Auto Review: Luxurious, yet economical

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Feature Article - posted Thu., May. 19, 2011
- Contributed Photo

The old adage, “You get what you pay for,” often tends to be true with automobiles. For example, this week’s review vehicle (the Lexus ES350) is a luxury car that is based in the most popular passenger car sold in America, the Toyota Camry.

Armed with this knowledge, some prospective buyers might ask why the ES is so much more expensive than its Toyota counterpart, as it’s nothing more than a gussied-up version of a popular family workhorse, right? Not really. The Lexus version of this spacious car is a solid entry into a market that demands high levels of refinement and sophistication, as well as the latest in safety and entertainment technology. The ES350 is a very painless car, in that it instills an air of quality, comfort and solidarity in an attractive and totally easy-to-live-with package.

The engine compartment is graced with a 3.5-liter V6 that puts out 268 horsepower, and gets the power to the front wheels via an automatic Electronically Controlled Transmission with intelligence (ECT-i). As Lexus puts it, this gearbox “has a shifting strategy that adapts to driver input, with rapid downshift response.”

As you might expect with all the refinement stuff I’ve been going on about, the power delivery is both quiet and seamless, with the transmission going about its business with a minimum of fuss. The ride is biased towards smoothness and bump compliance rather than sporty handling, and as a result, the ES350 does deliver a very soft, quiet ride. That said, steering is adequately responsive without too much “floating” on the highway, and there’s acceptable feedback during spirited driving episodes, and overall stability is excellent.

An option available on the new ES is quite advanced (and uses part of the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control hardware) and is called the Pre-Collision System (PCS). This employs radar to measure a pre-set distance from a vehicle traveling ahead, and if PCS determines that a collision is unavoidable, the system preemptively retracts the front seat belts and pre-charges the brakes so full power is applied the instant the driver depresses the pedal. Active Braking can also automatically apply the brakes if the driver fails to react to system warnings.

Inside the ES, you’ll find detailed coachwork that includes premium wood and polished metal, plus soft yet durable leather seating that (thanks to the Ultra Luxury Package) is perforated up front to allow cooling, as well as heating. Controls are arrayed in a fashion that keeps them fairly intuitive, and Lexus (at this point, at least) is relying on more traditional controls rather that rampant touch-screen deployment. The rear seat offers both easy access and great legroom, for pampering your passengers, especially on long trips.

This may be an “entry level” Lexus sedan, yet you really do get a premium luxury car experience and – if past models are any indication – exemplary reliability, as well. The 2011 Lexus ES350 is EPA-rated 19 MPG city/27 highway and has a base price of $35,525. With options, our sticker came to $43,037.

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