By on March 17, 2012

2013 will bring a new version of the Lexus ES, and we’ve already seen its new mug from photographers in China. Yet even with the new ES in the wings, Lexus is on track to sell 40,000 “lame duck” models, making it the most popular Lexus car and the second most popular Lexus vehicle after the RX350. As a goodbye to the “Lexus Camry,” we took one for a road trip from Northern California to Southern California – a sort of farewell to an important but sometimes misunderstood luxury car.

Last time we took a look at the ES350 was back in 2006, when Sajeev captained the all-new fifth generation ES350 for a week. Since then, the ES350 has had a mild face-lift with a revised grille, new tail lights and some new wheels. The overall proportions are all still slab-sided and plain, and the ES350 remains true to the Lexus mission statement: elegant and reserved. While the form is unlikely to ignite any serious passion, it is undeniably attractive, even when you figure in the slightly droopy nose (pictured above). Back in 2006 the stylish (but similarly boring) new LaCrosse didn’t exist yet, however in typical GM fashion the 2012 Buick merely matches rather than exceeds the ES350, making the volume Lexus a sound choice on aesthetics. Thankfully there are no “ventiports” to be found on the ES.

Stepping inside the ES350, it’s obvious why the ES sells well. While the styling and color choices may not be to everyone’s liking, Lexus’ attention to detail is class-leading, from perfect seams to perfect color matching on all the buttons and trim parts.  All ES models are equipped with your choice of birds eye maple or the reddish “brown walnut”  trim our tester was fitted with. If you believe true luxury comes with real dead treess inside, then the Lexus easily trumps the Acura and Buick with their plastic substitute. Taking the luxury feel up a notch, Lexus would be happy to sell you semi-aniline leather and a wood/leather steering wheel. We had the opportunity to take the ES350 for a 700-mile round-trip journey to Los Angeles, where it proved a comfortable highway cruiser with supportive seats, although I wished the range of adjustment was greater, as some drivers may not be able to adjust them to their liking. Should you need to haul the kiddos with you, it is possible to squeeze two rear facing child seats and a booster seat in the back. If your rear-seat occupants are adults, you should know that although the ES350 is a fairly wide vehicle, the thicker front seats and rear seat angles compared to its Camry cousin, with less room than the Acura TL, Hyundai Azera, Buick LaCrosse and Lincoln MKZ. The other side of the legroom-coin? Front seats that are thickly padded and comfortable. Expect 2013 to pay homage to the latest trend of faux-stitched dashboards, which is one area where the rubbery dash of the ES350 takes a middle-of-the-pack ranking.

Lexus starts the ES350 off with a standard 8-speaker sound system with in-dash 6 CD changer, XM Radio, and Bluetooth and iPod/USB interfaces. Jumping up to the $2,465 navigation package gets you a backup camera, XM data services (traffic, weather and stock quotes) and the OnStar-like Safety Connect system. The base system is one of the better entry units in this segment providing well-balanced audio and enough bass to satisfy most shoppers. Should you desire more, the $4,065 Mark Levinson sound system is available which combines the same nav system with a 14-speaker 7.1-channel audio system and a 6-disc DVD changer. iPod integration is as good as any entry in this segment save the superior SYNC systems from Ford and Lincoln. Unless Lexus has something new up their sleeve, don’t look to 2013 for major improvements as the latest Lexus models have shown little is changing with infotainment system software except for their new joystick-like controller, which I find difficult to use, and “Entune” smartphone app integration. I doubt the ES customer base cares about Bing searches and Pandora streaming (especially with draconian cellular data throttling in the USA).

People that dislike the ES or the Lexus brand usually resort to one phrase: “It’s just a fancy Toyota.” The ES350 shares essentially no touch-points or sheetmetal with the Camry (unlike the Lincoln MKZ and Ford Fusion), but they do share a drivetrain. The ES350 uses Toyota’s ubiquitous 2GR-FE 3.5L V6 engine, found in everything from the Camry to the Lotus Evora. While the engine isn’t as flashy as its direct injection cousin found in the IS350 and GS350, its 268HP and 248lb-ft of torque are about all you’d want in a front driver, it drinks regular 87 octane gasoline, and the lack of DI makes the engine quieter at idle than the DI engine in the new GS. Sending the power to the ground is the same 6-speed automatic the Camry uses with slightly reprogrammed shift points. The extra weight of the ES350′s considerable sound-deadening effort and luxury trappings as well as a slightly higher coefficient of drag are the reasons why the ES350 takes a 1MPG toll compared to the Camry. The EPA rates it at 19 city, 28 highway and 22 combined. During our 1,321 miles with the ES350 in mixed driving and plenty of high-speed I-5 travel we averaged a respectable 27MPG, only 2.9MPG less than the considerably less powerful LaCrosse eAssist in our tests, and within 1MPG of the direct competition. Before you consider this a win for the ES350, recall that the Buick and TL offer 300HP from their powerplants.

When the going gets twisty, those interested in twisting around the apex rather than getting twisted around a tree off the side of the cliff should probably buy the Acura TL. If floating along the road as if wrapped in a leather cocoon is more your style, the ES350 is the car for you. If you needed proof of the ES350′s mission, it can be found in the narrow and tall 215/55 tires selected for their comfortable ride and low road noise. In comparison, the TL’s standard 245 rubber yields far superior grip, and even the LaCrosse with it’s 235/50R18s could be described as a corner carver in comparison, yet that’s not the ES350′s mission. The light steering, eagerness to return to center, low road noise and soft suspension make the ES350 the car you want to take on a long American road trip, not a hot lap ’round the ‘ring.

Our tester was a Swansong Edition “Touring Edition” ES which for $110 over the base price adds some rich-looking saddle colored leather and some very red-looking maple trim. With the Touring Edition, you also have to select the $2,465 navigation system with backup camera, XM traffic and Lexus’ Enform system. Our car was also equipped with heated and ventilated seats for $640, a full-size spare with matching wheel for $205, the wood/leather steering wheel and shifter for $330 and a trunk mat for $105 bringing our out-the-door total; to $41,445 after an $875 destination fee. Adjusting for features and the lack of real-tree in the LaCrosse, the prices are fairly similar.

