Tito F. Hermoso / Tito F. Hermoso | October 15, 2010 10:02
A symbol for Asia's centuryLexus as glorified gilt-edge Toyota? But what's wrong with being guaranteed 2 things - rock solid reliability and value for money. Now on to the 5th and even 6th generation of its model line up, the difference goes beyond asphalt sandwich insulating double wall metal. Compared to same segment Toyota models, the dimensions are different, the dashboard and the electronics behind it are different, even if some of the crisp buttons, thumbwheels and toggles come from Toyota's suppliers.
To my recollection, Lexus was one of the first to supply air conditioned seats. The front perforated leather seats blow "diffused" cooled air through the cushion and backrest. The thinking goes is that if cars made in cold countries can have heated seats, why can't tropical countries have cooler seats instead? True, air conditioned seats are available in top of the line European luxury marques, but at a middle spec executive saloon? Granted the Lexus ES 350 is not an ordinary exec saloon, but it shows that Lexus is bringing the Asian luxury experience closer and closer to the more numerous Asians.
Taking delivery of a Lexus, staff stand ready to brief him/her about the long list of standard options - smart lights, smart key, smart interior, smart everything. Uniquely, the central armrest cover has a nice sliding and folding angle for opening. The rectangular buttons on the climate and audio are as crisp as professional audio-amplifier buttons. The wood - never misplaced nor excessive and the double stitched leather is exquisite. In the trunk, is even a correctly angled grip to assist shut down. Like all Lexi from its 1989 Genesis, it is uncannily silent; a perfect audio chamber to enjoy the quiet or the audio when one wishes. The instrument cluster and interior has the very soothing "halo" illumination and the numerals are a proofreaders delight.
So it can do most, if not all things that luxury cars sold in the North American market can do, but how does it stack up with the most demanding drivers? Those who drive pedal to the metal on derestricted Autobahn? And those who go full blast on sections of Middle East super highways not yet monitored by speed cameras? Well, Lexus is Autobahn tested and approved. On one recent expressway journey the ES350 performed silently and effortlessly hurling the car from 160km/h to 235km/h faster than some tepidly driven big bikes hogging the fast lane. Like German cars, the speed limits on the Lexus models are a compromise between the tire comfort and high speed rating.
All Lexus models ride with security as roadholding is paramount. The Lexus soft ride remains planted and the body motions never gets out of control at Autobahn speeds. Moreover, the quiet of the Lexus ride narrows the sound level variance between, for instance, billiard table smooth to raised railroad crossings. This means you never get surprised by an abrupt thump when you hit an isolated pot hole or unseen bump. After hitting a bump, the suspension absorbs it, the body yields up to half rebound before it levels off. Some European cars prolong or delay body rebound reaction only to force the body to settle with a discomfiting sharp thud. Lexus ride character is like the cushioned ride of American cars and all Rolls Royce's, including the latest BMW designed ones. It is this Buick-like heavy car ride that made Lexus find favor in the North American market - and it taught Lexus' American drivers that you need not suffer extreme body roll or low limits of adhesion like the old-fashioned wallowing Buicks.
This middle child of the family did 13.65km/liter on the highway; not bad for 272hp V6 that touches 100 from a standstill in 7.4 seconds. The Toyo Proxes J33 tires were quiet, giving sure cornering grip, limited only by how far one can take the centrifugal g's of limousines banking through a corner.
Although Lexus has only recently given their style a name - L-finesse - the sweeping swooping curvaceous style has been a Lexus signature since the 3rd generation models in 1997. Lexus is a young brand at 20 compared to its century old peers. Like many of Asia's top rated products, from boutique hotels and easy to use complex consumer electronics, Lexus has an unassuming appearance. It doesn't shout for your customs, but its in experiencing it that it makes an impression. It's like the way the high end Japanese department stores pay as much attention to packaging and product handover that befits the product bought. It's a level of service and product competence that only Asians can manage as Asia sets the standards for the future.