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2010 Lexus ES 350 Review

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2010 Lexus ES350

SEE ALSO: Lexus Specs, Comparisons and Prices - Lexus Buyers Guide


2010 Lexus ES 350 Review

Luxury, in a car, is about prestige, comfort, convenience, and style. In the automotive world, luxury is segmented, from "near-luxury" pretenders -- non-prestige brands with a dollop of luxury features -- to "entry-luxury" mid-sized or compact, with the right name and an ever-increasing list of comfort and convenience accoutrements, "mid-luxury", larger, more expensive, and even better-equipped, and "premium luxury", large, expensive, and sometimes beyond fully-equipped. Economic reality being what it is, entry-luxury cars are bigger sellers than those above them, and they bring customers who are likely to be upwardly mobile into a manufacturer's domain. So, if entry-luxury cars aren't the most aspirational, they are quite likely the most important for their makers.

Case in point: the Lexus ES 350, Lexus's entry in the entry-luxury segment. Now in its fifth generation, the ES has been tremendously popular in the American market through its various incarnations. It's not exaggeration to call it a category benchmark. It continues to go ever more upscale in style and appointment, while still offering good value for its buyers. With features that were available only on the premium LS not all that long ago either standard or optional, the restyled and revised 2010 ES 350 is less "entry luxury" than "rational luxury".

Revised exterior styling is the most noticeable change, but there are improvements in both form and safety inside as well. Rear-seat side airbags are now standard, as is the Safety Connect telematics system on non-navigation system examples. ESes with navigation get the Lexus Enform telematics package, which includes Safety Connect. The Lexus Memory System allows most electrically-controlled interior systems to be tailored to each driver's preference, And even the standard audio system features satellite radio, iPod® and USB connectivity, and Bluetooth® phone capability. And there's more…

But new features aren't really the star attraction with the ES. That is the car itself. It's solid, and as smooth and quiet on the road as ever. It offers the comforts and conveniences, both traditional and electronic, that today's luxury car buyer wants. Its 272-horsepower V6, matched to a six-speed automatic, gives it the enormous amount of reserve power that is expected of a luxury car, with the capability for quick acceleration when necessary. And decent fuel economy as well, with EPA estimates of 19 city, 27 highway and 20 for my week of mostly non-highway driving. The biggest surprise during that week? The ES is actually enjoyable to drive on the backroads, with a suspension that is very European luxury in calibration. It's relaxing, not soporific, and is a fine example of what a luxury car can and should be.

APPEARANCE: The "little Lexus" has grown up, and is harder than ever to distinguish from its larger and even more upscale sibling LS. Changes to the front and rear make it sleeker than ever, and a bit longer. It has more presence, but is still tastefully understated. The entire front clip is new, with headlights, chrome-trimmed grille, and front bumper shape very much like counterparts on the premium LS. Outside mirrors now incorporate repeater turn signals, and have ground lights that work when the "key" fob is close, a pleasant feature at night. At the rear, the taillights have been subtly restyled.

COMFORT: It's a Lexus, so comfort, precise fit and finish, and attention to detail are expected. No disappointment -- even hidden seams, often ignored even in the entry luxury class, are precisely finished. The anti-glare dark-over-light interior motif, with real wood trim and a horseshoe-shaped center stack, is classic Lexus, as are brightly-illuminated "Optitron" instruments. The "Eco Drive" light, new this year, glows green when you're driving most economically. Also new are standard rain-sensing intermittent wipers. Pretty much everything that could be power-adjustable is, including the steering wheel, which has cruise and auxiliary audio controls. My test car was equipped with the "Ultra Luxury" and "Navigation and Mark Levinson Audio" option packages, which turn an entry-luxury car into a close approximation of a serious luxury car. The Ultra Luxury package upgrades the interior with semi-analine leather with double contrast stitching, a panorama glass roof, wood trim on the steering wheel and shift knob, a power rear sunshade, a real spare tire, and adaptive HID headlights. The nav/Levinson package has Lexus's upgraded nav system, now hard disk-based, enhanced Bluetooth® connectivity, a backup camera, the excellent Mark Levinson audio system with AM/FM/XM/CD/and auxiliary/iPod input (XM trial with traffic and weather (convenient!) and stocks and sports), and Lexus Enform with Safety Connect, with automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location tracking, and cellular-based voice and web assistance. The two packages together are an expensive $7,000-plus, but do turn the "lowly" ES into a serious contemporary luxury car.

