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1997 LEXUS ES300

by Tom Hagin


SEE ALSO: Lexus Rover Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 29,900
Price As Tested                                    $ 34,807
Engine Type                            3.0 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 183 cid/2995 cc
Horsepower                                   200 @ 5200 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               214 @ 4400 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  105.1"/70.5"/190.2"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3305 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  18.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     205/65VR15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                 15 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.29


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            19/26/23
0-60 MPH                                          9 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17 seconds @ 85.5 mph
Top-speed                                           135 mph
     * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

The Lexus ES 300 is the company's best-selling vehicle. Its expected sales figures of 40,000 was bested by 4,773 units last year, while the redesigned 1997 model should perform as well or better.

It's now lighter in weight, yet stronger and stiffer. Best of all, its MSRP remains under $30,000, which will no doubt assist those expected sales figures.

OUTSIDE - The ES 300 is longer, wider and taller than before, and the wheelbase has been extended by two inches. The Lexus design team continued the shape of the previous model, although its more pronounced wedge shape and sharper creases are reminiscent of Lexus' flagship LS 400. More attention to aerodynamics has produced a coefficient of drag of 0.29, while expanded use of glass improves outward vision. Its nose has been mildly freshened as well, with a new grille and hood, along with multi-reflector headlamps, which give nearly 20 percent better illumination. Though trunk space has dropped by over a cubic foot, the new bumper-level decklid cutout makes cargo loading much easier. Integrated fog lamps are standard, as are five-spoke alloy wheels, body-color bumpers and outside mirrors.

INSIDE - The ES 300's interior remains luxurious, and four adults can be accommodated in comfort; five on shorter rides. Pleated leather upholstery is optional, but Lexus expects 98 percent of the cars to be sold with hide. There is a bit more legroom than last year's car, especially in the back seat, though hiproom has been compromised somewhat. This is due to increased side-impact protection. New, larger controls for the ventilation system are now easier to operate, while the new high intensity lighting for the main analog instrument cluster is easier to see. A partial list of standard interior features includes automatic climate control, tilt steering, power windows, mirrors, door locks and front seats, as well as keyless entry and a 195-watt AM/FM cassette stereo system. A six-disc, in-dash CD changer is optional.

ON THE ROAD - A 3.0 liter twin-cam V6 engine with 24 valves continues to be the standard powerplant. Its output has increased, however, thanks to an innovative two-way exhaust control system, which reduces back pressure after 2300 rpm. Other contributing factors are reduced internal friction and intake system improvements, which yield an additional 12 horsepower from last year's 188. Its torque figure has risen as well, to 214 lb-ft, which helps off-the-line punch. The powertrain is silky-smooth and extremely quiet, yet powerful and confident. The sole transmission offering is an electronically- controlled four-speed automatic, in which Lexus has done away with the previous model's power/normal control switch. In its place is new computer software logic which adjusts upshift and downshift patterns according to driving behavior and throttle position.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The ES 300 rides on four-wheel independent suspension, which is carried over from the previous model, though retuned this year to provide an even better ride. It's a strut-type suspension front and rear, with coil springs, anti-roll bars and an optional Adaptive Variable Suspension, or AVS. This system relies on the vehicle's microprocessor to sense road conditions, vehicle speed, braking and steering factors. Four-stage electronically variable shock absorbers can be programmed by the driver via a four-position roller knob which gives up to 16 different damping rates. One position is labeled Sport, and as it implies, makes the ride firmer for spirited driving. The Soft position allows the car to soak up bumps better. Its rack-and-pinion steering is now engine-speed sensitive, which gives more consistent and natural feel at all speeds. Stopping duties are handled with disc brakes and an anti-lock system (ABS) at all four corners. Its 60-to-0 mph stopping distance of 140 feet is quite respectable.

SAFETY - Increased side-impact protection and a shoulder belt for the middle rear passenger are new, while dual airbags and ABS remain.

OPTIONS - AVS is $600, while the CD changer is $1,050. Leather seating is $1,650 and a power moonroof costs $1,000.