After spending a few days with the Lexus ES 350, I could say that it somewhat reminds me of my father's Toyota Crown; Soft, wallowy but exudes quality and class. Granted, the latter heaved and wobbled on just about every road surface, but the ES 350 is perhaps for those who want a luxury sedan in the most traditional sense. It's got loads of wood and leather trimmings, complemented by acres of space.
In an age where the word 'dynamic' has become a buzzword, the modern luxury sedan should have that bit of sportiness in them. The Lexus ES 350 defies that notion and has, essentially, become the opposite of a sport sedan. Of course, that's no bad thing. Let me explain.
But first, let's take a look at the sheetmetal. To say the car's design is understated hits the nail on the head. No wacky edges or bizzare angles are to be found in its exterior. And yet, with its soft and gentle curves throughout the body, there is an air of elegance and class. The Lexus is the wheeled equivalent of 'speak softly and carry a big stick'. Its design is subtle enough not to warrant unwanted attention and, at the same time, has enough styling details to give it some authority on the road.
In my eyes, the unique 'spindle grill' works well with this big sedan and, speaking of big, it measures nearly five meters long, putting it in the same size class as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. All in all then the exterior design won't set the world alight, but it's a good looking vehicle in its own right.
It's the same story on the inside too with gentle curves wrapping around in the cabin. Soft-touch and leather trimmings abound in the ES 350 and the general feel of the materials used are top-notch. One particular design element I appreciated in the car is the door arm rests. These wrap around your elbows and the thick padding makes them really comfortable when you lay an arm on it.
While, yes, there is hard plastic present, it's in parts where your hands rarely go. And while we're on the subject, some bits look like they came from the Toyota parts bin, particularly the multi-information display on the dashboard. That said, Lexus focused on the touch points or the parts where your hands go the most. As for its infotainment function, you'll either love or loathe the 'mouse' to navigate around the system but with the main screen and sub-menus logically arranged, one can forgive this ergonomic quirk.
The cabin design generally pleasant to the eyes and the materials are a delight to touch, but the main highlight here is the space. Legroom is abundant with taller folks still being able to stretch out. Headroom is still good despite the addition of a sunroof while hip and shoulder room is generous. Pop the trunk and you're greeted by a wide loading area, easily taking in a set of golf clubs. If anything, the car gives you the luxury of space, and then some.
Pop the hood and you're greeted by a 3.5-liter V6 engine. No fancy turbocharging here, it gains its power rating the good old-fashion way by making it large. The result is 272 PS and 346 Nm of torque. Power is coursed through the front wheels and shifts via six-speed automatic transmission. If the specs sound familiar, that's because the range-topping Toyota Camry has the same figures. Mind you, the ES 350 is not just a leather-lined Camry.
Remember when I said that the ES 350 is the opposite of a sport sedan? It translates that statement on the road because this car has no sporting intentions whatsoever. Steering is devoid of feedback and feel and while it has a powerful six-cylinder engine, it lays down the power with a noticeable amount of torque steer. With 272 horsepower channeling to the front wheels, the steering tugs to the right should you be exuberant with the gas pedal. Also, the body rolls when taking it on winding roads and the brake pedal feel is on the spongy side. Yes, there is a sport mode, but it doesn't make it athletic.
That said, have no doubts about its straight line performance. Reel in the torque steer and you get to highway speeds with just a twitch of the accelerator. One can merge on the expressway with confidence and passing on back roads is as easy as squeezing the throttle gently. Of course, with six pistons motivating the big, heavy sedan, don't expect economy car fuel consumption. Still, 6.2 kilometers per liter in heavy traffic (18 km/h average) is quite an achievement for a car packing a 3.5-liter engine. On the highway, it can go up to 12.7 kilometers per liter at an average speed of 93 km/h.
Remove all notions of a dynamic and involving drive when you're in this car. Where the ES 350 excels is on the daily grind. The front seats, which are air-conditioned by the way, are comfortable, offering a lot of cushioning to your lower back. The seat bottoms are cushy too and you wouldn't mind sitting in them for hours in gridlock traffic. It's a quiet place to stay in as well with noise barely making its way into the cabin.
And then there's the ride. While it's softly sprung, that suspension tuning pays off on pockmarked roads and on the open highway. It does an excellent job of isolating road imperfections with virtually no impact harshness getting through to the occupants. At lower speeds, there is a hint of firmness but it's not harsh at all. You will feel the small bumps but at cruising speeds, it wafts over roads effortlessly with a bit of floatiness to the ride. From a driver's point of view, you won't feel tired driving the ES 350 but from a passenger's perspective, especially from the back seats, it's downright cozy.
At Php 3,758,000, it's a lot of money for a car but consider this; its contemporaries are in the region of over Php 4,000,000. It's not lacking in equipment either as it is loaded with a fair amount of safety tech and, if one were to compare it to cars in its segment, it offers more standard kit for less. Yes, it's expensive but in the world of luxury brands, it's a bit of a bargain.
The Lexus ES may not be sporty in any way, shape or form but it rewards you with effortless serenity with a soft ride, generous cabin space and excellent noise isolation. For some, that's exactly what they want in their luxury sedan.