SAFETY: A reinforced passenger compartment and front and rear sections designed and built to control deformation and energy in the event of a crash are supplemented by 10 airbags - dual front, dual front knee, front and outboard rear side, and full-length head curtains. The optional "Pre-Collision System" fitted to my test car uses data from a radar-based cruise control system to retract seat belts, primes the Brake Assist system for quicker brake activation, and calls on the Active Braking system to apply the brakes automatically if the driver fails to heed the warning. I'll let someone else test that…

RIDE AND HANDLING: Yes, it's comfortable -- superbly, and nothing wrong with that at all! -- but the ES responds to steering inputs quickly and accurately, with only minor body motion at sane road speeds. A rigid unibody structure allows the fully-independent MacPherson strut/multilink suspension to be tuned moderately, for comfort, yet responsively. Clean aerodynamics and a low 0.28 coefficient of drag keep wind noise down and let the car ignore head, tail, and cross winds. Strong disc brakes stop quickly, and the standard Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) system incorporates traction control, anti-lock braking, brake assist, and electronic brake-force distribution systems.

PERFORMANCE: With 272 horsepower (at 6200 rpm) and 254 lb-ft of torque (at 4700 rpm), the ES 350's namesake dual overhead cam, aluminum alloy 3.5-liter V6 is nearly as powerful as the original LS 400's V8. Despite the relatively high power and torque peaks, there's plenty of power available lower, in the commonly-used rev range, thanks to the "Dual VVT-i" variable cam phasing system, which optimizes both intake and exhaust timing and overlap for maximum efficiency and minimum emissions at all speeds. A six-speed automatic transmission further improves both efficiency and acceleration. Quick power is always available, so passing and merging are non-issues. Electronic control in the transmission adapts shifting strategy to the driver's driving inputs, with manual mode a mostly-unnecessary choice.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2010 Lexus ES 350 raises the bar in the entry luxury class.

2010 Lexus ES350

Base Price			$ 34,800
Price As Tested			$ 44,848
Engine Type			dohc 24-valve aluminum alloy V6 with
				 VVT-i variable cam phasing
				 on all camshafts
Engine Size			3.5 liters / 211 cu. in.
Horsepower			272 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			254 @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic with manual-shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		109.3 in. / 191.7 in.
Curb Weight			3,605 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		13.3
Fuel Capacity			18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P215/55R17 93V 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		19 / 27 / 20
0 to 60 mph				6.8  sec

Lexus Pre-Collision System and
  Dynamic Radar Cruise Control				$ 1,500
Ultra-Luxury Package - includes:
  perforated semi-analine leather trim interior
  with double contrasting stitching, front
  passenger seat memory, wood and leather
  steering wheel & shift knob, Panorama glass
  roof, heated & ventilated front seats, high-
  intensity discharge (HID) headlamps with
  dual-swivel Adaptive Front Lighting System
  (AFS), power rear sunshade, driver's seat
  power cushion extender, 17" 10-spoke
  liquid graphite finish alloy wheels with
  full-size spare tire					$ 3,535
Navigation & Mark Levinson Premium Audio
 Package - includes:
  Mark Levinson premium audio with 14 speakers
  & in-dash 6-disc DVD/CD changer, hard disc-
  drive navigation system with backup camera,
  Lexus Enform with Destination Assist and
  eDestination (includes 1-year trial subscription),
  Lexus Insider, Voice Command, XM Nav Traffic,
  XM Nav Weather, and XM Sports & Stocks
  (includes 90-day trial subscription)			$ 4,065
Trunk Mat						$    73
Delivery and Processing					$   875

SEE ALSO: Lexus Specs, Comparisons and Prices - Lexus Buyers Guide