2014 Lexus ES 350 - Driven

The Lexus ES 350 is an interesting car. It combines the niceties of a luxury sedan like wood trim, heated and cooled leather seats, and large amounts of posh with the humble underpinnings of a basic, daily commuter. That’s not to say the car is bad, but it certainly creates an interesting combination. I recently spent a week getting to know the ES 350 pretty well and I came away with mixed emotions.

Based on the Toyota Avalon platform, the four-door sedan affords plenty of legroom both front and rear with generous amounts of hip and shoulder room as well. Its ride falls somewhere between luxurious and sporty. It somehow tastefully walks the fine line between the two, never offending the senses nor outright pleasing them.

Come to think of it, non-offensive is a good way to describe the ES 350. It coddles its occupants from its garage within the gated community to the theater or museum with no fuss. It’s torquey 3.5-liter V-6 does a swell job of propelling the car forward without exerting an exceeding number of revs while its six-speed transmission shifts like warmed butter — firm but not hard; soft but not squishy.

The amenities list on my tester was long. In fact, the panoramic glass roof and 18-inch wheels seemed to be the only notable features missing. The remaining options made for a comfortable ride with enough gadgets to satisfy my inner geek. I did have one complaint about my ES 350 , and it centering on the most important human-car touch point within the vehicle.

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The ES 350 is tuned to be a great highway cruiser with an appetite for devouring pavement at moderate speeds down long stretches of interstate. However, once settled inside the car and with everything adjusted to suit, I found myself wishing for a pillow to sit on. Not because I’m vertically challenged or the 10-way power driver’s seat wouldn’t rise up farther, but because it lacked in padding. All week long I struggled to find a proper position that saved my backside from getting numb during a drive. By the last day, I think I just became used to it, as I finally felt comfortable.

The seat bottom just felt flat and the bottom bolsters seemed to stick up too far for comfort. Perhaps I’m too harsh, but I would have guessed the seats of a Lexus to be more, well, luxurious.

Exterior

Lexus ES 350 - Driven
Lexus ES 350 - Driven
Lexus ES 350 - Driven

Overall the car’s exterior styling is classy and refined.

The exterior of the ES 350 continues the non-offensive trend with a more subtle version of the Lexus Spindle grille and softly sculpted creases throughout the bodywork. The HID headlights that flank the grille have a crisp, clean shape to them and provide excellent visibility at night — even in heavy rains on a country road. The standard fog lights also help with visibility. The slopping hood flows nicely into the slanted windshield and up over the car. The soft line continues down the back window and onto the flat truck lid. The line then enjoys a pleasant kick upward into a small spoiler.

The lower accent lines really add a lot of flair to the car. Starting at the front bumper near the fog lights, the line runs around through the bottom of the doors and kicks up just before the rear tire. A separate line curves up at the rear bumper giving it some visual lift.

Overall the car’s exterior styling is classy and refined. It doesn’t elicit much emotion but reflects the gentle nature of the car’s personality.

2014 Lexus ES 350 Exterior Dimensions

Wheelbase111.0 in.
Overall Length192.7 in.
Overall Width71.7 in.
Overall Height57.1 in.
Tread Width - Front/Rear62.6 in. / 62.0 in.

Interior

Lexus ES 350 - Driven
Lexus ES 350 - Driven
Lexus ES 350 - Driven

Open the doors of the ES and enter into the car’s main attraction. Totally revised for 2013, the updates carry over for 2014. The design is unmistakably Lexus and reflects the other Lexus-ish designs within the automaker’s lineup. An analog click sits front and center on the dashboard and helps dress up the environment. Piano Black accents on the center console also lend an upscale feel. The leather materials feel rich enough and the heating and cooling features of the front seats were addicting.

That hard-to-use screen combined with the dull graphics of the main infotainment system was a real detractor for me.

Behind the three-spoke, leather and wood-covered steering wheel lie two main analog gauges. A rather small information screen sits between them and provides only the basic information. That hard-to-use screen combined with the dull graphics of the main infotainment system was a real detractor for me. The infotainment system worked well enough but I did have issues using voice commands to enter destinations. I did however, really like the mouse-like controller perched on the center console. On many pages within the menus, it acted like an Ouija board, guiding me between available choices to click. It helped keep my eyes on the road and less focused on finding menu options. It’s the only use I’ll ever need for such a magical device.

Acting like a passenger, I was able to sit very comfortably behind myself in the rear seat. I had plenty of leg, hip, and headroom. Air vents mounted in the rear of the center console help keep backseat passengers happy and can be turned off when not desired.

2014 Lexus ES 350 Interior Dimensions

Seating Capacity5
Headroom - Front37.5 in. (with moonroof)
Headroom - Front/Rear37.5 in./37.5 in. (with moonroof)
Legroom - Front/Rear41.9 in./40.0 in.
Shoulder Room - Front/Rear57.6 in./55.0 in.
Hip Room - Front/Rear54.8 in./53.8 in.
EPA Passenger Volume100.1 cu. ft.

Drivetrain

Lexus ES 350 - Driven

Powering the Lexus ES 350 is Toyota’s venerable 3.5-liter V-6 making 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet. Those numbers come at a respective 6,200 and 4,700 rpm, though it seems 5,000 rpm is the sweet spot. The engine comes with Toyota Toyota ’s VVT-i variable valve timing system to control its 24 valves. An all-aluminum construction helps keep weight down and efficiency up. Also helping efficiency is a six-speed automatic transmission. Combined with the Eco setting on the Drive Mode Selector, the non-hybrid sedan returns an EPA rating of 21/31/24 city/highway/combined mpg. Though I had a heavy foot some of the time, I was able to average very close to the 24 mpg listed.

