2009 Lexus ES350 Review

Entry-level luxury

2009 Lexus ES350 Review

While you are unlikely to get much sympathy from your friends, venturing into the premium automobile market can be a daunting task. With so many viable options from so many premium manufacturers, how does one narrow it down to find their ideal match?

FAST FACTS

1. The ES350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 with an impressive 272 hp and 254 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Being front wheel drive the ES actually makes a lot of sense for an all-year vehicle if you live in the Mid-West or North-East.

3. The ES350 was last redesigned in 2007 and continues to be based on the Camry platform.

Making things even more difficult is the fact that a company like Lexus offers more than one possible route in this segment. This decision can be as complex as having to choose between which sophisticated, attractive and wealthy sister to date. Like I said, expect no sympathy. While some may prefer more sporty and playful attributes, choosing the IS, others may fancy the conventional, sophisticated and level-headed route, opting for the ES350.

For those who hold luxury and comfort as their highest priorities, they will surely find their automotive soul-mate in the midsized, front-wheel-drive ES. Driven gently to moderately, the ES offers a well-balanced, stable yet comfortable ride. While the ES350 offers a refined package that befits the entry-level luxury market well, it immediately shows its true colors when push comes to shove. Acceleration and handling characteristics are easily outshone by other models in this market, but chances are that anyone who buys an ES350 has more interest in the optional Mark Levinson surround-sound stereo system or supple leather seating than experiencing the outward performance capabilities of the machine.

While few models in this market can compare when it comes to interior luxury, there are others that easily surpass it where responsiveness and driving enjoyment are concerned. What the ES lacks in performance, it makes up for in elegant styling and comfort. In addition to being smooth, the ES350 offers an incredibly quiet ride thanks to 88 individual noise absorbing and canceling initiatives such as liquid-filled engine mounts. One small gripe of mine is that the secondary controls on the premium wood steering wheel were wrapped in rubber, which stood out for appearing cheap in an otherwise lavish environment.

PUSH OR PULL?

While true automotive enthusiasts often debate the topic of front-wheel-drive versus rear-wheel-drive, many drivers can’t notice the difference or simply don’t care. The truth of the matter is that the ES350’s butter-smooth 3.5-liter V6 boasting 272 hp and 254 ft-lbs of torque is sent to the front wheels, producing a dazzling amount of torque steer under spirited acceleration.

An otherwise smooth and poised performer, the ES350 immediately lets its driver know that there should be no funny business. Any wheel spin whatsoever results in the sudden and harsh implementation of traction control (TRAC) amid loud dings and flashing lights on the dashboard, making it about as entertaining to drive as if my grandmother perpetually resided in the passenger seat. If you happen to be looking for a luxurious, yet sport-minded sedan that will stir your soul and rouse the senses, it would be best to look toward the IS250 or 350. If your hobbies tend to favor the opera house instead of the oval course, than chances are you will find the ES350 matches your civilized tastes. The six-speed automatic transmission boasts a Super Electronically Controlled Transmission (Super ECT) with overdrive and a sequential multi-mode shifter meaning that gear changes are swift and the engine always has enough power to pass on the highway or merge with traffic. Zero-60 mph launches take only 6.8 seconds, which is certainly respectable for a car of this stature.

Having the opportunity to drive the ES350 in winter conditions meant that I was able to test capabilities of the car I otherwise would not have been able. The combination of the front-wheel-drive configuration, traction control, stable handling and shockingly impressive Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), certainly brought the 350 up a peg or two in my books. The ES350 makes decent fuel economy numbers boasting 19 mpg in the city and 27 mpg during highway driving. Not only that, but the 350 is considered an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV II) thanks to its lower hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions.

CAMRY GENETICS

Prior to the ES350, ES models included the 330 from 2004-2006 and the ES300 from 2002 to 2003. Even after attending finishing school and becoming a more refined and sophisticated pupil, there are still telltale signs of the Camry lineage.

Introduced as a new model for ‘07, the Lexus 350 still shares its chassis and mechanics with the Toyota Camry. Despite the ES350’s outer panels and interior finishing touches being of higher quality and the list of standard equipment more substantial, such as a power moonroof, keyless start, power front seats, in-dash CD changer, telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and wood trim, driving a base ES and top trim Camry back to back would demonstrate the two as being eerily similar.

Although cloth upholstery is standard on the ES, you would be hard-pressed to find one as most will likely have the optional leather. Other options include the navigation system, back-up camera, adaptive cruise control as well as the variable heated and ventilated seats. While such an option may seem silly at first, it will pay for itself time and time again for those who experience harsh climates, either hot or cold.

THE VERDICT

Many of you will ask where the problem lies in being likened to the best-selling Camry sedan, as such a claim is hardly uncomplimentary. Demonstrating its Camry ancestry wouldn’t be a bad thing at all were it not for the rapidity with which premium options ascend beyond the starting MSRP of $34,320. This does however mean that the ES350 makes a perfect stepping stone for current Camry owners who crave some added luxury and don’t mind paying for it. Despite its diminutive shortcomings, the ES 350 makes a large step forward from its predecessors and is well deserving of its place in the highly coveted Lexus lineup.

PLUS

Comfortable, stable ride Elegant styling Luxurious Interior

MINUS

Torque steer Camry genes Lack of responsiveness and driving enjoyment

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