KBB Editors' Overview
By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 11/7/2011
2012 marks the final model year of the Lexus ES 350 before a planned revamp in 2013. While it is getting a little long in the tooth, the ES 350 is still a worthy competitor to luxury sedans such as the Acura TL, Audi A6, Infiniti G37 and Lincoln MKZ. Built on a platform shared with the Toyota Camry, the Lexus ES 350 is a front-wheel-drive sedan that is more focused on cruising comfort than burning up back roads. To that end, its cockpit is plush and its ride is marshmallow-soft. And then there is Lexus' luxury pedigree and reliability, both among the best in the business.
You'll Like This Car If...
If you're shopping for a comfortable, spacious, dependable luxury sedan that won't break the bank, the 2012 ES 350 is a solid choice. It's a vehicle that speaks of its owner's tastefulness yet still manages to be relatively modest. Its engine, for example, runs on regular 87-octane gasoline while delivering a fuel economy rating of up to 28 mpg.
You May Not Like This Car If...
If you're a driver who wants more performance pop in a luxury sedan, you may want to consider alternatives such as the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, Cadillac CTS or Infiniti G37. Unlike the ES 350, those cars feature rear- or all-wheel-drive and have more sport-oriented suspensions, not to mention added visual pizzazz.
What's New for 2012
The 2012 Lexus ES 350 is mostly unchanged from 2011, in which differences were also minimal after a facelift the year before. For 2012, the ES receives a new exterior color option, Nebula Gray Pearl, and is available in a Touring Edition that is limited to 2,000 cars and features a saddle-leather interior and high-gloss 17-inch wheels.
The Lexus ES 350 puts its emphasis on comfort. If blissful highway cruising and quiet drives in the city are paramount to you, this sedan delivers. In low-speed situations, steering feel is light, making parking a snap. The ES 350's V6/6-speed automatic transmission combination is strong, offering good acceleration and supple shifts in both regular and sport modes. The Lexus ES 350 has a stated 0-60 mph time of seven seconds flat, which is swift but not sports-sedan quick. The Lexus' suspension soaks up bumps well and its brakes are strong.
Mark Levinson Audio System
If you appreciate audio quality, the 14-speaker Mark Levinson sound system sounds very good. Available only on the Navigation System/Mark Levinson package, the option is not cheap, but if you're an audiophile or a commuter who spends countless hours in the car, it makes time behind the wheel much more gratifying.
Easy-to-locate and use seat ventilation controls can warm or cool your bottom in a hurry, and the ES 350's optional wooden-and-leather-trimmed steering wheel feels great, literally, in your hands. We also like that unlike many luxury vehicles, this one can run on 87-octane gas, which can add comfort to your budget at each fill up.
Driver and passenger comfort are key up front, where the soft seats feature 10-way power adjustment. In the rear, the bench seat offers ample headroom and legroom for two adults or three children. Leather seating is standard all around, and tastefully complements the polished walnut or maple wood accents. Some aspects of the interior feel dated, such as the digital clock and steering-wheel-mounted buttons. Also on the down side of the ledger, controlling what should be simple aspects such as fan speed often requires a multi-step process using the touch screen.
The 2012 ES 350 features pleasant - if not exciting - contoured lines. Dual stainless-steel exhaust tips and a shark-fin antenna give the ES 350 some personality, while pragmatic features such as puddle lamps mounted under the side mirrors help illuminate the ground and any pitfalls thereon. Up front, the illumination theme continues with optional high-intensity headlights and an adaptive lighting system that turns the headlights in unison with the car for better visibility around curves.
Notable Standard Equipment
The ES 350 offers an impressive array of features inside and out, including keyless entry, push-button start/stop, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and a dual-zone climate control with a smog-sensing system that automatically switches to recirculation mode - a great feature for those who are frequently stuck in traffic. Also standard are a moonroof, HomeLink universal transmitter and an 8-speaker sound system with an in-dash 6-disc changer and Bluetooth audio streaming. On the safety front, the Lexus ES features 10 airbags.
Notable Optional Equipment
Looking to enhance your ES 350? Consider a premium sound and nav unit that boasts a high-end Mark Levinson audio/video system and a navigation screen that can relay information such as traffic, weather, and sports and stock news. The Ultra Luxury Package ups the ante with semi-aniline leather interior with heated and ventilated front seats, panorama glass roof, power rear sunshade and a full-size spare tire. Other options that can be had as standalone features include a wood-and-leather trimmed steering wheel, pre-collision system and radar-enabled cruise control, 17-inch sport allow wheels, and a parking-assist system that uses ultrasonic sensors in the front and rear bumpers to detect distance from objects.
Under the Hood
Carried over in the 2012 ES 350 from last year's model is its 3.5-liter V6. That engine makes 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque while delivering an EPA fuel-economy rating of 19/28 mpg city/highway, the latter being one mpg better than the 2011 model. The V6 is mated to a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission that features a sport mode and can also be shifted manually. In addition to Lexus' 48-month/50,000-mile basic warranty, the ES 350's powertrain is backed for six years or 70,000 miles, whichever comes first.
268 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm
248 lb-ft of torque @ 4,700 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/28
The 2012 Lexus ES 350 sedan benefits from a significantly lower entry price than its European rivals, with a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting under $37,000. Fully loaded with options like the Mark Levinson premium audio and dynamic radar cruise-control systems, the ES 350 will be closer to the $46,000 mark. These figures are more in line with midsize American and Japanese rivals such as the Cadillac CTS, Lincoln MKZ, Acura TL and Infiniti G37. The ES 350 retains additional long-run value with its reliability history and higher-than-average resale value.