The all-new 2007 Lexus ES 350 made its public debut today at the Chicago Auto Show. The all-new, fully redesigned ES marks the fourth Lexus sedan to benefit from the L-finesse design language. Going on sale in late April, the fifth-generation ES improves upon every level
of comfort, safety, performance and craftsmanship in the elegant five-passenger sedan.
By Kevin “Crash” Corrigan
This is the fifth generation of the company’s popular ES (Elegant Sedan) entry level luxury model. Together with their IS sports sedan, it marks the starting point of this premium brand. At least, that’s what they tell me. Nowadays, every manufacturer seems to be promoting an entry level luxury vehicle. So, is the Lexus ES 350 really that, or is it just another young pretender with the right badge on it?
The exterior styling of the Lexus ES350 is certainly typical of the rest of the brand. The company tends to be able to project luxury motoring without being overly bold and brash about it. In fact, the distinctive styling and lines announce the car’s arrival before you actually notice the nameplate. The fit and finish of the exterior is, as always with Lexus, exceptional, even under close scrutiny.
Although the ES is possibly not as sporting as its brother the IS, it certainly does appear to have that modern, state of the art look about it. This, I presume, is to appeal to the upwardly mobile youngsters who are placing their feet on the first rung of the high-end luxury car ladder. That sounds like a smart target market for an entry level luxury car manufacturer.
We now come to the interior which, to be honest, really impressed me. The dashboard looks as though it has been designed by a sculptor rather than a car designer. The crowning centerpiece is the distinctive “snowshoe” shaped console, which houses most of the controls and beautifully flows down through the center of the seats. This is then highlighted by some thoughtfully shaped woodgrain accents, which continue throughout the cabin area. This was apparently designed by one of Toyota ’s female designers and might possibly be a question of personal taste, but I thought that it just oozed style. Some manufacturers might not have been able to pull this off, but I think that Lexus have succeeded in making this a distinctive feature of the car.
The rest of the interior is equally impressive and boasts a whole host of “available” luxury appointments. Now you may have noticed that I highlighted the word, available. The reason for this is the way in which Lexus has packaged the ES. Some features like the Sat Nav System, the Back-up Camera, the Bluetooth Capable Stereo System and the Panorama Glass Roof are only available on the top of the line model. What this says to me, is that the upwardly mobile youngsters will have to dig a little deeper into their pockets, if they want all the modern toys to go with their new entry level luxury vehicle.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think that the ES 350 is well priced in the market. I just think that there are some potential buyers that might go looking elsewhere, simply because they want a particular feature. I can’t honestly see people stumping up another $11,000 or so for just one “can’t live without” gadget.
Some might say that I’m being slightly unfair with this and that this is not necessarily a youngster’s car. Also, not all of them are into high-tech anyway. Valid points, this vehicle could certainly appeal to a wide range of buyers. However, I’m floating around my mid-life crisis years, and I wouldn’t necessarily want a Sat Nav System or a Back-up Camera. However, I do like the glass roof, and that Bluetooth system could be useful. Maybe these features should be menu offered on models like the ES.
The young and some of us “not-so-young” people will equally enjoy the performance of the ES 350 which features a 3.5 litre V6, producing 272 hp. This is then coupled to an electronically-controlled six speed automatic transmission. Power is then sent, with the aid of Traction Control and Vehicle Stability Control, to the front wheels. 0-100 times are listed at 6.8 seconds, which is not bad for a car that doesn’t claim to be a sports model. The ES 350, however, does handle the road well even when driven hard, and the brakes more than meet the requirements of the car.
The ES 350 is naturally full of the usual safety features which you would expect on a Lexus model and rather than list them individually, I’ll just say that it is an impressive list, especially on a vehicle deemed an entry level.
Features like the excellent swivel front lighting system and the power telescoping and tilting steering wheel are nice, and they do add to the driving experience. However, does these items that make this a luxury car? No, what make this vehicle a true luxury car is the feeling that you get from it. The ES 350 looks good and draws attention wherever you go. It drives superbly, and the interior is furnished better than most down-town lawyers’ offices.
All in all, the Lexus ES 350 is exactly what it claims to be. It is the birth of the feeling which you get when you drive a true high-end luxury vehicle. It might not say “I’ve arrived” like a Rolls Royce or Bentley might, but it certainly makes you feel like you’re well on your way.
