2015 Lexus ES 350 Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
Lexus ES 350 is still a benchmark in the entry-luxury class
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Lexus Buyers Guide
Lexus' ES has been a benchmark in the entry-luxury class since shortly after its debut in model year 1990. Introduction of the IS in 2000 as the sport-oriented entry-level Lexus allowed the ES to further develop in a luxury direction. The current, sixth-generation, ES dates to 2013, at which time it switched from being based on the Toyota Camry platform to using the longer Avalon as a base, all the better for rear-seat passenger space. The 2013 ES was one of the first Lexus models to adopt the "spindle" grille, and saw the first ES hybrid in the form of the ES 300h. And of course it had and continues to have the expected levels of comfort, convenience, safety, and connectivity expected in a contemporary luxury car, and then some. The theme is flagship luxury in an entry-luxury sedan.
Changes since 2013 have been few, and few were needed. Last year saw LED foglamps, available bamboo interior trim, and "NuLuxe" synthetic "for customers who do not prefer leather". Vegan leather, a new spin on leatherette… It's perforated for better ventilation this year, and real leather is available. Also new for 2015 is an upgraded audio system with a seven-inch display screen that incorporates a backup monitor, plus Bluetooth® connectivity and HD radio with iTunes® tagging. The trackball-like remote touch controller is the interface.
Power for the ES 350 is supplied by the namesake 3.5-liter V6, with 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque reaching the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. A soft but well-damped suspension and the usual Lexus attention to detail in design and soundproofing mean a smooth, quiet, relaxing experience on the road. But there is more awareness of road conditions than in earlier iterations, if pleasantly muted. In that way, the ES is one of the last luxury sedans to give what was once the quintessentially American luxury car experience -- a comfortably and quiet refuge from life's worries outside of the car.
The ES 350 glides smoothly and effortlessly down the road, has plenty of reserve power for quick onramp merges, and is surprisingly competent over the road. And for fuel consumption, returns low 20s around town and high 20s to low 30s on the open road for a 24-mpg average during my week. There's plenty of space inside, and all the comforts of home and then some. With four people aboard, everyone should have more than adequate space unless some are NBA or NFL first-round draft picks. With all of the expected amenities, conveniences, and safety equipment either standard or optionally available, the Lexus ES 350 is a fine example of a luxury automobile.
APPEARANCE: Even with its sharply-raked windshield and rear window, the ES 350 still has the profile of a sedan and does not attempt to impersonate a coupe. The shape is familiar, if a bit more toned and athletic than previous examples. Compared to newer Lexus designs, the ES's spindle grille is a bit subtler, really just a joining of the upper and lower sections by means of an hourglass of chrome trim, with the bumper bar just below the center. L-shaped LED running lights fit well into the design. There is a notable lack of busyness to the ES's styling, and it should look fresh even after it's paid off.
COMFORT: Elegant design, class-standard materials and fit and finish, and logical simplicity to the controls are expected from Lexus. The ES 350 will not disappoint. Yes, some trim is plastic, not aluminum. Since my test car was equipped with the Premium Package of options, not the Luxury Package, seating material was NuLuxe, not leather. I couldn't tell the difference. Premium Package does mean bamboo trim, power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel (further upgraded here with bamboo and wood trim), and memory settings for the driver's seat, steering wheel, and outside mirrors. The standard audio system was fine; for those who want more there is of course a Mark Levinson® 835-watt surround sound system available. The car had the navigation system. The "Remote Touch Controller" is a reasonable method of controlling the myriad systems and choices of the cabin electronics, most of which are logically designed and do not need lengthy consultation with the manual for use.
Basic car functions are excellent, as expected. Front seat comfort is top-notch, and the electroluminescent Optitron® gauges are easily visible in all lighting, and the main controls, and even electronic systems, are easy to use. Compared to the previous generation, or many competitors, the rear seat is spacious. The outboard positions are only moderately contoured and the center tunnel is relatively small, so three adults can fit. Console and floor vents ensure warm toes or cool bodies as needed. The trunk is usefully large, with a space-saver spare under its floor.
SAFETY: Extensive use of high tensile strength steel reduces weight and increases rigidity. Passengers are further protected by a full complement of airbags including driver and front passenger knee bags. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes also have Brake Assist (BA) and Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD). Traction and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) are standard, as is Safety Connect® and Smart Stop Technology. A blind spot monitoring system with cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning system, park assist, and the Lexus Pre-Collision System (PCS) with dynamic radar cruise control are available.
RIDE AND HANDLING: No longer is the ES 350 a car for the tastes of an older generation. Increased rigidity plus a longer wheelbase make a better base for the fully-independent strut-type suspension, which is tuned moderately but with the correct matching of spring and shock damping rates, in the manner of the best European luxury cars. It's now a car to actively drive, not merely operate, although weight transfer due to the suspension calibration will limit absolute cornering ability -- not a problem for the ES customer, and Lexus intenders looking for that have the IS or new RC. Better handling and cornering ability here mean a better chance of avoiding trouble. Sport mode doesn't change damping but does reduce assist for the electrically-assisted power steering for a more appropriate steering effort. The ES is pleasant on a twisty country road and comfortable on the highway or in city traffic.
PERFORMANCE: The 350's namesake 3.5-liter V6 is smooth and quiet, with a bit of engine music under hard throttle. The six-speed automatic works very well in Drive, with Sport mode a bit better on tight secondary roads and manual shifting rarely needed. It makes 268 horsepower at 6200 rpm, with torque peaking at 248 lb-ft at 4700 rpm. For fuel economy, the transmission logic keeps it well below those peaks except under hard acceleration, and there is plenty of low-end torque for everyday driving. A 0-60 time of just over seven seconds means that short highway onramps will not be hazardous, and if the safest way out of trouble is quick acceleration, trouble can be avoided. EPA mileage estimates are 21 city, 31 highway, 24 combined, so it's thirsty only in comparison to the hybrid 300h's 40/39/39. And 24 was what I actually got after my week with the car, and not by driving like I was on the EPA test cycle. Long-term mileage (via the driver information system) hinted at more highway travel, at 27.7 mpg.
CONCLUSIONS: The Lexus ES 350 is still a benchmark in the entry-luxury class.
2015 Lexus ES 350
Base Price $ 37,550
Price As Tested $ 43,660
Engine Type 24-valve DOHC aluminum alloy V6 with VVT-i variable cam phasing and valve lift
Engine Size 3.5 liters / 213 cu. in.
Horsepower 268 @ 6200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 248 @ 4700 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length 111.0 in. / 192.7 in.
Curb Weight 3549 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 13.3
Fuel Capacity 17.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P215/55R17 93V m+s Bridgestone Turanza EL400
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS. EBD. BA, TRAC, VSA 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 / 31 / 24
0 to 60 mph 7.1 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert $ 500
High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps with DRL $ 565
Heated and Ventilated Front Seats $ 640
Hard Disk Drive Navigation System with Backup Camera, 8" VGA Screen, Voice Command, Single DVD/CD Player, Remote Touch Controller, Lexus Enform Destination Assist (includes 1-year trial subscription), App Suite $ 1,795
Intuitive Parking Assist $ 500
Premium Package -- includes: Lexus Memory System for driver's seat, outside mirrors, steering wheel, power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, Bamboo Wood interior trim, Remote Keyless Entry- linked memory $ 730
Rain-Sensing Wipers with Deicer $ 155
Bamboo and Leather-Trimmed Steering Wheel $ 300
Delivery Charge $ 925