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New Car/Review

1999 LEXUS ES 300

By Tom Hagin

Lexus Full Line factory footage (10:11) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 30,905
Price As Tested                                    $ 35,972
Engine Type      VVT-i* DOHC 24-valve 3.0 Liter V6 w/SMFI**
Engine Size                                 183 cid/2995 cc
Horsepower                                   210 @ 5800 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               220 @ 4400 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  105.1"/70.5"/190.2"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3372 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  18.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                              205/65R15 V-Rated
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                 10 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.31


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            19/26/23
0-60 MPH                                        8.0 Seconds
1/4 mile (E.T.)                       16.0 seconds 87.0 mph
Top speed                                           140 mph
     * Variable valve timing with intelligence
     ** Sequential multi-port  fuel injection

The Lexus ES 300 is one of those cars that people in the auto industry remember. When it was first introduced as a '92 model, it did a great job of authenticating the near-luxury class of cars, luring total-luxury buyers into saving thousands of dollars, while allowing those buyers to maintain their status and prestige.

But its competition grew fast, so when the company introduced its new ES 300 for the '97 model year, it slashed around $3,000 off the price but widened the car's performance and standard features gap with its mechanical cousin, the Toyota Camry.

OUTSIDE - The new ES300 looks as it did when it appeared last year, though the latest model has deeper creases in its hood and a thin chrome strip surrounding the grille. It is sleek and smooth, and boasts a low 0.31 coefficient of drag, which helps it slice cleanly through the air. Compared to the Camry, ES 300 has a more muscular appearance, especially so around the beltline. Body-color bumpers and outside mirrors are expected in the near-luxury category, as are alloy wheels and all-season performance tires.

INSIDE - The interior is where the ES 300 outclasses the Camry. Its dashboard wraps cleanly around the instrument pod and stereo and vent controls. Real wood trim resides where much of its competition uses an artificial product. The front bucket seats are very supportive and comfortable, and powered 10 ways on the driver's side; eight ways on the passenger side. The car is roomy enough for most, though three across in back is tight. A handy pass-through from the trunk to the rear seat does well to haul the occasional long item, but loading the trunk can be something of a chore because of its high lift-over. Standard features include automatic climate control, cruise control, a seven-speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo, extendible sun visors, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, and cellular phone pre- wiring. Our test car came with the Leather Package that added leather upholstery, driver's seat memory and a built-in programmable garage door opener. An optional sliding moonroof was also added on our car.

ON THE ROAD - ES has a V6 engine that gives plenty of smooth, consistent power. Borrowing technology from the new Lexus RX 300 SUV, its 210 horsepower is a 22-horse increase over the original engine, and 10 more than last year. Torque has risen as well, from 203 to 220 pound-feet. It accelerates briskly to speed, and continues pulling well into its upper rpm range. Dual overhead camshafts and 24 valves have always been used for the ES 300, but new this year is variable camshaft timing, which allows it to make 80 percent of its peak torque as low as 1800 rpm. A four-speed automatic transmission is standard, and it features a shift-logic program that automatically changes shift points, depending on whether the car is going uphill or down. And to help get a grip on slippery roads, traction control is also standard.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The ES is built around unit body construction with four-wheel independent suspension. The front and rear suspension is of the MacPherson strut type, while the rear adds dual-links to the equation. Coil springs, anti-roll bars and gas-pressurized tube shocks are also included. It handles very well, with little body roll or tire scrub, and just a hint of understeer. An optional suspension system called Adaptive Variable Suspension, or AVS, offers driver-controlled Soft, Normal or Sport settings. It's a worthwhile option at $620, but a Leather Package is mandatory to get AVS, and it's extra. Another option, a Vehicle Skid Control (VSC), works in tandem with the standard anti-lock braking system (ABS) and the car's computer system to help maintain direction during a skid situation. This type of system has previously been reserved for cars costing much more than the ES 300.

SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags, side-impact airbags, ABS, traction control and side-impact door beams are standard. VSC is optional.

OPTIONS - Leather Package: $1,835; VSC: $550; In-dash six-disc CD changer: $1,080; Power moonroof: $1,000; trunk mat: $65; wheel locks: $42.