From a styling standpoint, the ES marks the latest Lexus sedan to receive a complete redesign emphasizing a more sculptural direction, one that now reveals a family resemblance across the entire passenger car lineup. With an over two-inch longer wheelbase and more than an inch wider track, the ES has a more confident stance. A long hood, pulled-back cabin and short rear deck are characteristic of the new L-finesse design theme, recalling classic sports car proportions with a contemporary look unique to all new-generation Lexus sedans.
The creation of a spatial feeling in the passenger compartment is central to the new Lexus design direction. Without increasing the overall exterior length, engineers were able to increase rear legroom while maintaining the already roomy driver and front-passenger compartment.
The interior of the new ES introduces a new level of craftsmanship aswell. Premium wood and leather accents provide a level of luxury never before seen in the entry luxury segment. Everything inside the ES is designed and styled to create a comfortable and harmonious interaction, with touchpoints that convey quality and refinement. The roomy, luxurious cabin is complemented by intelligently designed displays and controls to make driving both simple and pleasurable. Bright, clear Optitron gauges combined with smartly integrated metallic and authentic brown walnut wood trim help create a luxurious, elegant ambience.
Powerful Technology for New V6
The ES 350’s 3.5-liter V6 engine delivers 272 horsepower and 254 lb.-ft. of torque, resulting in an estimated zero-to-60 mph time of 6.8 seconds, substantially quicker than the model it replaces. The highly sophisticated engine uses electronically controlled sequential fuel injection, which optimizes the fuel mixture and creates a precise burn, higher output and lower emissions to aid drivability. The result is a substantial improvement in engine efficiency with increased power and improved fuel economy.
The engine also benefits from reduced internal friction via chain-driven camshafts and roller-rocker arms that serve to increase efficiency. Aluminum heads and cylinder blocks feature special cast-in "spiny" cylinder liners to improve liner stability and cooling by increasing surface contact area with the cylinder head.
The new ES comes standard with dual exhaust, which reduces exhaust backpressure at high rpm. Extensive use of stainless steel in the exhaust system minimizes weight and improves durability. The integration of these technologies contributes to segment-leading efficiency with the ES 350 obtaining a manufacturer-estimated combined fuel economy of 25 mpg (21 mpg city/30 mpg highway) and an expected Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle II (ULEV II) certification.
The front-wheel drive ES 350 features a six-speed automatic Electronically Controlled Transmission with intelligence (ECT-i) and sequential shift. The low-friction, high-efficiency gear train is lighter and more compact than the previous generation 5-speed transmission with 20 percent fewer parts and 24 percent fewer hydraulic controls. Gear ratios are carefully matched to both engine horsepower and torque characteristics to provide very smooth yet responsive shifts for improved drivability.
New Intelligent Luxury
In addition to a new look and feel, the new ES also improves upon the increasingly complex nature of automotive technology. The ES offers numerous standard features such as Smart Access keyless entry and a new push-to-start ignition system that allows drivers to enter and start the vehicle without removing the access fob from their pocket or purse.
Lexus’ craftsmanship and renowned attention to detail provide true luxury by design. Dual-zone automatic climate control and 10-way power front seats, with available memory, highlight the front cabin. The supportive standard cloth seats are also available in leather and extra-soft upgraded perforated leather for additional comfort.
The three-spoke steering wheel features easy-to-use controls for the audio system, trip computer and multi-information display in the speedometer. It also adds a voice control switch for the available Bluetooth(R) navigation and features. An auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated digital compass is standard, as are heated exterior mirrors.
Additional standard luxury features include a sliding center console, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a one-touch power moonroof and an illuminated entry system that lights the exterior with puddle lamps and the interior cabin footwells.
Luxury extends to the smallest details in the new ES, from illuminated front cup holders to an interior LED soft-lighting system that provides just the right amount of light where driver and passengers need it most. And the ES lends extra peace of mind with the integrated Homelink(R) transmitter that can control a variety of compatible home security devices and systems.