As the ES’s sales record has proved, I’m not alone in liking what many unfairly call a gilded Camry. While it’s clear that after almost 5 years of the competition catching up, the ES350 is no longer the clear-cut leader in this segment, it is never the less a firm competitor in its final year of sales. The ES350 may not be as exciting as an Acura, but with a solid brand reputation and dealers known to coddle shoppers, the ES350 will likely continue its success into the next generation.

Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Statistics as tested

0-30MPH: 2.8 Seconds

0-60MPH: 6.4 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.8 Seconds @ 96MPH

Average economy: 27MPG over 1,321 miles

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78 Comments on “Review: 2012 Lexus ES350...”


  • avatar
    James2

    I’ve ridden in my parents’ ES countless times and never have I once thought this was a luxury car. Maybe it’s HNL’s roads, but it is noisy and the ride is not all that smooth. I also find the reddish “wood” weird-looking; I would prefer to look at anonymous plastic.

    • 0 avatar
      4LiterLexus

      I haven’t yet driven a current-gen ES, but the wood trim struck me as one of its strong suits when I sat in the car at the Philly auto show. The Lacrosse/Regal had more modern interiors with comparable switchgear, but the lack of real wood disappointed me. If there’s one interior detail Lexus usually gets right, it’s providing an interesting wood color palette, and this car is not an exception.

      I’m also somewhat surprised by the 0-60 time. 6.4 seconds makes it faster than an NA Supra or an SC400…and this from a sedan that’s far from the quickest in its class and is about to be redesigned. That’s modern engine tech for you, I suppose.

      It’s that last fact, that the new ES is just around the corner, that would make me hesitate to recommend the 2012. Lexus did an amazing job on the interior materials and ergonomics of the new GS, so the new ES should follow suit.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        As I posted down below, the time does not match Lexus’ own print material, or on the website, nor the testing observed by Inside Line. Lexus reports 7.0 and Edmunds got 6.9 seconds.

        Edmunds did get 6.5 seconds using a 12″ rolling start, but that isn’t a true “zero” to 60 test as the first 12 inches of the roll are ignored. Ignoring the initial launch makes a huge difference in times. C&D also got a similar time using an 18″ rolling start.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        OK, here’s Motor Trend’s test of a 2009:
        http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/sedans/112_0906_2009_lexus_es_350_test/

        0-60 in 6.5 and 14.9 sec 1/4 mile at 96mph. But I’m sure they did something wrong too, eh? Something that makes you believe Lexus’ press materials rather than an on-the-ground test?

        You’re picking a bizarre battle here. Of all the things to criticize about an ES, the powertrain isn’t one of them. Handling? Sure. Styling? Sure. Cost? Sure. Powertrain? Nope.

        And ILs rolling start usually results in a slower 0-60 on most cars. Why the Lexus is faster with it I don’t know.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Car and Driver logged a 6.2 sec 0-60 start. Their 5-60 mph rolling start was 6.4

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Rolling start times ignore the first 12 to 18 inches so that wheel spin is eliminated from the equation on launch (and if traction control can’t be fully disabled eliminating the impact of electronic nannies).

        Do a 10 second Google search and educate yourself. Motor Trend uses a 12″ rolling start, Car & Driver an 18″.

        A 5 to 60 MPH run is not a “rolling start” test but a different standard.

        Not that any of this REALLY matters but your basically arguing against Physics 101. Maybe you won’t argue with simple, real world math using simple rules of physics.

        According to Lexus, the ES350 weighs 3,580 pounds. It has an 18.5 gallon gas tank. Gas weighs about 6-1/2 pounds a gallon. So lets say a test optimized load of 5 gallons. 150 pounds for a driver, and we’ll assume no added weight for test equipment.

        3,762 pounds of weight motivated by 268 HP through the front wheels at sea level yields an estimated 0 to 60 time of…

        7.04 seconds. Just like Lexus claims.

        Think the calculator is biased? Well I was curious. So I plugged in the number for a G8 GT. 364 HP 4177 pounds of car which includes the five gallons of gas and a 150 pound driver, RWD and the 0 to 60 time was…

        5.50 seconds, just like what many have observed in true 0 to 60 testing.

        One more car. The 2012 V6 Mustang weighs in a 3,447 pounds, 3629 pounds with a driver and five gallons of gas and 305 HP. Calculator says? 0 to 60 in 5.75 seconds, right in line with observed testing.

        268 HP through an automatic transmission moving the front wheels can’t motivate 3,762 pounds to 60 in 6.2 seconds from a stand still without some additional assistance (going down hill or a rolling start). You will only go faster by increasing horsepower, reducing weight, or doing a rolling start. Shenningans.

        You cannot change the laws of physics and I would call foul on any test on any car with this wide of a margin against reality.

        http://www.060calculator.com/

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Alright, APaGttH, fair enough, this is your crusade right now and you’ll fight it to the last breath. If your argument is that roll-out artificially reduces 0-60 times, you’re right. But if you are comparing acceleration tests within the same methodology, this is a moot point. I’m not interested in absolute values, I’m interested in relative ones. That will tell you the faster vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        GettinUpThere

