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2007 Lexus ES350 Review

2007 Lexus ES 350 (select to view enlarged photo)
2007 Lexus ES 350
SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Lexus


2007 Lexus ES350

What differentiates a luxury car from a regular automobile? More is required than merely a name, or a high price, or exclusivity. Comfort, both in interior design and appointment and the driving experience, is paramount. That encompasses interior, drivetrain, chassis, and suspension design and execution. Low noise levels are part of the equation, impacting both mechanical and aerodynamic considerations. Refined power is also a requirement. Since the luxury experience in any form is that above mere necessity, conveniences such as automatic or power-operated accessories are needed. And as technology advances, the list of such features and services is increasing. Power windows and seats may have been luxury specification in the 1950s; they are decidedly plebeian today. Even navigation systems and high-end audio systems are no longer only the province of the privileged. Add standard or available electronic safety and convenience features including stability control, dynamic radar cruise control, multiple airbags, ultrasonic parking assistance, adaptive lighting, and multi-zone climate control at least. Keyless operation, with a pocketable transponder, is the latest luxury device.

And all of those features and more are standard or available in the 2007 Lexus ES350, the fifth generation of Lexus's entry-luxury sedan. Actually, although it competes in the entry-luxury class, class standard improvement being what it is, the new ES350 is more powerful, quicker, quieter, and has lower fuel consumption and emissions levels than the original Lexus LS400.

Both the exterior and interior are all new, and are in line with the other current Lexus sedans in style and build quality. Although the new ES is the same length as its predecessor, it has a longer wheelbase and wider track, benefitting both interior space and ride and handling qualities. The V6 engine is larger, at 3.5 liters to the previous 3.3, and more powerful, with 272 horsepower, up from 218. A six-speed automatic transmission replaces the old five-speed, and there is no decrease in fuel economy.

I've been driving a new ES350 for the past week, and although it's merely in mid-level trim rather than (decadently) fully-equipped, I'm still spoiled rotten. And enjoying every minute of the experience. Unsurprisingly, it's comfortable, quiet, and refined, but it also has quick acceleration, top-notch brakes and safety systems, and low fuel consumption, with a 25-mpg average for a mix of city and high-speed highway driving. Even better, in opposition to current European trends, its interior control and electronic systems are simple and intuitive to use. With cars like the 2007 ES350, it's no surprise that Lexus has gone from newcomer to class standard in the luxury market in a short time.

APPEARANCE: With its sleek, powerful look and prominent but well-integrated passenger cabin, the 2007 ES350 exemplifies "L-finesse" in size medium. That's Lexus-speak for its current passenger car design language, introduced on the latest IS and GS sport-luxury sedans and refined on the latest version of the LS premium luxury sedan. And the LS is what the ES most resembles. It's toned but not muscle-bound, and the well-raked windshield and near-fastback roofline, plus a well-defined and rising shoulder line, contribute further to its look of refined speed and power. A prominent hood and integrated grille, set lower than the headlights, define it in front as a Lexus. The high trunk line improves both aerodynamic efficiency and luggage space.

COMFORT: Walk up to the ES350, with the SmartAccess fob in your pocket. When you get near any door handle, the car chirps and unlocks. If it's dark, puddle lamps at the bottoms of the outside mirrors light the area around the car doors, and the running lights come on. Premium luxury fare, but standard in the new ES. The front seats are power-adjustable, in 10 parameters. Fabric is the standard seating material, but leather is available, and, as part of the Premium Plus option package my test example was so-equipped. That also meant heated and ventilated front seats, with memory for both, as well as memory for the outside mirrors and power-adjustable (for both tilt and reach) steering wheel. Rain-sensing wipers got a workout during the damp week. The Optitron instruments are bright and easily visible in all lighting, and a useful information display, controlled by a button on the steering wheel, is located in the speedometer. The other key option in my test car was the fifth-generation navigation system. It uses a large, bright LCD touch screen and incorporates a rear backup camera with excellent low-light sensitivity. The interface is refreshingly simple, by hard buttons surrounding the screen and soft buttons on the screen. Reference to a thick manual translated from German is not necessary. The standard audio system is truly multimedia, with playback capability for AM, FM, and optional satellite radio, commercial, MP3, or WMA CDs, a mini-jack for an external music player, and even a cassette deck. The three-inch increase in wheelbase went into rear seat legroom, a welcome addition, and the trunk is commendably large.

SAFETY: The 2007 ES350's protective structure is enhanced by eight standard airbags - dual front, front seat side, full-length side curtain, and dual front knee protection. Rear seat side airbags are available. Brakes are four-wheel antilock disc with antilock, electronic brake assist and brake assist. Traction control and the Vehicle Skid Control system are standard, with ultrasonic parking assist and high-end systems including adaptive front lighting and the "Pre-Collision System" with adaptive radar-based cruise control available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: For a sport experience in a Lexus, see the IS. As ever, the ES is comfort-oriented. This means low interior noise levels, a soft but well-damped calibration of its MacPherson strut front, dual-link strut rear suspension, and a light touch to the controls. Because of its low aerodynamic drag and the design and construction of the chassis, with strategic use of sound-damping materials and even paint, in steady-speed driving only a bit of tire noise is noticeable in the cabin, and that's dependent on the road surface. Add that to the interior comfort and conveniences, and the result is a fine refuge from the day's stress.

PERFORMANCE: With 272 horsepower (at 6200 rpm) and 254 lb-ft of torque (at 4700 rpm), there is no power shortage in the new ES. VVT-i variable cam phasing on both intake and exhaust valves and attention to friction reduction in the engine's design and construction help to broaden the torque spread, improve fuel efficiency, and give it a low ULEV-II EPA emissions rating. Fuel economy and acceleration are also improved by use of a six-speed automatic transmission. For a non-performance car, the ES350 is quite quick, with a 6.8-second 0-60 time. And yes, it's front-wheel drive, but the only time that's noticeable is when all 254 lb-ft of torque are being used under hard acceleration and there is a tug on the steering wheel. Despite testing (and enjoying) that fairly often, I still averaged 25 mpg.

CONCLUSIONS: Lexus ups the ante in the entry-luxury class with its new ES350.

2007 Lexus ES350

Base Price		         $ 33,170
Price As Tested			$ 39,200
Engine Type			aluminum alloy dual overhead cam
			         24-valve V6 with VVT-i
Engine Size			3.5 liters / x cu. in.
Horsepower			272 @ 6200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			254 @ 4700 rpm
Transmission			6-speed electronically-controlled
Wheelbase / Length	                 	109.3 in. / 191.1 in.
Curb Weight			3,580 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		13.2
Fuel Capacity			18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement 	                  91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
				        for optimum performance
Tires				P215/55 VR17 Michelin Energy mxv4 xse
Brakes, front/rear	                	vented disc / solid disc,
				        ABS, EBD, BA, TRAC, VSC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				        independent dual-link strut
Drivetrain			transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		21 / 30 / 25
0 to 60 mph				6.8  sec

Full-size spare tire				$  205
Navigation System - includes:
  Generation 5 navigation system with rear camera,
  Bluetooth¨, and voice activation with
  destination input				$ 2,650
Premium Plus Package - includes:
  perforated leather trimmed interior with memory for
  driver & front passenger seats, outside mirrors,
  power tilt and telescoping steering wheel. Heated 
  and ventilated front seats, driver's power cushion
  extender, rain-sensing wipers			$ 2,480
Delivery charge					$   695