2005 Lexus ES 330 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Smooth, comfortable and luxurious.
The Lexus ES 330 may be the smoothest, quietest car in its class. It's easy to drive and easy to drive smoothly, keeping your passengers comfortable and making you look like a pro. Its 3.3-liter V6 engine and five-speed automatic are smooth and responsive. Its supple suspension gives it a smooth ride on rough city streets, beat up freeways and poorly maintained back roads, and its anti-lock brakes are easy to modulate for smooth stops in everyday driving.
Living with this car is easy. It's loaded with features that make life more convenient, and refinement, quality fit and finish, and attention to detail are evident throughout. You see, feel, and even hear the quality. It can be heard in the solid sound the doors, trunk, and hood make when they're closed. The seats are comfortable, the leather upholstery is nice, and the interior trimmed in wood and aluminum trim has a rich appearance. Most features are straightforward and easy to operate and there's an excellent Mark Levinson stereo available as an option, along with satellite radio. The rear seats are roomy and comfortable and feature seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters, and there's a decent-size trunk.
Interior enhancements further the appeal for 2005, improving convenience and comfort while underway. Mild styling revisions freshen its appearance and distinguish it from last year's model.
The ES 330 comes in one well-equipped model ($31,975), loaded with luxury and safety features found in higher-priced Lexus sedans.
Handsome, high-quality, leather upholstery with wood trim comes standard. Also standard are automatic dual-zone climate control with interior air filter, power windows with auto up/down and jam protection, and a power moonroof. An AM/FM/CD/cassette system comes standard with 86 watts and seven speakers.
A 240-watt Mark Levinson audio system, a six-disc CD changer, and satellite radio are optional. Other options include Vehicle Stability Control with traction control ($650); Adaptive Variable Suspension ($620); DVD satellite navigation with six-disc CD changer ($2,220); power-adjustable pedals ($140); power rear sunshade ($210); high-intensity discharge headlamps with rain-sensing wipers ($640); heated and ventilated front seats ($640); wood steering wheel and shift knob ($330); 17-inch wheels and tires ($80).
Safety was a top priority when designing the ES 330. Standard safety equipment includes the full complement of airbags: dual front airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, and front and rear side-curtain airbags. (Curtain airbags are very important for their ability to provide head protection.) It comes with three-point safety harnesses for all five seating positions; be sure to wear them as they are your first line of defense in a crash. The front seats are designed to reduce whiplash. The outboard rear seatbelts are fitted with force limiters and pre-tensioners. To help the driver avoid accidents in the first place, the ES 330 comes standard with anti-lock disc brakes (ABS) and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD); the optional VSC further enhances safety.
Mild styling revisions distinguish the 2005 ES 330 from last year's model. The fog lamps, grille, lower intake, headlamps, and tail lamps have been revised, giving it a fresh look.
The rake of the ES 330 combined with its streaked-back headlamps make a striking statement. The front end seems to slope down in one continuous curve, from the top of the windshield, over the sculpted hood and tidy dark grille, down to the smooth air dam under the almost seamless front bumper. The headlight cluster suggests silvery eyes pulled back at the corners.
Tail lamps trimmed in silver echo the design, stretching around the corners, as if reaching to meet the headlamps. Nine-spoke alloy wheels complement the styling. The optional 17-inch alloy wheels use a six-spoke design. Chromed door handles are easy to grab and do not require awkwardly flipping your hand over as they do on some of the other cars in this class, such as the Audi A6.
When it designed the ES, Lexus set out to make it the safest car in the class. The passenger compartment is reinforced in critical areas and front and rear crush zones are designed crumple to absorb the impact of a crash.
The underbody is smooth, nearly flat, contributing to exceptional aerodynamic efficiency (with a coefficient of drag of just 0.28), and the car is constructed using advanced composites and resin-steel sandwiches to further minimize the intrusion of noise. The ES 330 is based on the same platform as the Toyota Camry.
The Lexus ES 330 presents a warm, inviting interior. Rich wood trim, available in golden bird's-eye maple or burled walnut goes well with the brushed aluminum trim. All of the trim materials exude a high-quality look and feel. The standard steering wheel and shift lever are covered with stitched leather and look very nice. An all-walnut handle for the shift lever and a walnut-trimmed steering wheel are available for an even more prestigious appearance. Regardless, the steering column is manually adjustable for tilt. Steering wheel-mounted controls for the audio system and other features have been upgraded for 2005.
The ES 330 operates in that middle ground marketers refer to with terms such as 'near luxury' or 'entry luxury.' Like other cars in this class, the ES 330 is more luxurious than the top trim levels of mid-size sedans such as the Toyota Camry XLE, but they aren't as plush as true luxury sedans such as the Lexus LS 430.
The standard leather upholstery is quite nice and the seats are very comfortable. The seating position is excellent, with lots of front-seat legroom. Optional power-adjustable pedals are especially useful for shorter drivers, helping them find a good driving position without sitting too close to the airbag-equipped steering wheel. The seats are relatively flat, without large bolsters, making getting in and out easier. The driver's seat comes standard with 10-way power adjustments. The 2005 ES 330 gets a memory feature for the driver and passenger seats. The shape and construction of the front seats is borrowed from the flagship LS 430. Heated/ventilated front seats are a new option for 2005 models.
The ES 330 is about 10-percent larger inside than a Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the front seats of the Lexus offer significantly more hip room than the Mercedes. The ES 330 does not offer as much headroom as the Mercedes or the Infiniti I35, however, and six-foot drivers may wish for more.