        As someone that drives a new Ram 3500 as a company vehicle (manager on pipeline work), and a Corvette Stingray (C3) for fun, I like many things about my ES350. I get beat up all week in the truck, the Vette actually rides great, compared to the Ram. I dont know what the perfect vehicle is. I don’t care that the Vette isn’t as good as a brand new one. I bought it because I always liked the body style and even if I’ve got to lay on the floor to change the back 2 plugs in both sides, its ok. Any time I spend with it, is nice & relaxing. I look at suppliers & try to decide which item I ‘need’ next.
        The truck is a necessity to drive off-road for miles & miles at a time.
        The ES is pleasing to my eye. I love the dependable, hassle-free operation, the excellent service dept for routine maintenance. I like the ride, even though the cushion annoys others. I could’ve bought another luxury brand. German car maintenance is nuts. A friend paid $1200 for a brake job on her fairly new Mercedes. My youngest daughter will start driving any day, & I wanted a dependable ‘Dad car’ to keep her embarrassed. It has plenty of zip, when I need to pass and handles well enough that the Interstate speeds aren’t scary. I dont expect it to hang in corners like my Vette. I like to get the Corvette waves from others in theirs and pre-teen kids even. That’s how ALL motorcyclists used to behave. I’ve owned many. It didn’t matter what brand you rode. You were out for a nice ride, met someone else doing the same thing and just waved to say ‘Hey, its great. Have fun!’ Now some attitude is present. Some friends & I stopped at a little bar for lunch on a Sunday. We all rode Japanese muscle bikes but were just cruising. Some owners of other brands with 2 cylinders, left after we came in. When we went to leave, my bike didn’t start immediately, like it should. A few revolutions, I looked down & noticed 2 spark plug wires were switched. I’ve been part of troubleshooting teams for competition and enjoy working on mechanical problems, so it was about 10 seconds from the initial attempt at starting, to success. It was a sad statement about/from those other guys. Why?
        I hope ES owners don’t start that waving.
        Some truck lovers can be rabid about their choices. I’ve had all the big 3 & can appreciate something about each. In my lifetime, I’ve lost track of how many cars I’ve owned. Somewhere around 50. They come & go. I love driving in all weather. My dream garage would include luxury car, sports car, SUV (for when EVERYONE is going & pulling toys), a muscle car or 2 from my youth. Dont box yourselves into a corner on vehicle choices & likes. Its a fantastic machine that offers FREEDOM in every drive.

    • 0 avatar
      PintoFan

      It doesn’t feel like a luxury car because it isn’t one. It’s the highest Camry trim level.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        But the sheet metal and touch points are all different, the story says so. It’s not a Camry. Just the engine and transmission. Wait a minute…

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        That’s not a problem if it is a great engine and transmission. I’ve heard nary a complaint or reservation in any reviews I’ve read. Instead of viewing it as a Camry powertrain in a Lexus, perhaps we should be thinking Lexus powertrain in a Camry.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Wow, the Lexus apologists are out in force. Nothing to see here, despite plunging sales.

        From a refinement, efficiency, horsepower, and torque stand point the Toyota 3.5 V6 is getting dated. It’s a great engine – the Series III GM L67 was a great engine too but it still was a boat anchor compared to the competition.

        Hyundai and Kia gets more HP and torque out of a 4-cylinder turbo, and better MPG – but if we want to go a bit fairer in comparison.

        The Lexus ES 3.5, gives you 268 HP and 18/28 MPG.

        The Chrysler 300 3.6 gives 292 HP and provides 19/31 MPG. More HP, better MPG.

        The Buick LaCrosse FWD 3.6 gives 302 HP and provides 17/27 MPG.

        The Hyundai Genesis RWD 3.8 V6 gives 333 HP and provides 18/28 MPG Admittedly 3/10 of a liter more displacement, but equal MPG and almost SEVENTY more HP.

        The Acura TL with a 3.5L V6 produces 280 HP and gives 20/29 MPG. More HP, better MPG.

        Only the utterly neglected Lincoln MKZ has less HP, 263 out of a 3.5L V6 and 17/27 MPG.

        Toyota needs to up their V6 engine game because they are falling behind, even the Americans are ahead. Meanwhile the Germans are moving to high output 4-cylinder with forced induction producing strong V6 power.

        Old = reliable. Reliable is good, but it doesn’t make it top of the class with other offerings coming up from all sides.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re getting a bit ridiculous with these hp figures. Ask your local Lexus dealer how many sales they have lost when a customer found that the ES can “only” run a 14.x quarter.

      • 0 avatar
        Volt 230

        Buy a Camry XLE V6 and save your money for a nice trip, plus you will save $$ on services as well, all Lexus services are almost double the cost of a similar Camry

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        APaGttH,

        Apologist? I guess. But you’ve got a chip on your shoulder the size of Delaware. Inexplicable given the milquetoast mission of this car.

        If you want a Lexus with a more powerful version of the 3.5, see the new GS. 300 hp and 0-60 in the upper 5 second range. Who the hell buys an ES350 for a sub-6 second 0-60 time?

        HP doesn’t always translate into acceleration. That LaCrosse with the 3.6 and 302 hp? Slower than the ES in every acceleration metric: 0-60, 5-60, quarter mile trap, and 30-50 & 50-70 passing times in the Car and Driver comparo. And the 3.8 Genesis? Only 0.2 quicker to 60, the same quarter mile, slower 50-70 pass. And in the C&D test, the ES got 2 mpg better than the Genesis, LaCrosse, and Taurus. I’m sure other publications will get differing results, but the differences here are a molehill you are making into a mountain.

        You know, I’m not a big ES fan, but this kind of logic and grasping-at-straws attack is irritating, regardless of the car. Save me the effort of deciphering and just tell me what your problem with this brand & model is.

    • 0 avatar
      56BelAire

      I’m with you James on the red wood. Just gags me. Doesn’t work with the camel/saddle color leather and charcoal plastic and carpets. IMO.

  • avatar
    genuineleather

    My grandmother owns one of these. In three years of ownership, it’s racked up all of 7,000 miles and has never gone farther from home than the local Talbots.

    I would NEVER choose such a car: the front seat is cramped for people above 6ft, the driving dynamics are blah, and the visibility all around is surprisingly poor given the car’s target market (read: old).

    For her, though, it’s perfect.

  • avatar
    We2r1

    Jebus even when the review is about a Toyota this site never misses a chance to slam a GM car.

    It’s becoming a bit boring guys.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Fith generation ES? Does that include the rebadged Camry aka ES250?

