2012 Lexus ES 350 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Last of this generation, smooth as ever.
The 2012 Lexus ES comes as one model, the ES 350 with a 3.5-liter V6 and front-wheel drive. A near-luxury sedan, the Lexus ES favors ride quality and ease of use over performance.
The Lexus ES 350 is smooth, quiet, sophisticated, competent, and comfortable. It doesn't have the firm ride or quick responses of a German sports sedan, so you can safely sip a cappuccino on the way to work. The ride is smooth and even, the engine is velvety and powerful, the 6-speed automatic transmission is flawless, the comfort is supreme, the trip is quiet, everything works the way it's supposed to, the total experience is superb.
Based on the same platform as the Toyota Camry, the Lexus ES 350 uses front-wheel drive and doesn't offer the sporting qualities of a rear-wheel-drive sports sedan, such as the Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G, and BMW 3 Series.
The ES 350 is quick and responsive, however, benefiting from a silky V6 engine that makes 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Lexus says the ES 350 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds, a solid performance.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 19/28 mpg City/Highway or 22 mg Combined, on regular gas. In one week of driving, we got 23.4 mpg running it over 70 on the freeway, and 26.0 mpg running it no more than 70. The ES 350 is certified Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle II.
There are no changes for 2012. The Lexus ES was last redesigned for the 2007 model year, and freshened for 2010. The current model is getting long in the tooth and is about due for a redesign.
The 2012 Lexus ES 350 ($36,725) comes with leather seating surfaces and trim, 10-way power front seats; power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel; dual-zone automatic climate control; power glass sunroof; eight-speaker AM/FM/6CD, XM Satellite Radio, and MP3/iPod input jack; programmable SmartAccess keyless entry; and all the other amenities one would expect. Tires are P215/55R17 all-season radials on 17-inch split five-spoke alloy wheels.
Option packages: The Lexus Premium Audio with Navigation ($2,465) includes Bluetooth, HDD Navigation with touch-screen, rear-view camera, Lexus Enform with Destination Assist, eDestination and Safety Connect, Lexus Insider, voice command casual language recognition, XM NavTraffic and NavWeather, and XM Sports/Stocks. The Navigation System/Mark Levinson Audio Package includes all the features of the Premium Audio with Navigation, and adds Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound Audio with DVD Audio/Video, 14 speakers, and 5.1-channel playback.
The Ultra-Luxury Package includes 10-spoke alloy wheels, black and saddle interior with double-contrast stitching for seats and trim, High Intensity Discharge headlamps with Adaptive Front Lighting, a panorama glass roof, power rear sunshade, semi-aniline interior, and wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob.
Other options include wood and leather shift knob ($330), heated and ventilated front seats ($640), Intuitive Park Assist, High Intensity Discharge headlamps, and the Lexus Pre-Collision System. Additional options and accessories are available.
Safety features that come standard on the ES 350 include dual front airbags, dual front knee airbags, front and rear side-impact airbags (for torso protection), curtain airbags (for head protection), electronic stability control, traction control, antilock brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist, and a tire-pressure monitor. A two-chamber passenger airbag is designed to stop the passenger's upper body and torso with minimal facial contact and neck stress on deployment. The optional Pre-Collision System includes a radar-based cruise control that automatically maintains a preset distance between the ES 350 and the car ahead. If the system senses an imminent collision, it retracts all the outboard seatbelts and initializes the brake system for full panic-braking power.
The ES 350 form seems to emanate from the grille and flow back over the car in unbroken lines. The look includes a wind-tunnel-proven drag coefficient of just 0.28, making the ES 350 inherently quiet and fuel-efficient.
It's sleek, elegant, luxurious, and very well detailed. There's quite a bit of sculpting of metal going on along the sides, lending a lot of visual interest without making it seem overly detailed or finicky. It has the look of a high-end car.
Over time, the ES 350 has grown to where it is now a full-fledged luxury sedan, both in size and content. And it has an upscale look that is entirely appropriate for its market segment. Part of this is helped by its relatively long wheelbase, which adds to its impressive stance.
About the only exterior customizing you can do other than paint and wheels is a choice of forward lighting, from standard projector beam to optional High Intensity Discharge headlamps with an adaptive lighting function, which swings the headlamps through an arc of up to 15 degrees when turning. There are 10 exterior colors from which to choose, from fairly subdued tones to a quite bright red, which makes the ES 350 really stand out.
The Lexus ES 350 is roomy and comfortable, with ample headroom and legroom for both front and rear-seat passengers. Its rear floor is flat and has plenty of room for feet under the backs of the front seats.
The interior of the ES 350 is superb, with good sightlines, hooded instruments and crisp graphics, 10-way power seats and standard tilt/telescope steering wheel. Fit and finish inside are exemplary.
The real wood trim is from a matched set that is serial-numbered for future replacement, if necessary. The thick, fat steering wheel is a pleasure to use. Interior wood trim is bird's-eye maple with black or gray leather, brown walnut with parchment leather.
The instrument panel and center stack are driver-centered, engaging and functional. The instruments are deeply tunneled, using white LED lighting and the Optitron electroluminescent displays that are part of all Lexus models, with their eye-pleasing startup routine. The trip computer monitors a dozen functions. The ES features push-button engine starting and the SmartAccess key fob.
There's good storage, steering-wheel controls, and the use of various functions is easy.
With 14.8 cubic feet of cargo space, there is enough room for a reasonable amount of luggage.
The ES 350 is well insulated; at cruising speeds, it's extremely quiet, in part due to its acoustic-control laminated windshield.
The Lexus ES 350 engine is silky smooth and comes paired with a 6-speed automatic. The 3.5-liter V6 is an all-aluminum, double overhead-cam engine with all the latest technologies.
Step on the gas pedal and the ES 350 is quick to respond. The engine is as smooth and quiet as you would expect, and the transmission operation is flawless, in automatic or manual mode, downshifting or upshifting. The engine and transmission are isolation-mounted with an electro-hydraulic system to cancel vibration at idle. Lexus quotes a 0 to 60 mph time of 7.0 seconds, which we consider brisk performance and competitive in the segment.
Traction control and electronic stability control add to the driver's confidence. The front struts and multi-link rear suspension are both very well isolated from the rest of the car, making for a quiet, smooth ride, with good control of pitch and body roll during enthusiastic driving. We'd like a little more steering feel in corners and on the highway, but otherwise the speed-related power steering is good and solid.
The brakes are average in size for this class, but we saw no sign of brake fade after a hard workout. The ABS, traction control, and electronic stability control are programmed to intervene early to keep the car going in the intended direction.
There's a brake override system called Smart Stop, which automatically reduces engine power when the brake pedal and the accelerator pedal are applied simultaneously under certain driving conditions.
The Lexus ES 350 is smooth and quiet and comfortable. It's an easy car to live with and comes loaded with luxury and convenience features. We think it's a good choice among luxury sedans when comfort and ride quality are priorities.
Sam Moses and Jim McCraw contributed to this report.
Lexus ES 350 ($36,725).
Options As Tested
Navigation ($2465), heated and ventilated front seats ($640), full size spare with 17-inch alloy wheel ($205), wood and leather steering wheel and shift knob ($330), Touring Edition leather and wood trim ($110), trunk mat ($105).
Lexus ES 350 ($36,725).
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