2015 Lexus ES 350: Perfect sedan for a 2,000-mile desert trek

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What car enthusiast wouldn’t welcome the opportunity to drive across three sates, including long stretches in the desert, on wide, high-speed roads?

And considering super cars to classics, what would be an ideal car to drive just under 700 miles from Sacramento, California to Logan, Utah? And after eight days in Utah, how satisfying would it be to make the return trip on the ninth day and in one day instead of the two-day departure journey?

Performance freaks might select any number of rarities. Perhaps others would prefer a sports car or a gas-guzzling exotic. But what about a vehicle the public has readily available at an affordable price?

I haven’t driven a sedan priced at the entry level luxury plateau that could have made the not-quite 2,000-mile journey better than a 2015 Lexus ES 350. And I’ve driven far more expense cars that didn’t match the Lexus in many areas.

 

The Lexus ES 350 is an ideal sedan for a long-distance trip.
The Lexus ES 350 is an ideal sedan for a long-distance trip. All images © James Raia/2015

The Lexus ES 350, which has MSRP of $37,500, is one smooth sedan. It has a 3.5-liter V6 engine with 268 horsepower and it’s matched with a six-speed automatic transmission.

It’s a misnomer for some cars to get categorized as entry level luxury vehicles, including the Lexus ES 350. My test vehicle included a host of upgrades, including the Premium Package, which, among other items, featured bamboo wood interior trim and the same finish on the steering wheel.

The $5,000 additional add-ons to the car also included the easy-to-use and versatile navigation system, a side mirror and rear blind spot notification system, heated and ventilated front seats, heated side mirrors, 10-way power seats, an upscale sound system and all current technology connectivity.

The speed limit in California along Interstate 80 east from Sacramento is 70 mph in most areas. The speed limit in Nevada in most open-road, desert-oriented areas is 75 mph. And on long stretches of open road in Utah, the speed limit is 80 mph.

Most often, I set the cruise control (it’s another easy-to-use feature) a few miles per hour faster than the speed limit. In Utah, for example, driving at 83-84 mph offered a smooth, quiet ride. And I was often passed by other vehicles. I also drove most of the time with the air conditioning on.

During my nine days with the Lexus ES 350, I drove 1,867 miles while reporting on the recent Tour of Utah professional bicycle race.

My fuel cost was $189.47. I returned the vehicle with slightly more than half of the 17.2 gallon full capacity remaining. The Lexus has an EPA rating of 21 mpg in the city and 31 mpg in freeway driving.

While I intended to keep exact details, I couldn’t find my records on one fuel stop. But here are the fuel details I maintained on the trip:

8/1, 11.20 gallons ($2.93 per gallon), $33.00, 344 miles, 30.71 mpg.
8/2, 13.0 gallons ($2.92 per gallon), $37.96, 405 miles, 31.1 mpg.
8/4, $42.50 (no other transaction details.)
8/10, 12.75 gallons ($2.99 per gallon, $38.25, 368 miles, 28.86 mpg.
8/10, 11.10 gallons ($3.39 per gallon), $37.76, 342 miles, 30.81 mpg.

I primarily drove on Interstate 80, but my visit encompassed nearly a dozen cities in Utah from Salt Lake City to Park City and small communities such as Soldier Hollow and Tremonton. I traveled alone with one carry-on size suitcase and a laptop computer bag.

The one exception was taking two photographer friends to the Salt Lake City airport. It provided another impressive session in the Lexus ES 350. My companions both had extensive luggage and camera equipment and both are sizable men. The trunk and back seat were packed. But the Lexus didn’t drive any differently. It powered through the steep ascents in the Wasatch Mountains and its overall maneuverability didn’t change.

Like all Lexus vehicles, the ES 350 is all about comfort. The leather seats are well cushioned and adjustable in near-limitless configurations. There’s plenty of head room and leg room. One of my photographer friends is 6-foot-4 and when he was a passenger in the front seat, there was still about an inch of head room clearance.

I also liked the functionality of the navigation system. All available options are designated in large icons on the well-designed and clear screen. The functions are engaged with a square fob on the console between the front seats. One minor concern: The fob is so efficient, its pointer moves across the screen at lightning pace, sometime jumping pas the intended selection.

With all taxes and destination charges included, the 2015 Lexus ES 500 priced out at $43,660. Would it be money well-spent? If a nine-day, nearly 2,000-mile experience means anything, the answer is an unqualified yes.

For additional information on the 2015 Lexus ES 350, visit: www.lexus.com.

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