The rear seats are roomy, making this a comfortable car for four adults. Five is a crowd, but it'll work for short distances, like going to a restaurant, particularly if a member of the Little People is sitting in the rear center position. Overall, it's roomier and more comfortable (with more hip room and leg room) in the back seats of the Lexus ES 330 than it is in the back of a Mercedes C320 sedan. The 2005 ES 330 benefits from the addition of pre-tensioners and force limiters to the rear seatbelts, similar to those in front, which can help reduce injuries to rear passengers in an accident.
The driver's seat offers good visibility out front. The self-dimming outside mirrors offer a good view rearward and seem larger than those on Mercedes-Benz cars. The inside rearview mirror is self-dimming (electrochromic) and features a digital compass. The slope of the rear window doesn't allow a panoramic view, though it fills the rearview mirror. The mirror is mounted so close to the headliner that adjusting it requires an awkward grab at its bottom edge. On 2005 models, the outside mirrors automatically tilt down when you shift into reverse. An optional power rear shade filters out the blazing sun, whether driving or parked.
The clean-looking instrument panel features three round, deeply recessed pods with highly legible analog gauges. The instrument panel comes in a lighter silver finish for 2005 with color-coordinated light gray buttons. A large speedometer dominates the layout. A digital trip computer at the bottom of the speedometer displays range, average fuel consumption and other functions, controlled by a pair of buttons on the left side of the steering wheel. Similarly, a digital odometer with two trip odometers is displayed in the right pod with big analog fuel and temperature gauges. On the left is a big tachometer.
The optional navigation system is powerful, with excellent graphics and a huge database (5 million points of interest). Voice activation has been added to 2005.
The Lexus ES 330 delivers a smooth, refined driving experience with a smooth engine and transmission, a smooth-riding suspension, smooth brakes, and extensive measures designed to reduce noise, vibration and harshness.
The 3.3-liter V6 engine produces 225 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque and gives the car responsive performance in everyday driving situations. The ES 330 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, according to Lexus. The ES 330 has an EPA City/Highway fuel economy rating of 20/29 mpg and is certified by the government as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV II).
The transmission shifts very smoothly. Upshifts in normal, everyday driving are almost invisible. Yet it delivers responsive shifts when driving aggressively. The gated shifter allows manual shifting and an indicator displays the selected gear on the instrument panel, but shifting manually is a clunky proposition due to the gates and we preferred leaving it in Drive.
The ES 330's suspension is tuned for a smooth ride. It filters out vibration and contributes to the ES 330's exceptional quiet and smoothness. The four-wheel independent strut suspension gives it precise handling with minimal body roll (lean). The speed-sensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering has a very nice touch: light, but with good feel, effortless around town. There is very little, if any, torque steer. Overall, the ES 330 handles well, but it is tuned more for ride quality than sporty handling. Its front-wheel-drive layout and front-heavy weight distribution (61 percent front/39 percent rear) limit its cornering potential. Serious driving enthusiasts may prefer the similarly priced IS 300 with rear-wheel drive, but the IS 300 doesn't offer the smooth ride quality, amenities, and overall refinement of the ES 330. Most drivers will be happier with the ES 330. The standard 16-inch wheels come with all-season tires (215/60VR16). The optional 17-inch wheels should provide sportier handling with a choice of all-season or summer tires with slightly lower profile sidewalls (215/55VR17).
The optional Adaptable Variable Suspension ($620) is worthwhile for drivers interested in adjusting handling and ride quality to suit conditions or mood. The system automatically and continuously changes the shock absorber damping rate at each wheel in response to road conditions, vehicle speed, and steering and braking inputs. Overall, the system is tuned very nicely, and provides a great ride under all conditions. The driver can switch among four stiffness settings by moving a thumb wheel on the center console. The firm setting is relatively firm, but not as firm as a sports suspension: It tightens up transient response (quick lane-change maneuvers) but transmits more vibration into the cabin when driving on rough neighborhood roads; it works best when driving at high speeds or when whipping along mountain roads. The softest setting works very well at low speeds in the neighborhood, filtering out all of these undulations, and we liked using it for that, but it's on the squishy side for other conditions. The middle two settings were just right everyday driving conditions.
The brakes are very smooth and effortless, yet sensitive. They require little effort to generate good stopping power, but are easy to modulate. In other words, it's easy to brake very smoothly in everyday driving, wrapping your passengers in a velvety experience, yet the car will stop quickly in an emergency braking situation. The ES 330 comes standard with anti-lock brakes (ABS), which allow the driver to maintain steering control in an emergency stopping situation; just remember to maintain pressure on the brake pedal and to look and steer where you want to go. It also comes standard with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), which distributes braking force evenly to the tires with the best grip for improved stability and braking performance. Brake Assist is optional, but a goo.
The Lexus ES 330 delivers a smooth, refined ride. Its engine and transmission are smooth and its brakes are smooth. The cabin is very quiet. Lexus quality and attention to detail pervade.
The 2005 Lexus ES 330 benefits from some interior enhancements over last year's model. It received major updates a year ago, including a larger engine that improved performance. If you want a smooth and quiet mid-size luxury sedan, you cannot do much better in this price range than the Lexus ES 330.
Lexus ES 330 ($31,975).
Kyushu, Japan; Tsutsumi, Japan.
Options As Tested
Vehicle Stability Control ($650) includes traction control and Brake Assist; Adaptive Variable Suspension ($620); Navigation System with Mark Levinson audio ($3,100); high-intensity discharge headlights with rain-sensing wipers ($640); power-adjustable pedals ($140); wood and leather steering wheel and shift knob ($330); heated and ventilated front seats ($640); power rear sunshade ($210); all-season tires with chrome wheels ($1,780).
Lexus ES 330 ($31,975).
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