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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lexus ES

The Lexus ES was the second sedan to join Toyota's luxury lineup, and ever since its 1992 introduction, it's been a mainstay of the brand. Until recently, it's been more closely related to the Camry four-door, but with the latest edition, the Lexus ES is now more akin to the Toyota Avalon, and it's better for it.

With the ES, Lexus has fielded a much more luxurious sedan than Toyota does with the Avalon. It's fitted with more standard features, and with better materials, and has had an elegant if often generic appeal. It also has gained a new hybrid companion, the ES 300h.

First introduced for 1992, the Lexus ES 300 helped establish the Lexus name and won customers to the brand for its comfort, style, and reliability. Although the first couple of generations of the ES dabbled on the sporty side in some variations, with the third-generation ES that was introduced for 2002 Lexus focused the model even more toward mainstream luxury sedans. It was again called the ES 300 for its first two years, packing a 210-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6. This model had an even roomier interior than before and included all the extras you would expect to come standard on a luxury car today; a navigation system and excellent Mark Levinson sound-system upgrade were among the options.

For 2004, the ES 300 was given a very slight refresh and new standard equipment, then was renamed the ES 330, gaining a 3.3-liter V-6 making 225 (or 218) hp.

Then the ES was given a redesign for 2007, gaining an even larger V-6—this time, a 272-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, with a six-speed automatic transmission. This ES 350 had an even plusher ride than before, with excellent soft-touch and wood trim. A number of new tech features—including adaptive cruise control, a pre-collision system, park assist, and adaptive xenon HID headlamps—were offered for the first time in this model.

But there were definitely some downsides to the ES; for one, it wasn't a good pick if you wanted to stand out; in recent model-year reviews of the ES 350 we noted the bland exterior, lack of personality, and near absence of driving feedback but also mentioned the comfort, quiet interior and strong but muted performance that this model did so well. Safety was excellent, too.

There were certainly plenty more upsides, though. Resale value for the ES, no matter what the model year, has been top-notch; so has reliability. One final note of advice: This latest ES 350 has been sold in a single trim level, but you could push the bottom-line price surprisingly high by adding option packages.

A new ES 350 was first shown at the 2012 New York Auto Show, then introduced for the 2013 model year, and for the first time it was joined by a hybrid ES 300h model. Both once again share running gear with the Toyota Camry, but this time the ES has a couple of extra inches of wheelbase, and more backseat space. It's related more, this time, to the Toyota Avalon than to the Toyota Camry.

Exterior styling is quite handsome; some think the ES lineup has never looked so sleek. Inside, the horizontal theme from the larger GS sedan has been adopted (although standard leather upholstery has been dropped in favor of synthetic), while tech and safety features are upgraded to include Entune app connectivity and lane-departure warning.

The ES 350 sports a 268-hp V-6 and a six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive, while the Hybrid has the 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle hybrid four and achieves an EPA city rating of 40 mpg (39 highway). And thanks to a quicker steering ratio and retuned suspension, the ES models feel slightly sportier from behind the wheel without sacrificing passenger comfort--it's still just as plush and quiet as ever. In a first drive of the ES 300h, we found it to be surprisingly responsive as the 350, while far more fuel-efficient. 

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