The 2017 Lexus ES 350
is an affordable entry luxury sedan that not long ago would have been considered a full-blown top-line luxury model. This car, which won't be changed much for 2018, has been refined almost to the hilt during the past few years.
The $38,900 ES 350 looks sleek, is fast and roomy and should remain in style for a long time. My test ES 350 had "atomic silver" paint that really highlighted its lines. Lower body panels have anti-chip paint.
This front-drive car's 3.5-liter 268 horsepower V-6 provides smooth, quick (0-60 m.p.h. in 6.7 seconds) performance in town and on highways. However, it's no sports sedan, although its acceleration is matched by quick, nicely weighted steering, confident braking and nimble handling-despite a 61-front/39-rear weight distribution.
A smooth six-speed automatic transmission works efficiently and has a manual shift feature, which worked well but was superfluous for the Chicago area's flat, congested roads.
Estimated fuel economy is a so-so 21 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on highways. I actually seemed to get a few more miles per gallon in the city. The car has a 17.2-gallon tank, which means no constant stops on long drives. Only 87-octane fuel is required.
A driver can use a console dial to put the car in "Eco," "Normal," or "Sport" driving modes, but I noticed little, if any difference, between Eco and Normal models, and Sport mode just stiffened the steering and suspension a bit, while causing just a mild difference in ride comfort.
The ES 350 is not a sports sedan, despite its slick styling and dual chromed exhaust outlets. But it can be driven briskly and safely thanks to such things as an all-independent suspension with gas pressurized shock absorbers, front/rear stabilizer bars and a stability control system. The anti-lock brakes work with a linear-action pedal and electronic brake force distribution.
The car is set up for such easy driving that it would take a ham-fisted motorist to drive it in a clumsy manner. It also has key safety features that help keep a driver out of trouble, such as a pre-collision system with standard pedestrian detection, high-speed dynamic radar cruise control, backup camera and lane departure alert with steering assist. My test car's options included a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic assist and intuitive parking assist.
The 3,571-pound ES 350 mainly will be bought by many because it looks pricey, rides smoothly although a little more firmly than one might expect, and has an uptown interior with nice materials and attractive stitching on the dash, seats and door panels. And, importantly, it carries the Lexus name, which generally is a bonus at trade-in time. The ES 350 gets high marks for quality.
Standard features in the ultra-quiet interior include a push-button start/stop, automatic dual-zone climate control, 8-inch touchscreen that I found easy to use, some backup manual dashboard controls and a power tilt-and-slide moonroof. There's also a premium audio system with 8 speakers, although my test car had an impressive optional 15-speaker premium system.
Other options included 18-inch (instead of standard 17-inch) wheels, genuine wood trim and a gorgeous power wood-and-leather tilt/telescopic steering wheel.
The ES 350 has lots of space for five tall occupants, although the center of the rear seat is too stiff for anything but short trips. So this car is really a comfortable four-seater. That center rear seat is best left for the large fold-down armrest that contains two beverage holders. The front cupholder locations on the extra-large console are a little unorthodox in that the one for the driver is just behind the shift lever and the one for the front passenger is put ahead of the shifter and angled towards the passenger seat. Both have covers to help give the console a smooth look. That's a small but thoughtful luxury car touch.
Both power front seats provide good support and the backlit gauges can be quickly read. The deep covered front console storage compartment can swallow fairly large objects. Front doors have storage bins, and the back of the front seats have storage pockets. However, the "fasten seat belt" warning bell is very annoying.
The large trunk has a low wide opening. Its hinges don't get in the way of loading cargo, but it calls for quite a stretch to get objects from the back of it. Rear seat backs don't recline, although there is a small pass-through area from the trunk.
The heavy hood opens via dual struts, eliminating a prop rod and back strain. And the oil dipstick conveniently sits so far in front of the engine it looks as if it might punch you in the nose.