Based on the already-soothing Toyota Camry, the ES350 is Lexus's most sedate offering. The styling is anonymous — a Camry with the zip removed — and inside it is pure, unpretentious comfort. Even ordering an ES350 is a calming matter, as there's only one engine choice, only one transmission, only one drivetrain orientation (front-wheel drive) — just one model on which to pile options.
The ES starts slightly above $35,000, some $3000 more than the Lexus IS, which offers a much different, sportier driving experience. The ES's ride is creamy and the interior spacious and comfortable, and there is absolutely zilch to entice the enthusiast. People who enjoy quickness will appreciate the 272-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 and the 6.2-second 0-to-60-mph time, but hard sprints are the last thing this mush machine is about.
It has one of the most Zen-like driving experiences on the road, but the ES350 won't raise your pulse one beat, making it hard for the car to make friends here at C/D. Additionally, $35,000 is a high price for what is essentially a Camry, and a fully loaded ES350 can reach almost $50,000, or roughly double the price of a Camry with leather. If what you are looking for is the ultimate in affordable motorized road-rage suppression, it would be hard to do any better, but watch the options list.
Last year brought about a Pebble Beach special edition, but there are no major changes to the ES350 for 2009.
Highlights and Recommendations
The ES350 lineup is easy to understand, because there is only one model and one trim. A stripped ES350 already includes plenty of basic luxuries, including 10-way power adjustable front seats, a power tilting-and-telescoping steering column, a sunroof, keyless entry and start, and stability and traction control.
Further coddling is just a checkbox away, though, and pricing spirals out of control rather quickly, particularly with packages. The roughly $1300 Premium Plus package adds driver-preset memory, heated and cooled seats, and rain-sensing wipers, and things go up from there. The Ultra Luxury package adds a larger sunroof, a power rear sunshade (for that limousine feel), wood and leather trim on the steering wheel and shifter, rear side airbags, and HID headlamps for almost $4000, but it requires the addition of the bundled navigation system and backup camera (an additional $2500-plus) or the nav with the backup camera and a Mark Levinson 14-speaker sound system, which costs more than $4000.
The Pebble Beach package adds all the gadgets of Premium Plus — along with unique wheels, paint, and interior trim colors — for $2970. Other big-money options are Lexus's pre-collision system (pass on that one) and 17-inch "sport alloy" wheels that could not be less in tune with the character of the car. Thankfully, to avoid the heavy hits of the packages, you can order many of the items à la carte.
Anti-lock brakes and traction and stability control are standard, as are front, front-side, driver and passenger knee, and front and rear curtain airbags. Rear side airbags are available as part of the Pebble Beach and Ultra Luxury packages or as a stand-alone option for $250 on top of the Premium and Premium Plus packages.
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