The entry-level luxury segment doesn’t get the attention of some of the various other segments, such as the luxury sports sedan category. Yet, attention from car lovers matters about as much to sales as one cloud on a sunny day. Photos on the covers of magazines are all well and good, but sales numbers are what really count.
The reason for this is the fact that companies don’t make a whole lot of money selling a few thousand super expensive machines with plush seats, loads of technology, and a massive motor. Sort of like Rolex and Timex, as one makes a better product, but the latter is far wealthier. So, with so many different automakers trying to soak up the sales of the entry-level luxury game, one would think that sales would be spread, but they’re not. One vehicle has maintained dominance over the herd, the Lexus ES.
In the past decade, Toyota has created 600,000 of these sedans in the U.S alone, with another 650,000 in the rest of the world. What makes this even better for the Japanese automaker is the lack of incentives that go along with the ES. These things are selling straight up.
Hit the jump to read on.
Many, including us, aren’t too fond of this, as the Lexus ES has gone about its business by being a bit dull. Let’s face it, the ES is about as interesting as reading the ingredients to paint.
Those lofty sales have been accomplished by the fact that the ES has stuck to a simple formula. All models have been soft with a compliant ride and a pampering interior, and like most Lexus products, the quality is brilliant and usually ahead of the competition.
This 2010 Lexus ES350 is no different, as it serves up all these attributes with smoother power, a quieter cabin, and more technology. Yet, the competition seems to be catching up and striving to overtake the ES in sales. So, does the ES350 have what it takes to stay on top, or will it falter in a big pile of quiet and smooth plainness?
For 2010, Lexus has given the ES a bit of a rework. It features a redesigned grille and lower bumper, new taillights, and chrome-trimmed side moldings. This mild refresh hasn’t done much to make the car more beautiful, but it has helped separate it from the Toyota Camry. Sure, the design isn’t groundbreaking or stunning, but it works for Americans.
Our test vehicle was a very nice shade of white, which helped show off the lines of the ES. While white is nice, we think that there are better color options on the market. The ES350 in black with tinted windows could just make it a whole new vehicle.
The ES has never had the greatest exterior, but its sales success has been a result of the wonderful interior, where it’s earned a reputation for its high-end luxury look and feel. The leather seating surfaces are incredibly smooth and all of the touch points on the doors, center console, armrests, and steering wheels are among the best in the business. They might even be on par with vehicle costing $20,000 more.
As good as those materials were, the best were found on the door handles, as strange as that might seem. In fact, these were so good that they could easily be used on a Bentley.
The seats were very supportive and our test vehicle came with heated and cooled gizmos to help with those chilly fall nights here in the Northeast. For those drivers with long legs, the ES came with extended thigh support, a nice feature that is rarely found on vehicles in the same price ranges as the ES. When driving along, the cabin is amazingly quiet. With the radio turned up to a decent level, you won’t hear a single thing going on outside of that plush leather world of a Lexus.
Our test ES350 came in at $42,187 and with some top-notch toys. These toys include the navigation and backup camera pack ($2,465) and an ultra luxury package ($3,535). This pack includes a panoramic glass roof, 10-spoke 17-inch Liquid Graphite Finish alloy wheels, upgraded leather with double stitching, and HID headlights. With all these gizmos on board, the ES is incredibly enjoyable on a daily basis and considerably cheaper than what you get from the Germans.
As nice as the interior was, it’s beginning to show its age. The navigation system is a bit lacking and the iPod integration seems to have been designed by somebody who doesn’t have an iPod. Just because a song is at the top of a selected playlist, that doesn’t mean we want to hear it. If we can ever get the artists at the bottom of the list, as the scrolling takes so long that we could arrive at our destination before we reach M.
Any luxury sedan needs a good motor and the ES gets just that. Our test ES350 came with a 3.5-liter V6 with 272 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. Lexus claims that this motor can take the ES from 0-60 mph in just 6.7 seconds. We have no doubt that this is true, but it never really feels like it unless you really hammer it. Amazingly, with the traction control off, you can generate a tiny bit of wheel spin.
The EPA tells us that the ES will get 18 miles per gallon around town, while highway driving will get you around 27 mpg. We managed around 26 mpg during our week with the vehicle, which is quite good.
While the ES might not make any moves towards the sporting segment, it still is one of the best in terms of luxury. The ride is as smooth as glass, just don’t expect to take many corners and get excited. While the ES might not appeal to the younger generation, most Lexus products and in fact Toyota products, usually don’t and frankly, the Japanese automaker didn’t become the largest in the world by appealing to young people.
On the motorway, the ES doesn’t need much to get around other traffic and it’s fairly nimble too. Sadly, the steering lacks feel and it’s a bit too light for our tastes. Braking is solid and there is decent pedal feel. Overall, it’s a good road car for your daily commute, but it’s not going to drop your mouth on the back roads.
Performance sedans tend to get all the love and there is a reason for that, but we can clearly see why people are fond of the Lexus ES350. There are tons of toys and technology that any customer would want. Yet, there are issues in the ES350 sales armor and it has nothing to do with its softness.
While the ES is aging, the rest of the automotive world is catching up. The Buick LaCrosse, a vehicle that is often compared to the ES, has begun to outsell the Lexus. The Germans are also coming on strong, as Mercedes-Benz are once again building solid vehicles. In the 2010 JD Power Initial Quality Study, the ES failed to finish in the top three, as it was beat by the C-Class, the Cadillac CTS, and the Acura TL.
Still, for what the ES provides, there isn’t much that can compare. It makes no effort to be sporty, which is a good thing. Instead, it focuses on comfort, something that it does brilliantly. It’s quiet on the road, built very well, and has a strong motor. While it might not turn heads, it will still rank in the top of the sales charts for years to come.
Why we like it: The ES350 is one of the quietest vehicles on the road and the interior is so well laid out and covered in the softest leathers. As a daily driver, the Lexus is great.
Why we don’t like it: The ES350 is a bit dull from the outside and it really lacks steering feel. While it might be one of the best daily drivers, it’s certainly not going to excite you.
Overall rank and verdict: It’s aging and lacks the sporting feel of the Germans, but it’s quiet, smooth, and very refined.