    The Camexus doesn’t have back seat because it’s based off the lower model Toyota Camry. All the cars compared in this test have grown larger.

    http://www.caranddriver.com/comparisons/buick-lacrosse-vs-ford-taurus-hyundai-genesis-lexus-es350-comparison-tests

    Or even a two car comparison would take the anti-American bias out of the ttac’s staff.

    http://www.insideline.com/lexus/es-350/2009/2010-buick-lacrosse-vs-2009-lexus-es-350-comparison-test-and-video.html

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      Why does everyone think reviewers have some massive overarching bias? What do they have to be biased about?

      You think they got into auto reviewing to promote certain vehicles? You think TTAC controls the advertising they get?

      Sure – every car person ever has their likes and dislikes. Big deal. But the idea that TTAC systematically is pushing certain vehicles is just ridiculous.

      I think the commentators who complain about bias usually need to look in the mirror. They are usually the ones with the agenda.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        imag – +1. Both Alex and Mike (along with the other car reviewers) give fair and detailed reviews that I appreciate. I don`t detect any bias from them.

      • 0 avatar
        PintoFan

        There are some TTAC writers who wear bias on their sleeve like a badge of honor, but Alex isn’t one of them.

      • 0 avatar
        MrGreenMan

        American cars, on the whole, really sucked for a good stretch, at least until the late 90s, when compared to what else was on offer from Japan. Telling the truth then was called bias.

        American cars are a whole lot better now, and it becomes hard to tell if it’s the condition of having been beaten so long that the domestic supporter feels like he’s always under attack, or the lazy journalist who passes judgment on a 2012 Buick LaCross because he hated the 1998 Pontiac Bonneville, and reviews it as the Bonneville.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “I think the commentators who complain about bias usually need to look in the mirror. They are usually the ones with the agenda.”

        Pretty much. It’s especially true in the case of the poster to whom you replied.

        Look for Norm’s handle on this website, and virtually all of his commentary is directed against Toyota. He’s a one-trick pony, and the nag that he rode in on could use some rest.

      • 0 avatar
        rentonben

        I’ll be blunt – because of TTAC, I was able to buy a Buick Regal without a test drive. I agreed to buy the car without even sitting it it.

        I knew it was the *perfect* car for me because all the TTAC reviews about were transparent, communicative, and informative. Sure, there was an anti-GM bias about the car, but the authors of the various reviews were forthright in their concerns.

        Just like this review about this bloated Camery – if you want a blinged out Camery, then this review tells you about the pro/con and lets you make an informed decision.

        NB: I’m st. patricks day drunk so sorry for the sh!tty writing.

      • 0 avatar
        carbiz

        In its most literal definition, I’d venture to say that the vast majority of the auto media is biased. Partially, that is human nature. If you were forced at gunpoint to drive your mother’s 1981 Citation, even as it fell apart before your very eyes, then you’d definitely grow up with a certain ‘impression’ of GM, based on your parents experience.
        TTAC is not one of the worst offenders, but then I generally haunt blog sites and web-based media not necessarily for their articles or editorials, but to guage (British spelling, thanks) the mood of the polarized public – and who knows, occasionally, some real truth spawns from a debate between the readers.
        I readily admit I am biased. I don’t read ANY articles about BMW, Audi or Mercedes, unless it is to look up the price and have a good chuckle. That ‘bias’ dates back to 1981 when I was a car jockey at a luxury hotel and got to drive everything from the Camargue to the K-car. The German cars did not impress me. Lincolns and Rolls Royces were dangerous to drive the way we did in the underground parking garage. The Cadillacs of the day (the downsized ones, that is) were just right. I set out to read articles about Japan Inc and Korea Inc, but usually by half-way through, I am foaming at the mouth, so I usually don’t end up finishing them.
        These biases no doubt originated from my father being a Mopar fan in the ’60s and from his owning a B&A tire and gas station, which resulted in our rural yard being adorned with a dozen or so finned and chromed (derelict) beauties. Or maybe my biases evolved from a sense of fair play: the media harps about the Cimarron today (even though much of the media of the day praised the vehicle!) as being a rebadged Cavalier, yet when the ES is quite clearly a Camry with fish eyes and leather, the media acquiesces and goes along with Toyota’s press releases.
        Since fair trade is not in Japan or Korea’s lingo, a vehicle from either country will never grace any driveway of mine.
        As far as media bias goes, you ought to try living up here: the absolute garbage that the Toronto Star has published over the years borders on propaganda. Their abuse of the revamped 2005 Grand Prix was so incredibly bone-headed, that Bob Lutz challenged the Wheels section writers to a duel in Detroit. The Star brought the new Maxima. The Grand Prix embarrassed the Nissan, along with Jim Kenzie and Laurence Yap,both of whom wrote mea culpas afterward. (Laurence carefully allowed that ‘sometimes’ the media goes into vehicle tests with a pre-conceived notion of the vehicle. Really?

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Norm,
      You’re being selective. IL rated the LaCrosse above the ES350, but the C&D comparison you also cite rated the ES above the LaCrosse, and the LaCrosse placed 3rd out of 4, just ahead of the Taurus. The Korean won first. So a 2 car comparo may take the anti-American bias out of TTAC, but a 4 car one apparently won’t.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I ride in a friend’s 2005 ES350 quite ofetn. It’s a very nice car with all the amenities mentioned above. I like real wood used instead of plasic, but I have no love for leather seats at all, no matter what vehicle they appear in – I’m not a luxury car fan, just a plain old Chevy/Ford/Chrysler-type guy, but I LOVE good A/C when it’s warm! The in-dash GPS is cool, too.

    Nice write-up just the same.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    I hate this car, I would never buy one.

    But I can see why anyone who doesnt care about cars would. The price not withstanding, it is probably the most perfect car for people who don’t care about cars. Luxurious, safe, reliable, decent performance, even decent fuel economy. You just drive it, you dont have to think about anything. It isnt even bad looking, in person, especially with the optional larger wheels I find myself admiring them. It is priced above the average buyer’s means, but for regular people who can afford the payment (I am sure most of these are leased anyways), it is hard to fault it.

