ES 350 & ES 300h
If there is a Gold Standard for an entry-level luxury sedan, the Lexus ES certainly is it. And the new 2013 Lexus ES, the sixth generation of this popular mid-size car, only reinforces the notion that Lexus owns this category.
By Tara Weingarten
The Big Picture
It’s a funny problem Lexus has. The luxe brand has fostered such loyalty among its patrons – most of whom choose another Lexus after their lease ends, or buy another one when a new model emerges. What’s the problem there, you wonder? Well, as the years have passed, Lexus’ loyal customers have aged, and sometimes the kids of Lexus owners don’t want to own the same car as their parents. I know my own kid thinks I can’t possibly be any lamer than I am.
So the problem Lexus has is that it needs to attract a new buyer yet not alienate its existing customer. It’s a difficult task, to make a vehicle youthful, possibly with more aggressive styling and handling, while keeping the softer, posh elements in tact that typically appeal to an older buyer.
Enter the sixth-generation 2013 Lexus ES 350, a roomy family and empty nester car that likely will appeal to a broader range of customers. To drive younger customers to the brand, the redone ES 350 has a somewhat firmer (sportier) ride, though it was more apparent on the hybrid version ES 300h than the gasoline model. And the fact that it is available in a hybrid that gets 40 mpg in the city is proof that Lexus wants to nab a more youthful, eco-minded driver. For the most part, the 2013 Lexus ES seems to move into contemporary territory, without leaving behind what its core buyers expect.
An Inside Job
In my 18 years of test driving vehicles, I’ve learned what differentiates a luxury ride from the ordinary. Of course, there’s the obvious, like leather interiors, faster engines, premium sound systems and glossy wood trims. But there are little things, too, that don’t make it onto a window sticker label at your local dealer. How about the way the door sounds when you slam it shut. Does it make a substantial “Whomp” sound or is it tinny? In the 2013 Lexus ES 350, I slammed the door and heard a very satisfying “Whomp.” It’s a subliminal signal that signifies luxury.
The large 10-way power seats are comfy, and are both heated and cooled for driver and front-seat passenger. They are available in NuLuxe, a material developed to reduce environmental impact, leather, or semi-aniline leather that protects better from wear and stains. There are three memory settings for the driver’s seat, all the better for a household with a couple and a child who drives. The trunk is cavernous, so a family road trip is no problem. And the backseat has great legroom.
The Lexus ES 350 I tested had shiny piano black trim on the dash and door panels, a glossy wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel with controls for phone, audio system and cruise control. But what I absolutely drooled over was the hybrid model ES 300h’s bamboo steering wheel and bamboo trim on doors and dashboard. It’s lightly stained and sanded to smooth perfection. I though it was chic, contemporary, and a great eco perk, since bamboo is a quick-growing renewable resource, compared to the less eco-friendly bird’s eye maple trim offered.
Ambient lighting bathes the cabin in a theater-like glow, with a waterfall-effect light coming from the doors. And a hand-stitched leather-look dashboard has the posh feel of a pricier car.
Lexus is a safety leader, and the 2013 Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h are testament to this luxury brand’s commitment to it. Both cars wear a class-leading 10 airbags that come standard: driver and front passenger knee airbags, front and seat-mounted airbags, as well as rear seat-mounted side airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags. Also, Whiplash Injury Lessening (WIL) front seats limit excessive head movement in certain rear-end collisions, helping to decrease the severity of whiplash-type injuries.
And there are optional features that do everything from alert you when a vehicle is in your blind spot, to letting you know when there is cross-traffic coming while you are backing out of a parking space. If you’re prone to drifting out of your lane on the highway, you might opt for the Lane Departure Alert, which tells you when you’re crossing out of your lane. It is paired with a handy feature that automatically dims the car’s high beams when there is oncoming traffic.
All Lexus models come with a one-year free subscription to Lexus Safety Connect, which includes: Enhanced Roadside Assistance, an Emergency Assistance Button (SOS), Stolen Vehicle Location services, and Automatic Collision Notification.
The 2013 Lexus ES 350 has a Drive Mode Select on the central console. Drivers can select Eco, Normal or Sport mode to tailor the car’s power. ‘Eco’ keeps the car accelerating at an even pace for improved fuel efficiency, ‘Normal’ allows the driver more control over acceleration, and ‘Sport’ mode puts the car into a more aggressive acceleration stance and makes the steering a bit tighter, requiring less movement to make turns. In the Lexus ES 300h, the ‘EV’ setting is actually an electric mode, that allows the car to ride up to about 20 mph on all-electric power for a short period of time. I like it!
The ride quality in the ES 350 is pure Lexus. Smooth, predictable, even-keeled and luxurious. See that pothole – but don’t feel it much. But the suspension is noticeably tighter in the ES 300h, probably owing to the placement of the heavy battery array. Bumps are felt more, but handling seems better in corners.
Gizmos And Tech
If it’s been a while since you’ve updated your wheels, you’ll like the convenience of having hands-free communications and gizmos here. First, the 2013 Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h both have Smart Key technology. Just walk up to the car with the key fob in your purse or pocket, touch the door handle, and the car automatically unlocks. A push-button start allows you to keep the key in your purse at all times.
There’s an eight-speaker sound system standard, with a 7″ display screen, or optional 8″ screen with remote touch. They use Lexus’ proprietary technology called Enform, which includes Pandora music and the ability to access Facebook, real-time traffic, and several other internet-based technologies. An optional Mark Levinson Sound System with 835 watts comes with the 8″ screen and 15 speakers.
The 2013 Lexus ES 350 and 300h are the kinds of cars that have longevity. Unless you have several kids and need to haul bulky sports gear, the ES trunk and interior cabin are plenty spacious to meet most families' needs. And when the kids run off to college, you're left with a great empty nest ride - large enough to carry you and your friends to the movies, small enough to park anywhere.
The unique bamboo steering wheel on the hybrid ES 300h
Roomy and cushy, yet still fun to drive
Somewhat bumpy ride suspension on the hybrid model