Now in its sixth generation, the redesigned 2013 Lexus ES breaks away from its 20-plus-year tradition of being a nice upscale Toyota Camry.
The new front-wheel-drive ES has a nearly two-inch longer 111-inch wheelbase shared with the all-new top-line Toyota Avalon and is an inch longer overall. It has the signature Lexus spindle grille and looks more like the higher-line Lexus GS than the Camry. Its bolder appearance features such items as larger headlights and LED daytime running lights. Taillights look as if from the GS and sit above nifty dual chrome-finished exhaust tips.
The low front end can result in curb damage, but helps allow smoother air flow under the car for better aerodynamics.
The ES 350’s engine and transmission are carryovers from 2012. Its smooth 3.5-liter V-6 generates 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque through a responsive six-speed automatic transmission with an easily used manual shift feature.
The engine makes the ES 350 fast off the line and during 65-80 mph passing on highways. Fuel economy is improved by a few miles per gallon in the city and on the highway. The ES 350 delivers an estimated 21 in the city and 31 on highways.
Lexus wants to attract more younger buyers with the new $36,100 ES, without losing the pampered older ones it long has attracted. The precise electro-assist power steering thus has a quicker ratio. A more-rigid chassis works with revised rear suspension geometry and improved shock absorber damping with gas-pressurized shocks to allow the all-independent suspension to provide a nicer ride.
Front/rear anti-sway bars help keep body sway in check during fast drives through curves, although the ES 350 is not a sports sedan. The emphasis is on a comfortable ride because this Lexus remains a refined, comfortable, well-equipped and affordable luxury sedan. The brakes have good pedal feel for smooth stops.
The list of standard ES 350 luxury and convenience items is long. It includes power front seats, push-button engine start, automatic dual-zone climate control, premium audio system, keyless entry, a power tilt-and-slide sunroof and 55-series all-season tires on 17-inch wheels.
Options include heated and ventilated front seats, a lane departure alert, hard disc drive navigation system with a backup camera and 8-inch VDA screen, voice command, a power tilt/telescopic wheel and 17-inch wheels with a liquid graphite finish. Offered for the first time are 18-inch wheels, and also available is a 835-watt 15-speaker premium audio system.
Safety features include 10 air bags, including dual front knee air bags. There’s also a vehicle stability control system and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and a brake-assist feature An optional blind-spot monitor with a rear cross-traffic alert helps when backing out of parking spots.
The ES 350 is the first ES offered as a gas/electric hybrid model—the $38,850 ES 300h. It has a gasoline/electric powertrain from the Camry, including a 2.5-liter four-cylinder.
The ES 300h has an estimated combined 200-horsepower and works with a continuously variable automatic transmission. It’s slower than the ES 350, but delivers an estimated 40 miles per gallon in the city and 39 on highways. Only the ES 350 was available for testing.
The hush-quiet interior of the ES 350 offers better visibility and is roomier, with appreciably more backseat knee and leg room. Seats are supportive, and the redesigned cabin is more modern, with curved lines complemented by wood trim. The standard leather dash is hand-stitched, and the analog dashboard clock looks elegant.
Bright backlit gauges can be quickly read, even in sunlight that tends to wash out many auto gauges, although controls are a little more complicated.
The trunk is roomy and opens with conventional hinges that don’t get in the way of cargo. It has a wide opening and easily gripped interior pull-down feature, but also a rather high liftover.
The hood has an interior lining for enhanced sound control and raises smoothly on twin struts—although I suspect most ES 350 owners will leave under-hood maintenance checks to their Lexus service department.
Pros: Redesigned. Refined. Roomier. Fast. Good handling. New hybrid version.
Cons: Carryover engine and transmission. Low front end. Rather high trunk opening.
Bottom Line: Everything a Lexus should be.