    • 0 avatar
      Lokki

      +1
      “This is a car for people who don’t care about cars”. However, that is a plus not a negative. The Lexus will start every time and drive quietly away. You’ll be relaxed when arrive, and you won’t have thought about the car once: nothing will have annoyed you or even required your attention.

      As for those who call it a fancy Camry, you’re right and you’re wrong. The vehicle is (other than being slightly restyled and plusher) isn’t -that- much different. However, the ownership and dealership experience is different. You start with a better warranty which is hassle free. You’ll have a service advisor who doesn’t act like a grocery store cashier. You’ll get a loaner car to drive to the office. The ownership experience is just like driving the car – nothing will annoy you and little will require your attention. This is worth money. You are paying for this service in the original price of the car but you get what you pay for.

      BMW also does this, and they do it well. The difference is that with Lexus you can never remember the name of your personal service advisor because you never see them, while with my BMW I know the names of all her children.

  • avatar
    mike978

    Good review, although the statement “Back in 2006 the stylish (but similarly boring) new LaCrosse didn’t exist yet, however in typical GM fashion the 2012 Buick merely matches rather than exceeds the ES350, making the volume Lexus a sound choice on aesthetics.” is debatable since most reviews, including TTAC’s own Mike Karesh, see, to think the LaCrosse is better looking. The ES is certainly inoffensive so it is a safe choice for aesthetics but it doesn`t set the standard.

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      Debatable? Looks are subjective. Personally, I think the high belt line and front-drive proportions make the LaCrosse look awkward; that styling with a longer hood and larger greenhouse could be pretty stunning.

      Front drive, entry-premium big cars are inherently unexciting. Neither the LaCrosse or the ES350 are an exception.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Oh, I disagree with you. I really like what Buick has done with their entire lineup. No matter what one thinks of GM (I like them), the cars they are building do appeal to me for the most part.

        Buick is most likely the closest I would come to owning what might be considered “Luxury”, whether they are or not.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Oh I knew the LaCrosse and “high belt line” canard would come into this discussion.

        I just finished a three week business trip. My rental sleds included:

        2012 Toyota Camry L
        2012 Dodge Charger
        2012 Buick LaCrosse (Luxury I)
        2012 Kia Optima

        High belt line? Have you drive all four of the above. The LaCrosse is the second best behind only the Camry. The Kia Optima is like sitting a freakin’ tank, and had by far the worst rear visibility too. The Dodge Charger was almost as bad.

        The belt line on the LaCrosse was a non-issue and the power height adjustment (I’m 6’1″) made it a non-issue – just raised the seat up and unlike the Optima, where the freakin’ window STARTED at almost my shoulder height, there was no holy ass crackers I can’t see to save my life could they make the belt line any higher sense in the LaCrosse.

        Anyone gritching about belt line in the LaCrosse has not driven a cross section of 2012 vehicles and certainly has not driven the Optima/Sonata. Oh, and yes, although the sheet metal on the Optima and Sonata are different, the belt line, roof height, and sides are not. I was parked side-by-side to a 2012 Sonata in Indianapolis when I had the Kia. The identical qualities were screaming obvious, the difference as obvious – belt line wasn’t one of them.

        INSERT COMPLAINT ABOUT LACROSSE TRUNK HINGES HERE

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Looks certainly are subjective. I personally don’t like the way the LaCrosse looks. Kind of puffy and swollen. I prefer the styling of the ES. But I’m not much interested in this segment so my opinion is worth squat.

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        @APaGttH: Practically everything has a high belt line now. I said absolutely nothing about the LaCrosse having bad visibility. My complaint had to do with styling. Some cars make the belt line work, some do not. The LaCrosse does not. To my eye, it looks tall and bloated.

        @Zackman: Did you miss the part where I said “Looks are subjective?” What appeals to you is probably the same thing that appeals to my 79 year old grandmother. She drives a new LaCrosse. It’s a nice car, beats the heck out of the ’97 Park Avenue it replaced. I thought the Park Avenue looked much better, though.

      • 0 avatar
        MattPete

        I’m with FromaBuick6: the LaCrosse looks pretty good in print. In person it looks bad. Really bad. Awkward. Ill-proportioned. The whole car looks like someone designed a slick luxury/sports sedan, and then stretched the whole thing upward.

        I actually tried to smoosh one down in Photoshop, and while it helped, the hood is just way too high.

  • avatar
    PintoFan

    Toyota’s website is telling me that I can order a V6 XLE Camry with nav and their Sync and Onstar knockoffs for a little over $33k. Those dead trees are a nice touch, but are they worth more than $8k? People criticize it for being a gilded Camry because that’s what it is. Just like people see right through the MKZ. I initially agreed with Baruth when he criticized GM for the “faux luxury” gimmicks of the 1970′s, but if Toyota is really managing to shovel out 40k of these a year, then maybe he really was off base after all.

    • 0 avatar
      PJ McCombs

      Have you ever driven/ridden in one? Esp. back-to-back with a Camry?

      The ES genuinely does have a different feel over the road to the Camry, and as the review notes, virtually none of the interior’s touch points are the same.

      • 0 avatar
        Dingleberrypiez

        Agreed. The difference seems to grow more and more significant with each subsequent generation of the ES (first/second gen ES300 were much more similar to their Camry XLE kin). I wonder if this continued perception can partly be attributed to previous experiences comparing the old models.

        That being said, it’s still debatable if it’s worth the dollar difference, as with any car purchase.

      • 0 avatar
        tekdemon

        @PJ McCombs
        I daily drive a Camry and spent a full week with the ES350 so I certainly have driven them back to back quite extensively and they felt almost identical in driving character. The way the suspension behaved, the way the steering felt, etc. The things that were different were things like pedal feel (the ES uses different pedals than the Camry-I actually preferred the Camry pedals), a colder AC setup, and of course the general feeling that someone had “luxed” it up a little and went and made a quiet car that much quieter. And of course the luxury features were nice, the ES350 I drove had the smartkey so it was nice to be able to open the trunk and open the doors without having to get a key out. Thing is that the new Camry has those features as options now.