Advanced Safety Features
New standard safety features include Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction Control (TRAC), an electronic traction-control system that uses both throttle and brake intervention to help control wheel spin.In addition, the new ES provides eight standard airbags; 10 with the optional rear-seat side airbags. For 2007, the ES gains new knee airbags for the driver and front passenger as well as a twin-chamber front passenger airbag. Side-curtain airbags coupled with front seat-mounted airbags and the optional rear-seat side airbags are designed to help offer additional crash energy management for the front and rear seat occupants.
The Supplemental Restraint System in the new ES also includes variable-force front airbags for both driver and front passenger. Sensors determine the severity of the accident and, in turn, the force with which to deploy the front airbags, helping to provide an appropriate level of occupant restraint. Rear-seat side airbags are offered optionally.
The ES 350 includes the safety of several visibility-enhancing technologies. The front side windows feature a water-repellant surface that helps to bead rainwater. A rear back-up camera, part of the available navigation package, is mounted near the top of the license plate surround and projects a color image of what the camera lens can detect behind the vehicle onto the navigation screen whenever the vehicle is in reverse.
In addition, the ES provides the first-ever intelligent Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS) that allows both right and left front headlamp bulbs to swivel at the same time to help illuminate a turn or curve as the driver steers into it.
Luxury Alive in the Details
For the first time, Lexus offers an optional panorama glass roof on the ES 350 creating an expansive feeling of openness for interior passengers. The glass roof extends over the entire passenger cabin providing a fixed skylight for rear passengers and a sliding sunroof for front passengers. A manual interior shade is provided for the front and rear passenger compartments. The frameless design allows for significantly tighter gaps versus those provided by other manufacturers and, with no visible gaskets, contributes to its sleek appearance and efficient aerodynamics.
Optional ventilated front seats and an available power rear window sunshade work in concert with the standard dual-zone climate control that filters the air to keep occupants comfortable. A dual-zone automatic climate control allows driver and front passenger to customize interior temperatures, while rear passengers enjoy their own A/C vents.
The optional and newly upgraded fifth-generation navigation system offers eight million points of interest (POI). The multi-information display makes key information readily available and easy to see. These and other features available on the new ES, such as semi-aniline leather, High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps, intelligent Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS), Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, heated/ventilated front seats and the panorama glass roof are normally found only in more expensive luxury cars.
Mind-Expanding Audio Systems
An enhanced standard premium audio system brings an in-dash, six-disc CD- changer, MP3 player, iPod connectivity and an additional speaker to the 2007 ES. The system also includes an Automatic Sound Levelizer (ASL) to maintain consistent sound levels at varying vehicle speeds.
Music aficionados will appreciate the newest generation of the optional Mark Levinson audio system in the new ES. Using a 7.1-channel speaker architecture, this leading-edge design uses 10 channels of amplification with a total of 300 watts at 0.1 percent Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) playing through 14 speakers to bring a major new dimension to automotive audio sound.
The Mark Levinson audio also takes advantage of DVD audio and video technology, allowing users to play both conventional CDs and DVDs. DVD movies can be viewed on the color 7-inch touch screen when the vehicle is parked. The all-new 2007 Lexus ES goes on sale late April. Although prices have not been finalized, it will represent the best value in the entry luxury segment.
The new ES 350 benefits from a brand-new all-aluminum engine design with all the latest technologies built in, and it’s a honey, with 57 more horsepower than the 3.3-liter engine it replaces, and one more gear to run through.
Engine and transmission are linked by several electronic modules and the electronic throttle, and there were no glitches we could find. The engine and transmission are isolation-mounted with an electro-hydraulic mounting system to cancel vibration at idle. Lexus quotes a 0-60 mph time of 6.8 seconds, which is certainly competitive in the segment.
Two important additions of standard equipment on the ES for 2007 are traction control and stability control which, when combined with this new chassis, allow sporting drivers to do maneuvers that no previous ES would do, and quickly. The front struts and multi-link rear suspension are both very well isolated from the rest of the car, making for a quiet, smooth ride, with greater control of pitch and body roll than the outgoing car.
The brakes are average in size for this class, the electronic control package that comes with them makes them very powerful and very repeatable, with no sign of brake fade after a hard workout. Because this is an entry-luxury sedan and not a sports car, the ABS, traction control and stability systems intervene early and often to keep the car going in the intended direction, so you can’t really hang it out.