I was surprised at just how eager the car was to accrue speed.

Much of that driving time was spent with the Drive Mode Selector positioned in Sport Mode. The transmission fired off shifts with more haste and the throttle had a bit more responsiveness to it. Though Sport Mode helped tighten things up, it didn’t change the overall feel of the car in any dramatic way.

I was surprised at just how eager the car was to accrue speed. With its loads of noise-dampening and NVH-stopping luxury measures, the car is whisper quiet at 80 mph. Such speeds actually seem slow with the little amount of fuss the car gives off. A careful foot, heavy use of the cruise control, and a constant eye on the speedometer was a necessity for me.

2014 Lexus ES 350 Drivetrain Specifications

Type, MaterialsV6 aluminum block and cylinder heads
Designation2GR-FE
ValvetrainDOHC 24-valve with dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i)
Displacement3.5 liters
Bore x Stroke3.70 in. x 3.27 in.
Compression Ratio10.8:1
Horsepower (SAE)268 HP @ 6,200 RPM
Torque248 LB.-FT. @ 4,700 RPM
Maximum Engine Speed (redline)6,300 RPM
Fuel SystemElectronically controlled sequential fuel injection (SFI)
Fuel RequirementRegular 87 octane unleaded
LayoutFront engine, front-wheel drive
Transmission Type6-speed automatic, Electronically Controlled
Transmission with intelligence (ECT-i) and sequential shift
Designation
U660E

Pricing

Lexus ES 350 - Driven

Pricing for the 2014 Lexus ES 350 starts at $36,470 in base form. My tester, however, was generously equipped with loads of features that bumped the price up to $44,092.

Those features included Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, HID headlights, a power rear sunshade in the back deck, the Navigation package, Power operating trunk lid, bamboo and leather interior, and the Luxury Package which includes the heated and cooled leather seats, power tilt and telescope steering wheel, memory seats, and remote keyless entry and go.

Besides the laundry list of options, a $910 destination fee was added in.

Driving Impression

Lexus ES 350 - Driven

Matt the pedal and the car eagerly lunged forward with a force more likely associated with a F-badged Lexus product.

On the road, the Lexus does a good job of isolating road imperfections away from the passenger compartment. It still provides a good sense of the road through the firm seats, though it did lack in steering feel. The accelerator pedal worked amazingly well though. The 3.5-liter V-6 had a surprising amount of pep and felt more torquey than its 248 pound-feet would suggest. Matt the pedal and the car eagerly lunged forward with a force more likely associated with a F-badged Lexus product.

Around interstate clover leaf onramps, the car handled fairly well, though mild understeer spoiled any naughty fun. It felt balanced and controlled the entire time. Road noise and vibrations were kept to a minimum, though the some pervasive wind noise seemed to permeate from the center of the windshield. Perhaps the windshield wipers that rested high upon the glass rather than tucked under the hood generated the whistling.

2014 Lexus ES 350 Driving Statistics

0-60 mph Acceleration (mfr. estimate)7.1 sec
0-1/4 Mile Acceleration (mfr. estimate)15.1 sec
Top Track Speed (mfr. estimate)130 mph (electronically limited)
EPA Estimated Fuel Economy (City/Hwy/Combined)21/31/24
Coefficient of Drag (Cd)0.27

Competition

2015 Hyundai Genesis

Hyundai Genesis - Driven

The Genesis’ rebirth for 2015 has propelled Hyundai’s second highest offering into a higher category of luxury. Powered by either a 3.8-liter V-6 or a mighty 5.0-liter V-8, the large sedan pulls off the luxury gig with ease. A supremely comfortable interior with gobs of room helps the Genesis compete with the best German and Japanese rivals.

An available AWD system helps open up the Hyundai to colder markets though it’s a rather pricey option. However, for the money, the Genesis offers a compelling cost/benefit argument for its relatively low $38.000 asking price.

2015 Acura TLX

Acura TLX

Also new on the scene for 2015 is the TLX, Acura’s replacement for the TL and TSX sedans. Though it’s pretty much a new car, the sedan carries an almost tired looked persona and that polarizing front ‘beak.’ The TLX comes with two engine options: a 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder making 209 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque; and a 3.5-liter V-6 making a respectable 290 horses and 267 pound-feet. The I-4 is matched with an eight-speed dual clutch transmission while the V-6 is bolted to a nine-speed automatic. Both powertrains should be decent performers and return good 0-to-60 times while getting average fuel economy.

Pricing for the very-new TLX hasn’t been released as of this writing and worse – Acura has announced it’s delaying the TLX’s launch until the mid summer of 2014.

Conclusion

Lexus ES 350 - Driven

Overall, I enjoyed my time with the ES 350, thought it wasn’t an overwhelmingly memorable experience. The car serves its owner well as a classy mode of transportation that neither yammers for attention nor blends shyly into the crowd. It seems to have found a good middle ground on nearly every front. Neither offending nor inspiring no one, the ES 350 is just there – a very reliable middle management luxury sedan with enough niceties to keep its owner interested while pulling the same HOV-style carpooling duties as its Avalon sibling.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the car for what it is. It does a fantastic job at being a luxury sedan and a moderately sporty performer while passing on ever being called ’the life of the party.’ To some folks, that fits the bill just fine.

LOVE IT
  • Subtle yet classy looks
  • Well-appointed interior
  • Powerful V-6 engine
LEAVE IT
  • Uncomfortable front seats
  • Non-offensive to every sense
  • At $44k, it’s a little pricy

What is your take?

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