levels. While slightly heavier than last year's car, the 2002 
ES 300 is actually a little quicker. It's also very civilized and 
refined. Torque steer is nonexistent, and the engine can barely be 
heard except under absolute full-throttle acceleration.  

CONCLUSIONS: In the relentless pursuit of perfection, Lexus has 
improved the ES 300 for 2002.

2002 Lexus ES300

Base Price			$ 31,505
Price As Tested		        $ 37,353
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 24-valve V6
Engine Size			3.0 liters / 183 cu. in.
Horsepower			210 @ 5800 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			220 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission			5-speed electronically-controlled 
Wheelbase / Length		107.1 in. / 191.1 in.
Curb Weight			3,439 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        16.4
Fuel Capacity			18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P215/60 VR16 Toyo Proxes J33
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
                                 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson struts at all 
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		21 / 29 / 23
0 to 60 mph				8.1  sec (mfg)
1/4 mile (E.T.)				16.1 sec (mfg)
Coefficient of Drag (cd)		0.28

Navigation system package - includes: Leather
 trimmed interior with memory, Lexus DVD
 navigation system, in-dash single CD player
 and console-mounted 6-disc changer		$ 3,960
Wood and leather steering wheel		        $   330
High-intensity discharge headlamps with
 auto leveling					$   640
Power rear sun shade				$   210
Trunk mat					$    64
Wheel locks					$    41
Cargo net					$    28