        They may no longer share sheetmetal but the cars definitely still share a lot of driving character-you have the same engineers tuning both cars for a comfort biased ride, the same powertrain, etc. What you get for the extra $10K or so is that it’s made in Japan instead of the US and it’s packed with more sound deadening, leather, and uses real wood. Personally I’d just buy a Hybrid XLE at this point, which is probably why Toyota is raising the bar with the next ES. The current ES just doesn’t cut it anymore.

      • 0 avatar
        MadHungarian

        I think you are absolutely right that the ES has a different over the road feel from the Camry — of an equivalent model year. In other words, the current ES is definitely a better car than the current Camry, if only because Toyota has spent more than 15 years decontenting the Camry and turning its performance into mush.

        A co-worker of mine has a 2009 (I think) ES. The first time I rode in his car I was struck on entering how bland and non-luxurious it was. I expected a lot more from a LEXUS. On the other hand, it is obviously an extremely competent car. But so was a mid-1990′s V6 Camry, and in XLE trim it might have had a better quality interior. And I also have driven several recent Camrys thanks to Hertz, Avis etc. Having owned a 1992 Camry (arguably the best generation) and a 1997 (deadly dull but competent), I was appalled. New Camrys seem like Pop’s Chevy Biscayne in comparison to their 1990′s forbears. The interiors are obviously designed to a price, acceleration is not linear and touching the brakes pitches the car forward drunkenly on its suspension.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      For $33K I’ll take a highly equipped FWD LaCrosse over the Camry.

      • 0 avatar
        tekdemon

        The standard issue GM parts bin components that still made it into the cabin would piss me off on a daily basis if I owned a LaCrosse. That stupid multi-piece sliding rubber cover in front of the arm rest is about as un-luxurious as something can get (and which genius thought it’d be a good idea to put a sticky rubberized texture there?)

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    @mnm4- Liking cars like this does not mean that you don’t care about cars. It merely means that you don’t share the opinions of mnm4. I drive a Buick Regal, but I would probably like this car. However, I care about cars, having owned nearly every catagory of car that there is, from pickups and vans to sports cars, and 4WDs to Caddy convertibles. The Regal is my daily driver, but I also have need for my Chevy pickup and my Isuzu Trooper.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      You are twisting my logic… you can care about cars and still like this car, or at least appreciate it for what it does well, like I do. But for those who dont really care much about cars except as transportation, this one covers a lot of bases. For a luxury appliance, it does everything well at a decently affordable price. There is no risk here, if the lease deal was the same across all its fwd/v6/psuedo-luxury competition, this one is the no-brainer. Just like a Camry or Accord is the standard mid-size no brainer. My sister just leased an Accord SE, 0 down-$230/mo. She could care less about 0-60 numbers, handling feel, etc. There is nothing else I could have offered her for advice. The ES is the luxury car she will aspire too in her 30s-40s.

      And when I used the phrase “care about cars”, I meant as an enthusiast, a “car guy”. Having a need for your current cars, or being dilligent about maintenance or long term value doesnt automatically make you a “car guy”. Unless your Regal happens to be the turbo manual GS or an old Grand National, then your little fleet doesn’t scream “enthusiast”. Maybe you just hit that point where you don’t feel that a fun to drive car is important, and there is nothing wrong with that. But it also puts you square in the target market for the ES.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Those acceleration numbers are shocking when you consider who this car is intended for. I have a 2000 GS400 and I believe these times nearly match my car, although the GS will run away from the ES past 100MPH.
    I drove one recently as a dealer loaner and while it’s not my cup of tea, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone from enjoying the quiet and smoothness. If the new GS is any indication, I hope Lexus does put a little more focus into the ES, after all I’m getting older and might want something like this after I put a few more hundred thousand KMs on the GS.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      I’m going to call shenanigans on those numbers given there is no indication of methodology, conditions, DA correction, or where it was done. These figures are SIGNIFICANTLY better than Lexus’ own published numbers right from the Lexus website.

      http://www.lexus.com/models/ES/detailed_specifications.html

      Performance ES 350
      0-60 MPH Acceleration 7.0 seconds [3]
      1/4 Mile Acceleration 15.2 seconds [3]
      Top Track Speed (electronically limited) 137 mph [3]

      [3]Performance figures are for comparison only and were obtained with prototype vehicles by professional drivers using special safety equipment and procedures. Do not attempt.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Then also take it up with Car and Driver:
        http://www.caranddriver.com/comparisons/buick-lacrosse-vs-ford-taurus-hyundai-genesis-lexus-es350-comparison-tests

        And Insideline:
        http://www.insideline.com/lexus/es-350/2009/2010-buick-lacrosse-vs-2009-lexus-es-350-comparison-test-and-video.html

        Their 0-60 results bracket what Alex claims above, and 1/4 mile time & speed is nearly identical.

        Don’t know what is so shocking about this, Toyota’s 3.5 has been pulling sub-7.0 sec 0-60 times in just about every car and test since 2007. Shouldn’t hurt to admit that it’s a strong engine.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        Errr, really? REALLY?

        …And Insideline:
        http://www.insideline.com/lexus/es-350/2009/2010-buick-lacrosse-vs-2009-lexus-es-350-comparison-test-and-video.html

        Their 0-60 results bracket what Alex claims above, and 1/4 mile time & speed is nearly identical…

        You have a very bizzare idea of being in the same bracket. Inside Line got 0 to 60 in 6.9 seconds, a full half second slower (an ETERNITY) than what Alex observed, and 1/10 of a second faster than what Lexus advertises. Also, the 2009 model according to the same link you provided had more HP than the 2012, which could have provided a hair more ummpf for the extra 1/10 of a second. But when you have a 6/10 of a second different in the 60 MPH time, and my difference is a 1/10 and your difference is 5/10 – I don’t know where you get to “close.”

        Oh, and look at what the “rolling” start is – which isn’t exactly a valid way to look at 0 to 60. 6.5 seconds – nice cherry picking data on your part.

