KBB Editors' Overview
By KBB.com Editors
Where its competition caters to drivers preferring a more sporting driving experience, the Lexus ES 350 makes no apologies for its heavily weighted luxury trappings, cocoon-like cockpit and velvety smooth ride. Although this front-drive four-door still shares basic platform engineering with Toyota's best-selling Camry, the mid-size ES 350, on top of its premium Lexus pedigree, offers numerous additional refinements. While these comprehensive upgrades have helped maintain the ES 350's position as the volume leader of the Lexus sedans, the largely unchanged 2009 version continues to face tough challenges from a formidable field of international competitors, including the Acura TL, Audi A6, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G37, Lincoln MKZ and Saab 9-5.
You'll Like This Car If...
The ES 350 does an admirable job of defining the term "affordable luxury" as it applies to a premium mid-size sedan. Offering a sophisticated driving environment, innovative design features, impressive build quality and well-proven Lexus dependability, its appeal remains strong to buyers seeking their own slice of the automotive good life.
You May Not Like This Car If...
Some buyers may find that even with its evocative sheetmetal, the ES 350's appearance still remains a bit too conservative for their tastes. Those who demand a rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive configuration should consider alternatives like the Audi A6, BMW 528i, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G37 or Mercedes-Benz C350.
What's New for 2009
A new color, Matador Red Mica, is added to the color palette.
Smooth, quiet and impressively quick, the ES 350 excels in effortless cruising, across town or cross country, boasting sufficient power and responsiveness to master virtually any kind of traffic challenge. Despite a comfort-tuned chassis, the ES 350 can still negotiate twisty roads with a fair bit of enthusiasm – accompanied by some expected body roll as you push more intensely into corners. The stability control system helps prevent surprises for those who exceed the grip limits of the ES 350's tires, and the four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are quite capable, offering both Brake Assist (BA) and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) to optimize their stopping potential under nearly any type of road conditions.
SmartAccess Keyless Remote Entry/Starting
A standard that grows more appealing with each use, the SmartAccess system lets you lock and unlock the ES 350's doors or start and stop the engine with a simple push of a button – while the key fob remains tucked away in your pocket or purse.
Optional Heated and Ventilated Front Seats
These optional leather-wrapped 10-way power seats add all-season appeal by providing three levels of warming when it's cold outside or three stages of cooling air flow to help beat the summer heat.
Subtle but meaningful details add appeal to the cabin of the 2009 ES Series. In front are supportive 10-way power seats, and the 60/40 split-folding rear bench seat has the head and leg room to accommodate two average adults or three kids and makes the 14.7 cubic feet of trunk capacity even more usable. Real walnut or maple accents add richness to an already well-appointed interior, whether paired with standard cloth or optional leather. There's fundamental user-friendliness in the basic control and switchgear layouts, although the white-on-black electroluminescent main gauges are better in bright-sun legibility than the center stack displays for the radio, air conditioning or available navigation system.
The ES 350's bodywork embraces the division's L-Finesse styling cues to impart the kind of bolder, more contemporary flair that many found lacking in its predecessor. Rising front quarters team with a flowing roofline, short deck and pronounced shoulder ridges to give this Lexus four-door a mild wedge shape that splits the visual difference between the edgier IS and the more conservative LS sedans. Despite its sleek profile, the ES 350's ample greenhouse still provides the driver with relatively good sightlines in all directions. Accenting the look are projector-beam headlights, wraparound rear lamps and a choice of 215/55 all-season or performance "summer" tires on 17-inch alloy wheels.
Notable Standard Equipment
Although offered in just one trim level, the ES 350's aspirational character is well reinforced by a full range of creature comforts. Heading the list are 10-way power front seats, tilt and telescoping steering wheel and power moonroof. Other highlights include SmartAccess keyless entry with push-button starting, and premium eight-speaker audio package with an in-dash six-disc CD-changer, MP3/iPod capability and speed-compensating Automatic Sound Leveler circuitry. Key vehicle dynamic assists include stability and traction controls plus enhanced four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes. The ES 350 also is fitted with front, front-side, side-curtain and driver and passenger knee airbags.
Notable Optional Equipment
Personalizing the ES 350 can be done with both "stackable" packages and individual extras. Packaged options include leather upholstery and various supplemental memory functions as well as auto-dimming exterior mirrors with tilt-down function, heated and ventilated front seats, HID headlamps, rear-seat side airbags and a panorama glass roof. Stand-alone options include the navigation system – with or without a 14-speaker Mark Levinson premium Surround Sound audio setup – Pre-Collision system with distance-sensing Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and XM Satellite Radio.
Under the Hood
Motivation for the ES 350 comes from an all-aluminum 3.5-liter V6 that turns out 272 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. Fitted with continuously variable valve timing that helps optimize its low and mid-range response, and backed by a computer-controlled six-speed automatic transmission, this free-revving engine hustles the ES 350 from zero to 60 miles per hour in about seven seconds. It also generates EPA fuel economy numbers of 19 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, figures that are slightly better than most of its current competitors. As a further enticement, the well-proven reliability of this potent powertrain is reinforced by a supplemental six-year/70,000-mile warranty.
272 horsepower @ 6200 rpm
254 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4700 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/27
The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for an ES 350 starts just over $35,000; however, a fully loaded version, complete with the Ultra Luxury Package, Mark Levinson premium audio, Pre-Collision and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control system and wheel upgrade can crack the $47,000 mark. Those numbers are significantly below any of its direct competitors from Europe but fairly close to mid-size American and Japanese foes, including the Acura TL, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G37 and Lincoln MKZ. Expect the ES 350 to be an equally solid investment over time, although competitors like the TL, CTS and G37 all retain very similar above-average resale values.