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January 19, 2013

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2013 Lexus ES350

by Mark Savage

ES350 handsome blend of luxury, elegance

You’d have to be crazy or lacking in the ability to physically feel anything to not enjoy riding in the new Lexus ES350.lexus2

This is a fine front-drive mid-size luxury sedan, with a restyled grille and lines that give it a somewhat more interesting look. At least you notice it now.

But then that may not be what an ES350 owner wants because the car’s interior is about blending in, as in sliding into a quiet comfortable living room of an interior that melts away your tensions and worries. Even though this is the Lexus entry-level luxury sedan, the silver test car’s gray perforated leather seats, glossy dark brown bird’s-eye maple trim (part of a $1,370 luxury package) and black leather look dash speak of elegance.

Setting off the wood trim is a satin pewter-look trim that puts the exclamation point on subtle style and the gloss black console trim reminds you that soon you’ll be home playing your baby grand.

Yet the ES350 isn’t a gutless luxo-liner that is simply designed for suburbs to downtown highway cruising. Yes, that ECO button is a little worrisome to drivers hoping for a little power when merging onto the freeway, but in reality, even in that ECO mode the Lexus moves to 55-60 mph at a good pace. Turn the console knob to normal and it’s a little more robust as the 6-speed tranny holds its shifts a bit longer and in Sport mode, the car turns spirited.

Lexus 1Like everything in this car, those shifts are always smooth, no matter the mode and the 3.5-liter V6 with electronic variable valve timing never makes enough noise to disturb a conversation in the leather coated cockpit. This V6 churns out a comfortable 268 horses.

Ride is well controlled and superb for handling our crumbling roads, a 111-inch wheelbase helping smooth things out. Railroad tracks and pot holes are a minor bump. Not sure I’d want to cut diamonds in the back seat, but this feels refined and that’s due to MacPhearson struts all around along with gas-pressurized shocks. I also like the strong four-wheel disc brakes that put a sense of urgency into every stop.

All that is expected on a luxury sedan with a base price at a reasonable $36,100, but not all deliver it this well.

As mentioned, the interior is a winner in most ways too. However, some of that, and much of the high-tech features on the test car, was options, which pushed the price on this one to $43,605.

For instance, the blind spot warning system is $500 extra, as is a park assist system that will beep if you get too close to anything. Lane departure warning costs $965, but I’d skip that and the park assist, unless you just cashed out your 401k. Likewise, I’d skip the $210 rear power sunshade.

But that $1,370 luxury package that spiffs up the interior and provides 3-level heated and cooled seats and a power tilt/telescope steering wheel along with driver’s seat memory system seems worth it for the long haul.lexus4

I’m not a big fan of any navigation system either, especially for $2,625. But this one gives you a large 8-inch screen and satellite radio with all the trimmings, including NavTraffic, which can tell you where the upcoming slow or stopped spots are on a freeway. If you travel much, THIS could be helpful. I also whole-heartedly support the backup camera that helps you see objects, such as people, behind you as you back out of parking lot stalls.

This sedan also is roomy inside and behind the rear seat. Trunk capacity is 15.2 cubic feet and three adults can fit comfortably in the rear seat. Doors close easily and the ride height is good for easily climbing in and out … no contortions as you need on some too-tall crossovers or sport-utility trucks.

What bugged me? Same old stuff. Lexus uses a tricky mouse to “help” you select radio stations and sound tuning options. Audi, BMW and Mercedes have used a little dial on the console, but this is a square knob that is actually harder to use and more distracting as you watch it bounce around the screen like an old “Pong” game, trying to lock on to what IT thinks you want, a station, the FM selector, a tone tuning setting. Ugh!

That spoils an otherwise stellar interior.

lexus 3I loved the seats, which are power and heated, as I’ve said. But the leather is a comfortable mid-range soft/hardness and seats are well shaped for long, comfortable rides. Adjusting the seats was easy too, only taking a day or so of fiddling to find Papa Bear’s spot that was “just right.”

I also was happily surprised at the ES350’s gas mileage. In about a 60-40 mix of highway to city driving I got 22.7 mpg. The EPA rates this at 21 mpg city and 31 highway. If you want better mileage, the Lexus 300h is the hybrid model that’s rated at 40 mpg city and 39 highway. That car, based on the same platform and with the same dimensions, has a 2.5-liter I4 engine that when combined with the hybrid power is rated at 200 horses. Its trunk is smaller though, 12.1 cubic feet, due to the hybrid’s batteries sucking up trunk space.

What more can I say – a roomy, comfortable, handsome entry-level midsize luxury sedan is what the ES350 sets out to be, and it delivers on all counts.

FAST Stats: 2013 Lexus ES350

Hits: Smooth, quiet calm car with luxury interior to match and moderate starting price. Test car loaded with tech options. Adjustable transmission modes, heated seats, giant trunk and room for five adults, plus superb ride and decent power and gas mileage.

Misses: Icky mouse to find and lock in radio stations.

Made in: Japan

Engine: 3.5-liter dual VVTi V6, 268 hp

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Weight: 3,549 lbs.

Wheelbase: 111.0 in.

Cargo: 15.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 21/31

Base Price: $36,100

Dealer’s Price: $33,815

Major Options:

Blind spot monitor, $500

17-inch 10-spoke wheels w/liquid graphite finish, $110

Power rear sunshade, $210

Lane departure alert w/intelligent high-beam headlights, $965

Luxury package (perforated leather interior, heated/ventilated front seats, dark brown bird’s-eye maple wood trim, power tilt/telescope wheel, keyless remote, Lexus memory system driver’s seat, mirrors & steering wheel), $1,370

Hard-disk navigation system w/backup camera, 8-inch screen, Lexus Enform w/App Suite Destination Assist, eDestination, voice command, Lexus Insider, single DVD/CD player, HD radio w/satellite radio, NavTraffic, NavWeather, Sirius sports & stock), $2,625

Intuitive parking assist, $500

Wood/leather trimmed shift knob & wheel, $330

Delivery: $895

Test vehicle: $43,605

Sources: Lexus, www.autos.yahoo.com

Photos: Courtesy of Lexus

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