        Car & Driver also uses a “rolling” start (roll out) for their 0 to 60 times, ignoring the first 18 inches of the roll. If you don’t drag race, then you don’t understand how much difference that can make – up to 2/10 of a second in a 60 foot time alone, let alone faster speed through the entire run. A rolling start can shave 7/10 of a second on a near exotic, and in the case of the Lexus, a full 1/2 second off the time. But it isn’t a TRUE 0 to 60 on a rolling start. You’re not going zero if you ignore the first 12 inches. I mean if you’re moving, how can you possibly argue it is a 0 to 60 test??? So there is something wrong with the time in Alex’s test – it doesn’t add up to other observed testing and doesn’t match Lexus’ own data for a STAND STILL 0 to 60 test. You don’t just find 6/10 of a second lying around when no one else can, not even Lexus’ own test drivers.

        So again, I call sheningans, and thank you for providing additional evidence that backs that fact up. Oh, and the same link shows the LaCrosse out handles, our slaloms, and out brakes the Lexus.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        APaGttH,
        A half second is an eternity? No, wait, ETERNITY? Get real. And “bracket” means being bounded by the other two tests. It means it is in range of other results.

        But let’s ignore that, because it doesn’t matter. You need to compare results within the same methodology. C&D uses a roll-out, and using that metric the LaCrosse was slower to 60. It was also slower in ALL of the acceleration tests, including 30-50 & 50-70 passing times, which are unaffected by roll-out. And 0.6 seconds slower in the IL test, which is a true 0-60. Which as you say, is an ETERNITY (+ 0.1). So the LaCrosse is a slower car than the ES in at least 2 publications when comparing the SAME methodology. Comparing between publications, or between a Lexus press release and Alex’s own methodology is worthless.

        So no, I didn’t give you additional facts to back that up, I gave you more data to interpret poorly.

        And handling isn’t part of this discussion. The Lexus handles poorly. Always has. But that has nothing to do with the acceleration/drivetrain complaints you have above, does it?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “These figures are SIGNIFICANTLY better than Lexus’ own published numbers right from the Lexus website.”

        Some companies have a tendency to underpromise and overdeliver.

        It isn’t surprising that the manufacturer is reporting slower times than the buff books. From the company’s standpoint, it’s better to be modest than it is to write checks that can’t be cashed.

        If it was the opposite, then I’m sure you wouldn’t shut up about it — you would beat the drum that the company was lying. But here, TMC takes a more conservative approach, yet you find a reason to complain about that, too. Forgive me if it looks as if you just want excuses to complain.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    Two things bother me about the interior of the ES –

    1. The sides of the center console are hard plastic. This is an area that is going to brush up against or rest against the driver’s knees, it needs to be covered in leather or at least soft touch faux-leather.

    2. The instruments and nav screen are very low-rent and dowdy. The backlighting on the gauges looks like it came out of a mid-90s car, and the nav screen is low res with clunky graphics. I remember some Lexus in the past (I think the IS) has very cool gauges that mimiced the look of a high end watch, what ever happened to that?

    • 0 avatar
      rentonben

      It really does look like a well executed 90′s car – where every panel is designed by a different person. There’s no harmony in this interior .

      • 0 avatar
        stuntmonkey

        +1. Different tastes for different people, but I find the colour scheme for this tester to a bit too `hard` and not as soothing as you would expect for a car of this nature.

    • 0 avatar

      Heck no, I’d hate all the “soft” plastic jamming my pants on the throttle leg especially. All the materials you are advocating invariably have crazy friction ability. Natural leather may be ok, but it’s going to wear out at the touch points.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

      But does that “low-rent and dowdy” screen lock up like a Ford’s?

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      I forgive the dated looking gauges and center stack. It is a bit of a welcome relief. I’m finding when I rent entry level luxury cars these days my “pre-flight” is taking longer and longer between the seas of buttons and various touch screen systems that are popping up everywhere.

      Also given this is the last year before a refresh — I’m sure modernization is in store. Lexus does a darn good job on interiors.

      I also remember the “watch” instrumentation on the IF line – I want to say that was in the early 2000′s??? I have a co-worker who just traded their IS-250 AWD (I loved it sans the torture chamber back seat) but the instruments seemed rather – ordinary.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s really one interior feature of Lexus and Toyota models that really bugs me: that 80s-era vacuum fluorescent display for the clock and temperature. I swear, it seems to be stuck in every Toyota car made, either in green or light blue.

      It’s outdated enough in a Toyota, but in a luxury car it really looks out of place.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        That’s one of Toyota’s more endearing traits to me, especially since it’s a 3 decade old refrain.

        “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

      • 0 avatar
        chrisgreencar

        I like the digital displays of time/temp. Honda / Acura still has them too. It’s a thoughtful touch — others have actually decontented by just putting those displays on the nav screen or radio. It’s nice on a Honda or Toyota that you can always see the time or temp without hitting any buttons or changing any displays. Very handy and good for ergonomics. If that’s dated, it’s a good kind of dated.

  • avatar
    smokingclutch

    When I sold Lexus back in mid-2006, these had been out for several months. We had several come back for transmission replacements. I’m sure they worked out the bugs by now, but that first year for Toyota’s 6-speed auto were not good.

    It was comfy and quiet, a perfect car for rolling up a lot of miles. It had plenty of power, but made Buicks seem full of personality by comparison. The wood trim in all Lexus is way over-lacquered and too shiny. A more matte finish would be more attractive.

  • avatar
    th009

    While every exterior panel may be different from the Camry, it feels like the design team was told to make them all different, but they could not come up with a different look or style for the car. Change the grille, and you could easily pass this for a Camry facelift. No originality at all, even compared to its lesser sibling.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      The ES has always been that way. And that wasn’t a bad thing before because the Camry was among the best (build quality, reliability, & powertrains, but not in handling or driver involvement) midsize sedans. The 2007-2011 Camry underpinning this ES was a disappointment because it felt cheap, but the ES corrects those flaws.

      So you’re left with a solid, reliable, powerful, refined car with a nice interior. Seems about right for an entry level luxury car. Not sure why this bothers so many readers around here.

  • avatar
    fishiftstick

    Yeah, it’s a Camry underneath. So? What are we now, car part snobs?
    Ferrari uses Delco shocks. Rolls-Royce used to use GM Hydramatic transmissions. VAG share platforms, engines, transmissions and more, but I don’t hear people moaning about that.
    Is it that ‘German engineering’ BS? As in, “costs a fortune to replace when it breaks, which is often”?
    At least Camry parts are reliable, cheap and easy to source.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Yep, it’s pretty much a Camry with some different sheet metal and an upgraded interior. One of my neighbors, in his seventies, traded his 2010 Mercedes E350 4Matic for a 2012 ES recently.

      I had driven him to the dealership to buy the Mercedes in 2010 and was surprised at how many problems he had experienced during the past two years, all covered under warranty. Even his ’96 Crown Vic had fewer problems than the Mercedes did. And that was the car he replaced with the Mercedes.

      His motivation in buying his ES was the fact that they have a long reputation as solid, dependable, reliable transportation. Even appliances can be good if that is what you’re looking for and Lexus has quality and reliability in spades.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’m really surprised that Lexus never introduced an ES hybrid, and then used a similar pricing structure to the Lincoln MKZ where the hybrid and V6 have the same price.

    And a $4065 optional audio system? That makes me feel very poor.

  • avatar
    MBsam

    “class leading attention to detail” SERIOUSLY!? Have you ever sat in an Audi??

    What always hits me over the head when I sit in a Lexus is how utterly Toyota the details are. The MATERIALS are great and very rich. They’re also well CONSTRUCTED but detailing is something entirely different. Lexus puts such pedestrian looking and feeling switches like the lock and window switches in their vehicles. Even the vents have a “wow this could be from a RAV4 look and feel to them.” That’s something you would never say about the switches or vents in an Audi. Lexus isn’t specifically playing the detailing game.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      I have to stand by the class leading line, simply because Audi doesn’t really have a competing product to the ES. The A4/A6/A8 line more directly competes with the IS/GS/LS, so while Audi’s are unquestionably nicer inside, the don’t make something that’s near luxury like a ES/TL/LaCrosse, etc.

  • avatar
    skotastic

    Oldtimers tired of a lifetime of BS buy these cars.

    They want smooth, quite, comfortable, a sense of premium, and they want it to work – none of that Audi/BMW/Merc electro-gremlin crap.

    The market who buys these don’t give a hoot about how its boring compared to an Audi – they’ve played the style game and are done with that, nor do they care if its based on a Camry.

  • avatar

    Nice review.

    Don’t have anything to say about the car.

    Heh.

  • avatar
    WriterParty.com

    For the life of me i don’t get why this car gets as much crap as it does compared to similar rides. It isn’t a sports car, but that doesn’t make it automatically worthless. It isn’t to my taste but as with all things, car taste is subjective. Whether or not a car is ‘fun to drive’ is subjective too. At the tender age of 19 (8 years ago) I drove a Lexus LS and found it to be fun to drive. I also find the BMW Z3, Mazda Miata, Chevrolet Cruze and Merc SL55 AMG fun to drive. All of them are fun for different reasons. The Lexus, with it’s size, sitting height, wide interior, leather and softness, acres of wood, shiny interior lights and excellent sound system, was fun because I felt like a baller when I drove it, encased in luxury, hauling my buddies around in the back seat like we were stylin. Maybe the ES is ‘fun to drive’ for its intended audience because it’s relaxing, generally worry free, and is just the right size.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      So now we have to define “fun to drive” too? Having fun at 19 with your homeys in a wanna-be baller car doesn’t make the car fun to drive, thats just fun. And, the ES isn’t an LS. At least the LS was designed to be a true luxury car, to compete with Mercedes. The ES is, like it or not, a tarted up Camry. You would not be ballin in an ES. Well, you werent ballin in the LS either, but you were 19 so I can cut you some slack there.

      The ES is a fine car, but it is not “fun”. But like you said… for the intended audience, its a great car, and I totally agree. People arent really giving it crap, just that the people who value driving dynamics and chassis feel don’t want to buy it. Like we don’t want to buy a Camry either.

      • 0 avatar
        84Cressida

        “Fun” is subjective. Just because you don’t find an ES fun, doesn’t mean others feel the same way as you….

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Some people think McDonalds tastes really good, that doesn’t make it quality cuisine. Everyone thinks they have a sense of humor, but not everyone does. Everyone thinks they are a good driver, but obviously not everyone is. Everyone thinks they have good taste, but many are wrong. Opinions are like… you know the rest.

        The accepted expert opinion on the ES from qualified enthusiast drivers is that its boring. There really is no need for debate on this, no one is arguing that this is not an enthusiasts choice of ride, no one is trying to run the ‘Ring in them, there are not tons of performance aftermarket parts for them, etc. Lexus isn’t having any trouble moving them. If my mom was looking for a $40k car, this is the one I would tell her to get. She would even think its fun to drive. That don’t make it fun… that means my mom is no expert.

  • avatar
    bd2

    While the sheetmetal and interior of the past few ES models have increasingly been differentiated from that of the Camry, the 1st ES was basically a special edition JDM Camry.

  • avatar
    Alwaysinthecar

    Highway Institute: ‘The Lexus ES earned four out of five stars for its performance in rollover tests and front crash tests, and only TWO stars in side crash tests.’

    The ES also received the Institute’s second lowest score of “MARGINAL” for overall rear crash protection.

    I guess the “old timers” like them since their time is close to up anyway. :-)

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    That has to rank as one of the oddest interiors I have seen to date on a luxury oriented car. Black cheap looking seatbacks combined with cat crap colored seats, a light gray headliner, Corolla steering wheel with wood all married up to a pretty snazzy dash and center stack. I’m all for offering some interior color these days but not this. This seems to be the AARP members car of choice along with the Camry. Litterally every one I see driving has a little blue haired old lady behind the wheel.


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